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Breathing and cold exposure

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

A few weeks back I attended a Wim Hof Method Fundamentals workshop with Kym Burls at PEAQ Conditioning Coaching in Adelaide. If you don't know anything about Wim Hof, Wikipedia describes him as follows:

"Wim Hof (born 20 April 1959), also known as The Iceman, is a Dutch extreme athlete noted for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures. He has set Guinness world records for swimming under ice and prolonged full-body contact with ice, and still holds the record for a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow. He attributes these feats to his Wim Hof Method (WHM), a combination of frequent cold exposure, breathing techniques and meditation. Hof has been the subject of several medical assessments and a book by investigative journalist Scott Carney."

I had heard about Wim Hof through social media and friends talking about him but had never really thought about learning more about his techniques. Who wants to get in an ice bath anyway? However, after reading Breath by James Nestor for the Yoga Book Club, in which Wim's techniques were mentioned, my curiosity was piqued and I was ready to learn more. A friend told me there was a workshop coming up, so I bought myself a ticket.

Essentially, a workshop in the Wim Hof Method involves:

  1. learning about the physiology of the different ways of breathing and how breathing affects the nervous system and levels of blood gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) in the body,

  2. being guided through the Wim Hof breathing technique, and

  3. discovering the benefits of cold exposure by getting into an ice bath. (Thankfully it was a balmy 30 degree day when I attended!)

So, you might be wondering, what did I get out of this?

Firstly, I can honestly say the breathing technique was profoundly powerful. It is best done lying down and involves a series of deep inhales and exhales which is followed by a breath hold (after an exhalation). This is then repeated several times (usually 3-5 rounds). The initial breath hold is for one minute and as each round progresses, builds up for a duration of two minutes. Of course, if you need to breathe in sooner, you can, but I was amazed at how easy the breath hold felt, even after the first round. After the rounds of breathing are completed, you simply stay lying down and return to normal breathing and relax for 10 minutes. The peace and calm I felt after this process was amazing and I could really feel the relaxation wash over my body and mind as a result.

Next came the cold exposure. A lot of people fear the cold and the thought of immersing oneself in a bath filled with ice doesn't sound too enticing. Honestly, I was a bit wary of what I was getting myself into, but I'm not one to back down from a challenge. I have always been a strong advocate for cold showers in the morning (usually taken after a walk or light jog) but this was the first time I'd be getting into water this cold (approx. 4-5 degrees).

The instructor, Kym Burls, stressed the importance of getting into the bath with confidence, i.e. step in and crouch down immediately. I held back and watched as other people went first. I don't know if some of them had done it before, but they made it look pretty easy and effective. Kym checked in with everyone to make sure they were coping and, after a set time, instructed people when to come out. Confidence restored, I was ready to have my turn and used the strategy of those who went before - get in, crouch down, breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth, and do your best to relax. Let's just say I would be lying if I said it was easy to relax in there, but with Kym's guidance, I felt safe and knew there was nothing to worry about. After getting out, my body was bright red and I felt incredibly invigorated. Once everyone had taken their turn, I went in for a second round, mainly because I wanted to see if I could relax further into the cold. And I did. It was definitely worth it.

The big take away for me from the day was the experience I gained in the profound effects of the WHM . The cold exposure is like hitting the 'Reset' button and by shifting the body into opposing states creates opportunities for adaptation and growth. Now, I'm looking forward to trying it again. In fact, I've invited Kym to do a WHM Fundamentals workshop at The Centre of Ki in April 2021, which I'm really looking forward to. Perhaps you'd like to join me?

Ice, ice baby! Getting into the zone by focussing on my breath and trying to relax.

Kym offering us support and guidance.

Find out more about Kym here:

Thanks to PEAQ Conditioning Coaching for the photos.

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