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The Wim Hof Method: Boost Your Health with the Iceman’s Technique

The Wim Hof Method combines breathing, cold therapy, and commitment to help you connect more deeply to your body. It involves powerful inhalation, relaxed exhalation, and prolonged breath holds.

Proponents say the technique can lead to:

  • increased immunity
  • better sleep
  • reduced stress
  • heightened focus

However, there are certain precautions and contraindications you should be aware of. Learn more about the Wim Hof Method, how to do it yourself, and what the research says.

What is Wim Hof breathing?

The Wim Hof Method was created by Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete who is also known as “The Iceman.” Hof believes you can accomplish incredible feats by developing command over your body, breath, and mind through the use of specific breathing techniques and tolerance to extreme temperatures.

There are three pillars to the Wim Hof Method:

  • breathing
  • cold therapy
  • commitment

First, students are taught specific methods of controlled deep breathing. This can be practiced alone or in combination with cold therapy, a technique where the body is exposed to extremely cold temperatures for several minutes.

Christina Casey, RN, is a certified Wim Hof Method instructor and a registered nurse with over 20 years of experience.

“The point of [the] breath is to increase oxygen levels and blow out carbon dioxide,” she says. “It has been shown to help with depression, anxiety, mood, mental focus, and pain management.”

How to practice the breathing method

“The beauty of the Wim Hof Method breathwork is that there is a basic format, with room for making it work for you as an individual,” Casey says.

As such, you may learn slightly different versions of the Wim Hof Method breathwork practice from different teachers.

You may also change how you practice based on how you are feeling on any given day. That’s completely OK, and it’s even encouraged.

The Wim Hof technique
One round of the Wim Hof Method breathing technique includes these steps:

  • Take in a strong inhalation through the nose.
  • Let out a relaxed exhalation through the mouth.
  • Repeat for 30 breaths.
  • On the 30th breath, exhale to 90 percent and hold for as long as you can.
  • When you feel your body really needs to take a breath, inhale fully and hold for 15 seconds before releasing.

The basic technique involves three consecutive rounds of the above.

Eventually, the breathing may feel like a wave flowing through your lungs, but this will take practice.

Many people primarily use the top of their lungs when they inhale, leading to mostly shallow breaths. In Wim Hof breathing, the diaphragm is engaged, and the lower lungs are filled. The belly should protrude on the inhalation and flatten on the exhalation.

Casey also notes that the Wim Hof Method can be difficult for people who are “reverse breathers.” One way to check if you are reverse breathing is if your belly flattens when you inhale and sticks out when you exhale. This is reverse breathing

To correct reverse breathing, Casey recommends placing your hand on your belly, or lying on your back and placing a small weight on your belly. This provides some sensory feedback as you practice pushing out on the inhalation and feel your belly going down on the exhalation.

“Getting guidance from a trained instructor can also really help dial in the breathing technique,” she says.

Tips for beginners

Here are some general pointers for people who are new to Wim Hof Method breathwork:

  • If you are unable to breathe through your nose due to congestion or other reasons, mouth breathing is OK.
  • Use the cue “belly, chest, head” when inhaling to remind you to use all of your lungs.
  • Consciously relax your jaw and the muscles in your neck and upper shoulders.
  • Otherwise, you may experience tension headaches.
  • Let go of any competitive mindset. It doesn’t matter how long you hold the 30th breath.
  • While holding your breath, use a nose clip or pinch your nose to avoid taking in microsips of air, if necessary.
  • Use the breath retention phase to witness your own thoughts and your body’s response.
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