wellness — By jeremy wilstein
We, as humans, are a complex species given our ability to critically think, solve mathematical problems, explore the cosmos, build extensive metropolitan civilizations, and feel emotions. Our species evolved and thrived in ever-changing environments from dry scorching deserts, to lush tropical rainforests, to frigid high altitude mountainous terrain, and everything in between. Adaptation lies deep in our DNA; a common trait, a genetic specificity, allowing us to live in a variety of different environments. Yet as we get older, we tend to ease into our habitual ways, while settling into our perceived "Comfort Zone." Routine rules our life as the years blend together, and months pass by like the hours on a clock. Our society's obsession with comfort, safety and convenience is choking our deep rooted natural instinct to adapt to new and challenging situations and environments. Challenge and discomfort are a delicious recipe for more personal strength, power, and resilience from stress, anxiety, depression, and physical and mental trauma.
While there are numerous simple "so called solutions" to our everyday problems, these are often imagined up in scientific imagination and then synthesized in pharmaceutical labs, offering a remedy for our symptoms as opposed to a solution to our underlying problems. But there is an alternative approach; a truly simple, quick, yet effective solution without the laundry list of negative side effects. A remedy based on adaptation, challenge and voluntary discomfort intended to give you more happiness, health, and strength. A method which allows practitioners to re-discover their own inner fire and their own inner-truth through breathwork, mindset, and exposure to the cold.
The Wim Hof Method was developed by Wim Hof, a dutch daredevil, also known as "The Iceman" for his superhuman feats in hostile environments. Wim holds numerous world records including climbing Mount Everest in nothing but shorts and boots above 7,200m (23,600 ft), completing the fastest half marathon barefoot above the arctic circle, and running a full marathon in the Namib desert with no water. While all these feats are quite impressive, Wim's message to the world is that we are all capable of so much more than we think.
After many years of daredevil stunts, the scientific community became intrigued and outright shocked with Wim's ability to withstand these extreme environments. In 2007, the Feinstein Institute in New York City conducted the first scientific study on Wim Hof and found compelling results. Through Wim's breathwork, mindset, and cold exposure he was able to voluntarily influence his Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), including his immune, hormonal, and nervous systems, previously believed to have no voluntary influence. Then in 2012, at the Radboud University in the Netherlands, Wim was injected with an endotoxin (the dead-cell wall of the E. coli bacteria) and showed little to no fever or flu-like symptoms. The University had previously injected over 16,000 volunteers with the endotoxin and every single person remained sick with a fever and flu-like symptoms for nearly 4 hours as their bodies ramped up to fight the foreign invader.
Amazed but still skeptical, the Radboud scientists conducted another study in 2014 to test whether this immune system control could be learned by others. Wim trained 18 healthy volunteers for 4 days in a mix of breathwork, mindset/mediation techniques, and swimming in freezing cold water. The participants then went home and practiced the breathing technique and took cold showers for 6 additional days before returning to the lab. After just 10 days of training the participants, like Wim, also showed a minimal response to the injection of the same endotoxin. For the first time there was evidence that we are capable of influencing the autonomic nervous system and more specifically the immune system.
Breathing is regulated by the autonomic nervous system and, for the most part, is an unconscious process, but with training we can modify and adapt our breathing patterns. Conscious breathing is the easiest and most effective way to navigate our autonomic nervous system, and more specifically our endocrine system, which is responsible for releasing “feel good” hormones. Throughout the years, Wim Hof has developed special breathing exertions that keep his body in optimal condition and in complete control in the most extreme conditions. The breathing technique is first and foremost premised on inhaling deeply and exhaling without any use of force Through proper breathing practices you regain control over chemical and physiological processes in the body while strengthening your resilience to stress and illness.
Cold water is a stress and while voluntarily exposing yourself to an uncomfortable situation seems counterintuitive to our daily motivation of keeping our bodies in homeostasis, the results of these "good stressors" work wonders on our physiology. We have over 75,000 miles of vital blood vessels, capillaries, and veins (the Cardiovascular system) running through our bodies, delivering nutrients and oxygen to all our cells, muscles, and tissues. The more efficient and stronger our cardiovascular system, the less our hearts have to work (resulting in lower blood pressure) to deliver nutrients, oxygen, and energy through our vessels. If you want stronger muscles you hit the gym or climb a mountain. Exposing ourselves to the cold, through an ice bath or cold shower, is strength training for our cardiovascular system. No one has died from not training their excessively small biceps, yet an excessively overworked, weak and inefficient cardiovascular system puts an unnecessary payload on our hearts and accounts for 647,000 deaths per year -- the leading cause of death in the US (*Heart Disease related deaths per the CDC).
Living in the present moment can be difficult with all the distractions of social media, kids, our job, and the unknowns of this COVID-19 Pandemic. It seems so simple when recommended in our health and wellness magazines, our local yoga classes, and that mediation blog, yet being fully present in the moment can be hard and frustrating for most people. Ice water activates the deepest, primal aspects of our brain, those regions responsible for survival, intuition, instinct, and basic human functions. When this region is firing, we have little time nor energy to worry about our preconceived issues and annoyances, as they fade into the background when survival is our sole and primary focus. Cold water is a highly effective avenue, allowing the mind to be present and aware.
The Wim Hof Method is a short and simple addition to a daily routine with noticeable, positive results after the first day. The practice is powerful and effective for those young or old, male or female, and anyone looking for a natural way to feel better in their own skin. To learn all the details and particulars of the practice so you can try it out for yourself, visit www.wimhofmethod.com or download the Wim Hof Method app for free on your iPhone or Android device.
Jeremy Wilstein is a Certified Wim Hof Method Instructor out of Park City, Utah. To find out more about upcoming Wim Hof Method workshops please visit www.wimhofmethod.com/instructors/jeremywilstein. Interested in a private workshop, online class or more information on the WHM? Find me at @jeremy.wilstein, Jeremy Wilstein on FB, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.