The three pillars of the Wim Hof Method are the breath, the cold, and belief.
Alone, these techniques can and do work, but together, you can get quicker and more profound changes to your mental and physiological health.
Most of us don’t breathe right! Have a quick check – put one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. Which is expanding furthest? If it’s your stomach then kudos, you’re breathing diaphragmatically which is the goal. Breathing deeply ensures more oxygen gets into your blood, reducing inflammation, increasing energy, reducing stress and lower blood pressure.
Focusing on your breathing is meditation which has been scientifically proven to reap more benefits than we could probably fit on this page.
All these things are great, but why does it work with the cold?
The cold can literally take your breath away in what’s called the ‘cold shock response’. If your skin is suddenly stimulated by the cold you may gasp involuntarily and may hyperventilate for a minute. If swimming, this can be dangerous, so it’s important to master your breathing alongside the cold if you want to progress to full cold immersion.
Learning to control your breathing and therefore your physiological response and emotions means you can ‘breathe’ through the initial panic and adrenaline that the cold can bring up.
With the breathwork practice, Wim Hof specifically teaches (which you can find in the WHM app), you can reach such a level of control that you can manipulate your body temperature. Wim Hof famously raised the temperature of just his hand – visible with a heat camera after a stunt in New York to disprove non-believers.
This is especially useful to regulate body temperature to be able to endure the cold for longer. Thus, reaping more benefits as it increases levels of the hormone responsible for regulating mood and focus.
When you focus on your breathing, you’re bringing your focus away from the physical sensation of being, well, blooming freezing. By training your mind this way you can withstand colder temperatures and longer durations.
The belief comes in with mindset. By overcoming your natural instinct to wrap up and avoid the cold and embracing being uncomfortable, you’re already increasing your mental resilience.
You have much more control over your body than you think! Ten to twenty minutes of breathwork a day or a few rounds prior to your cold exposure can drastically impact the control you have over your physical and mental state.
If you can push yourself to spend an extra 30 seconds in a cold shower – voluntarily – think of what else you’re capable of pushing through that day.