Can cold training, breathing techniques and focus strengthen the body for stressful situations?

Last Friday Endvr. organized a workshop on the Wim Hof Method. A method we definitely want to investigate and also implement during our preparations for next years 7-Summits challenge. Together with 25 sponsors, followers and friends we experienced the method by learning the specific breathing technique and practicing the hyper focus which made it possible to sit in an ice bath for 2 minutes. I think I don’t say anything untrue if I state that we all got dazzled by the power of our own minds. But how does this work? How do breathing and training of the mind influences the body. And what benefits come from training the cold? Let’s look more into it..

About this method is that science still not managed to get a grip on it. Before this method came into being, Wim trained in nature for many years. In addition, Wim appeared to be able to influence and control his autonomic nervous system by his mental capacities, something that science did not think was possible.
People could not exert any influence on their nervous system … because it is autonomous. But various studies now show that we can indeed influence the nervous system.
You can subdivide your autonomous nervous system into your sympathetic nervous system and your parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic part provides action and is in fact your gas pedal. The parasympathetic part provides relaxation and recovery and is your brake.

People who are stressed often have difficulty getting into relaxation. They often find it hard to become calm so that body and mind are not able to process and repair things. They just keep going without thinking about how they are doing. As a result, all kinds of other processes such as your digestion, your heartbeat, your blood pressure and your energy system are disrupted and function less optimally. You probably understand that this also influences your energy system. If you are always in the active part of your nervous system, there is an unnecessary amount of activity in the body at times when this is actually not necessary. Energy is lost as a result.

With the Wim Hof ​​breathing technique you look for a little stress in your body by breathing more intensively. You mimic a stress response (which comes close to hyperventilation) and then dive deep into the relaxation during a retention. This teaches your body to switch back and forth between exercise and relaxation.

You are therefore literally training your nervous system to switch between sympathetic and parasympathetic. So you can use these two states when you need them, instead of being guided on autopilot by the state of your nervous system. This can become a valuable tool for the insomnia symptoms that often occur when being at high altitude, for example. Or to keep your body in control in the many stressful situations you will face when being on an expedition. But it is also definitely interesting to use this technique while training. As we discussed before it is during recovery time where the body gains its power and by using these breathing techniques we can improve the body’s capacity to optimal recovery.

The ‘Wim Hof ​​method’ combines breathing techniques and the conviction that the body can do more than imagined with cold training that consist of a gradual habituation to cold environments. In addition, he elaborates on the Asian meditation technique Tumo, which according to him helps to generate heat from your nervous system through your will and breathing. This would allow more oxygen to be absorbed into the blood, which would affect the central nervous system. According to Hof, this would cause oxygen to enter the entire body and make it alkaline, which you can see as improvement of the immune system.

Research showed “irrefutably” that the immune system could be influenced via the Wim Hof ​​method, but it was not yet possible to determine which part of it caused this. It would be possible that the breathing technique by itself has an acute effect on the autonomic nervous system, releasing extra adrenaline. According to previous research, it was already known that deep breathing, alternating with long holding of breath, causes a strong change in the acidity and oxygen content in the blood. It was also known that a high adrenaline level inhibits the functioning of the immune system.

During the retention of Iceman breathing, you also achieve a state of deep relaxation. You achieve a comparable state with deep meditation. Where this breathing technique differs from a normal meditation, is that you first “turn on” the body by very intense breathing. Then you let the body fully relax, which often makes you feel extra comfortable.
Often a feeling of bliss goes through you during the retention of breathing. When you do a few laps of the Wim Hof ​​breathing, you feel very relaxed and comfortable.

Now that we have experienced the effects of this breathing technique and our ability to concur an ice bath for 2 minutes by meditation and focus training, we can start to implement it in our training. By building it up gradually we hope to benefit a lot from it during next years expeditions.

Do it yourself!

You can start with taking a cold shower at home. Make sure your breathing stays calm (focus breathing towards the umbilicus and breathe out for a long time). Build it up gradually. It is best not to eat anything for the cold shower. Start by focusing the cold jet of water on your ankles and legs for 15 seconds and then the wrists and arms (always towards the heart). Build it up slowly until you are able to stand in cold shower with the whole body (not the head). A maximum of 1.5 to 2 minutes is enough! If you have doubts about whether it is suitable for you, first consult your doctor or ask us your question. You can email to; [email protected]

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