I had heard a lot about the Wim Hof Method, and as a mental health professional, I wanted to investigate it and experience it myself to see if the much talked about benefits were real. 

In simple terms the Wim Hof Method has three main components. These are breath control, cold exposure and meditation. Wim Hof believes the method is a way to keep your body and mind in its optimal state. His website states that historically survival techniques kept humans physically and mentally fit. The natural environment of sub-zero temperatures, lack of shelter and hunting animals kept our muscles supple and our minds sharp. Modern lifestyles are no longer like this. Our lifestyles involve large amounts of sitting indoors with heating using technology products such as phones, laptops and TVs. The Wim Hof Method is a process of going back to what nature intended. It is about providing our bodies and minds with what they need. 

I have to say, I was intrigued, and I wanted to find out more.


What is the Wim Hof breathing technique?


“Our breathing has the ability to enlighten and activate any physiological mechanism in conscious control.” Wim Hof

Breathing is an unconscious activity that we do automatically. Breathing keeps us alive and is regulated by the autonomic nervous system. The amount of oxygen we inhale through breathing impacts the amount of energy that is released into our cells. The way we breathe affects both the physiological and psychological process and the chemicals that go through our bodies. 

Wim Hof has developed several breathing exercises with a focus on maintaining his body in optimal condition. The Wim Hof breathing technique involves deeply inhaling and taking the air into our gut, our chest and our brain. Then exhaling the breath slowly but without force. It can invoke a lightheaded feeling and can even feel invigorating and exhilarating. The exercise involves doing 30 inhales and exhales and then holding your breath. You should inhale deeply for as long as you can. Hold your breath for about 15 seconds and then release. Do this for three to four times without a break. This technique will induce a calm state and will make you feel relaxed. Try the Beginners technique here.

Practicing these techniques releases more energy into your cells and influences your nervous system. The exercise induces a voluntary stress response and creates physiological changes. As you are practicing managing stress responses this will provide you with more resilience when you face stressful situations. 


Experiencing cold exposure using the Wim Hof method


“We have become alienated from nature. But the cold is capable of bringing us back to what we once had lost.” Wim Hof

The second part of the Wim Hof method is exposure to the cold. I know, you probably don’t like the sound of it! It was definitely the one of the three that I struggled with the most. However, it’s amazing how you can get used to it. This should be done gradually so your body gains tolerance. Remember it can be dangerous to just fully immerse yourself in freezing cold water for a long period of time. Start by having cold showers and increasing the time you spend in the cold water. Start with just five seconds at the end of your hot shower. Gradually increase the time every few days. After a few weeks you should be able to endure ten minutes in the cold shower. You will then be able to immerse yourself in a cold stream or lake.

When you start this practice, your body will recoil with the shock of the cold water. Your muscles may tighten, breathing may become laboured, and you may start shivering. This is normal and the trick is to remain calm and breathe calmly. I know it sounds unlikely, but I’ll be quite honest, I actually enjoy it now!

Frequent exposure to the cold speeds up your metabolism, reduces inflammation and swelling. It can help greatly with sore muscles and is often used by sports men and women. Cold exposure can also improve your quality of sleep, your focus and your response. In a study carried out by Radboud University they conducted an experiment by exposing people to a pathogen. They identified that the participants who followed the Wim Hof method had an increased immune response. Participants also exhibited fewer symptoms of disease than those who didn’t follow the method. 


Wim Hof meditation technique


“If you want to free your mind, first you have to let it go.” Wim Hof

The third part of the Wim Hof method is meditation or training of the mind. By practicing the breathing techniques and the cold exposure you will automatically be developing motivation, willpower and patience. This part is one step further and is learning about your mind and the power you have within yourself. 

Everybody has different levels of willpower and different things that drive them to succeed at tasks. Generally, most people are trying to become better versions of themselves. This could be by losing weight, learning new things, earning more money or understanding yourself better. We need willpower to do all these things. So, it stands to reason the more willpower we have the better person we can become. People with low willpower tend to make poor choices in life. This is because they focus on the short-term goals rather than the long-term goals. It is considered people with more willpower are happier, more satisfied, have better careers and can cope with adversity better. 

The third part of the Wim Hof method is about increasing your willpower. The exercises predominantly relate to self-control. They require you to become focused and more self-aware. As you practice you will become more attuned to your thoughts and emotions without necessarily acting on them. 


Practicing the three Wim Hof components


Combining the three components described in this article provides you with powerful tools. Practicing the Wim Hof methodology can help to make you stronger both mentally and physically. Adding additional exercises of yoga, Pilates and strength-based exercises will build your tolerance and muscles. 

The mental benefits of the Wim Hof method include stress reduction, better sleep, better focus, improved clarity and resilience. Physical benefits of the Wim Hof method include quicker recovery times from exercise, improved performance and increased fitness levels. This method has also been attributed to reducing symptoms of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma and autoimmune diseases. It is also linked to improving wellbeing for those who suffer with mental health such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and stress. 

Over the years Wim Hof and his methods have received much criticism. However, in recent years scientific experiments have supported his claims. Scientific studies have shown participants are able to voluntarily influence their autonomic nervous system. Studies are ongoing into the long-term improvements seen by people who practice these techniques. 


Did I see a benefit?


For myself, the answer to that is a definite yes! The first benefit I noticed was an increased ability to ward off infection. I went for months through the winter without getting any colds or flu (or COVID!), where I would normally get one or two colds. I also noticed an increase in my lung capacity and an improvement in regulating my body temperature. I am continuing with the method as I am sure that the benefits will be longterm. 


How the Wim Hof method can help with PTSD


The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in our body and regulates the autonomic nervous system. It stretches from the brain to the liver and is attached to several organs including the heart, brain and stomach. When someone suffers with PTSD their vagus nerve becomes out of sync. Their bodies don’t respond to stress as they previously would have. They may experience hyperarousal symptoms such as fight or flight, palpitations, irregular breathing and feelings of fear or panic may emerge. They may experience hypoarousal symptoms which are responsible for relaxing the body. They may experience trembling, bad stomach pains, numbing and feelings of guilt and disgust may emerge.

Getting the vagus nerve back into fully functioning mode is critical to responding to the needs of PTSD sufferers. Cold water swimming has previously been proven to ease PTSD symptoms. Studies have shown that practicing this activity reduces cortisol (stress hormone) and normalises the production of serotonin (calming hormone). The cold exposure delays the release of stress chemicals and improves resilience thereby improving tolerance levels towards stress. Yoga and meditation are also activities that are recommended. Regular practice of meditation allows you to focus on the present moment and effectively control your mind. Deep conscious breathing allows your body to manage stress and move back into states of calmness. 

Please remember to go at a pace that suits you, slow and steady wins the race. It is best to consult a GP before beginning any of these regimes to make sure you do not cause any harm for your specific condition. But if it’s safe to do so, then why not give this a try? It could be that you experience multiple benefits.


PTSD therapy 


An essential part of managing PTSD is to get help to remove the trauma patterns that were laid down after the traumatic experience. It is important to get professional help to do this. Please contact us directly if you would like to discuss your specific issues in more detail. You can also head over to our website for information and useful downloads, such as an explanation of the way our brains process trauma. 

With warmest wishes, 


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