I have been curious and fascinated for some time with the role that Breathing plays in how our body functions. Especially in the area of how dysfunctional breathing can contribute to chronic back and neck pain, and that by employing some strategies to correct our breathing, we can ease many chronic aches and pains.
That is one reason why I was stoked to attend a seminar this past weekend on the Wim Hof Method. For anyone who’s never heard of Wim Hof, a simple google search on this fascinating Dutch man, known as “The Iceman” will certainly spark some interest. Through some techniques that he has developed over the years, Wim is able to regulate his bodies autonomic responses through breathing techniques and intense focus.
Some of the more incredible feats he has demonstrated include running a marathon above the Arctic Circle in only shorts and sandals. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro on more than one occasion wearing only shorts, and sitting surrounded in ice for almost 2 hrs without any change in his heart rate, respiratory rate or any significant drop in body temperature.
The purpose of the course was to introduce the 3 Pillars of the Technique: Breathing, Cold Exposure and Mindset/Focus. The grand finale of the seminar would involve settling into an ice bath (and not jumping right back out!).
Some of the proposed benefits of employing the technique included:
• Reduce stress levels
• Increase energy
• Improve mood
• Increase creativity
• Sharpen focus
• Boost metabolism
• Enhance sleep
• Upgrade recovery
• Decrease inflammation
Sounded Great! I was excited to try it out. They recommended trying a few cold showers in the weeks before the course to get used to how your body reacts. I only got to experiment a couple of times and the first time I thought…”this isn’t so bad”, but then I realized I hadn’t turned it ALLLL the way down to pure cold. It is not easy to force yourself to stay under there.
The first part of the seminar was on learning the WHM breathing exercises. These are all about challenging your physiology and training your body to adapt to different levels of O2 in your blood. This surprisingly might have been the more significant take-home exercise, than even the ice-bath. After doing the breathing exercises, you really feel a deep sense of clarity, focus and energy…and it’s an easy thing to incorporate into your daily routine.
As the ice-bath portion approached I felt prepared, was telling myself, I got this…wasn’t going to be a big deal. But as my turn in the ice tub was imminent I could feel the butterflies developing in the stomach… This is where the Mindset/Focus pillar comes in. In preparation for the cold exposure, we are taken through a few different exercises designed to focus our mind and our breathing and to encourage our bodies to generate our own internal heat.
The Focus on breath really helps, and after the initial rush of adrenaline that you get, when you first enter the water, by focussing on slow controlled breathing, you can feel when your body “shifts” from flight or fight to a more relaxed state… or as was said, from “freaking out” to “not terrible”.
We got to try the ice bath twice, and probably stayed in no more than 2 minutes each time. The exercise is less about trying to see how long you can stay in, but more about having the awareness of what’s going on internally when you are adapting to the cold. An important part of the exercise is also using your own body to warm back up after exiting the bath.
I was surprised by how good I actually felt and by controlling the breath how quickly the shift from panic to rest/relaxation happened. I also didn’t feel cold after getting out and was pretty eager to try it the second time.
Thank-you to AMPFit: Always Making Progress in Richmond for hosting this event, Somatic Senses: Education in Manual Therapy, Rehab and Exercise for bringing this course to the Vancouver area, and to the amazing instructor Dr. Trisha Smith for providing excellent guidance and support and combining great clinical knowledge with your WHM education.
I look forward to incorporating the Breathing, The Cold Exposure and the Mindset/Focus practice into my daily routine.
Certified ART provider
FMS and SFMA certified