Wim Hof is an extreme Dutch athlete who earned the name ‘The Iceman’ by breaking a number of records related to cold exposure including: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, and standing in a container while covered with ice cubes for more than 112 minutes.
His story inspired me to read his book ‘The Wim Hoff Method’ and adopt some of his methods. Right now I’m doing a 33-day cold plunge challenge to mark the 2nd anniversary of my practicing cold water therapy and tummo breath work.
The video above shows me taking a dip in a cold outdoor tub. I usually do this in the morning for 3-5 minutes straight after my cardio training and before breakfast. It definitely does take getting used to and is a great way to flex your self-discipline muscle.
Cold water therapy has a variety of benefits including:
- reducing muscle pain and stiffness after exercise, by reducing swelling and inflammation.
- improving risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- boosting the immune system, helping to lower the risk of infection.
Things to know before trying cold water therapy
Being in cold water puts your body under stress. This is how it’s thought to produce many positive effects, like boosting the immune system. But it also means it can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Cold water immersion can trigger:
- cold water shock – an automatic response where your heart rate increases and you lose control of your breathing
- arrhythmias (heart rhythm disorders)
- hypothermia, when your core temperature gets too cold
Building up sessions gradually can help your body adapt to the cold and lessen the risk of cold water shock. If you have underlying medical conditions, such as problems with your heart or asthma then I would definitely discourage it. If you’re concerned about how cold water therapy may affect you, then discuss it with your GP before trying. It isn’t right for everyone.
How to try cold water therapy
If you want to give cold water therapy a go, start with brief sessions and build them up gradually. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Start with a cold shower first. This is less intense than full submergence and can help to test how your body responds. Gradually reduce the temperature and increase the length of time you spend in cold water as your body climatises.
- If you want to try submergence in a bathtub or an outdoor tub like mine, then make sure that you are not alone. Start in the summer months, when the water and climate aren’t so cold. Again, build up the time you spend in the water slowly.
- After your session, warm up gradually by removing wet clothes, drying yourself, and dressing in warm layers. Having a warm drink and something to eat can help too. Don’t have a hot bath or shower, as the sudden change in temperature can be a dangerous shock to the system.
What is Tummo breathing (Wim Hof method)?
The second important component of the Wim Hof method is a variation of Tummo breathing. This breathing practice dates back to Tibetan Buddhism, named after the fierce goddess of heat and passion. Wim Hof’s version of tummo breathing is simple and easy. Unlike cold water therapy, everyone can do it.
It is recommended that it should be done right after waking, or before a meal, when your stomach is still empty. Please be aware that tummo breathing can affect motor control and, in rare cases, lead to a loss of consciousness. Always sit or lie down before practicing the techniques. Never practice while piloting a vehicle, or in or near bodies of water.
Here is a step-by-step guide:
- Assume a meditation posture: sitting with a straight back, or laying down — whichever is most comfortable for you. Ensure that you can expand your lungs freely without feeling any constriction..
- Eyes closed and clear your mind. Be conscious of your breath, and try to fully connect with it. Inhale deeply through the nose or mouth, and exhale in a controlled way through the mouth. Fully inhale through the stomach, then the chest, and then let go unforced. Repeat this 30 to 40 times in short, powerful bursts. You may experience light-headedness and tingling sensations in your fingers and feet. These side effects are completely harmless.
- After the final exhalation, inhale one final time, as deeply as possible. Then let the air out and stop breathing. Hold until you feel the urge to breathe again.
- When you feel the urge to breathe again, draw one big breath to fill your lungs. Feel your belly and chest expanding. When you are at full capacity, hold your breath for around 15 seconds, then let go.
That is a full round. This cycle can be repeated 3-4 times without a break. After having completed the breathing exercise, take a moment. This calm state is highly conducive to meditation. You can combine the two if you want.
I’ve included a video of me doing breathwork so that you can get a clearer idea of how it works, along with some of my recent data from My Fitness Pal.
Benefits of Tummo breathing exercises
While there is limited research on tummo breathing, one study supports the idea that the practice might help people raise their body temperature slightly which might explain Wim’s almost superhuman ability to resist extreme cold temperatures. Other benefits include:
- Practicing this breathing technique can help awaken one’s personal power, transform the ego, activate joy and bliss, and send kundalini energy up the spine, In other words, improve happiness and confidence levels.
- Improved cognitive performance through improved concentration and focus.
- Like most breathwork techniques, tummo breathing can help with stress management and general anxiousness. Tuning in to the breath is a helpful way to come back to the present moment whenever you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by life.
The Wim Hof method defies science
Many of Wim’s physical feats were once thought of as impossible. He became the subject of a study by Radboud University in 2011, where he used his own method to change his body’s reactions. This was a big deal, because it changed what we thought we knew about biology. Since then, many scientists have been curious about how he does it and what benefits it has. Wim and his team are still working with researchers to find out more. You can learn more from Wim Hof’s website and the video below.
The final pillar of the Wim Hof method is training your mindset. That’s a far more involved practice that you’ll have to read his book to find out more about. As someone who has adopted some of the Wim Hof method for two years, I would highly recommend giving it a try if you’re looking to improve your physical and mental performance in your fitness journey.
“Strength for life”
Davie McConnachie is Scotland’s leading health and wellness coach, multi-award-winning gym owner, motivational speaker, and the founder of DMC Fitness, a fitness education facility known as the premier choice for 1-2-1 personal training. He has inspired thousands of people to fall in love with fitness – his true mission in life.
In his own fitness journey, Davie has athletically competed in Mixed Martial Arts fighting for Scottish and British titles, boxed for Scotland’s top amateur boxing team, and competed internationally in Girevoy (kettlebell) Sport.
Diving into the world of sports and wellness has helped Davie to deal with his own inner demons. He. overcame many dark times using his own unique method to complete his cycle of H.E.A.L.I.N.G.