Trial By Ice: Wim Hof’s Cold Exposure And Breathing Exercises

In a previous article we talked all about the Iceman from Limburg, Wim Hof, and his legendary tolerance to extreme heat and cold. Initially, when researching him for the article, I’d put down his freakish abilities to some genetic abnormality, and considered him the exception to what was humanly possible. Further digging revealed that Wim Hof’s methods are actually quite readily available for those willing to learn them.

Our group of Wim Hof devotees

 Sign Me Up!

From how to centre your mind and endure freezing cold temperatures to focused breathing that’s reported to help you control your autonomic systems of the body, Wim Hof’s methods can be studied either directly under him or with a certified teacher (for a fee). With that in mind I decided to jump online to see if there was a chance that Wim Hof was coming to a city near me. Alas, no success, however there was a cold exposure and breathing session coming up run by Josh and Casey Cordoba of H.E.L.P. Sydney, who have both been given the Wim Hof stamp of approval. If they’re good enough for Wim they’re good enough for me!

Diaphragmatic breathing
Learning the basics of diaphragmatic breathing

I booked my ticket and within the week found myself horizontal on the cold floor of a local surf club, eyes closed and surrounded by a bunch of Wim Hof hopefuls and devotees.

 Wim Hof’s Breathing Technique

I was skeptical at first (even though I do believe that Wim himself can perform these feats) that by simply breathing, I could control various systems within my body. As it says on his website though:

“We’re always breathing, yet we’re mostly unaware of its tremendous potential. Heightened oxygen levels hold a treasure trove of benefits, and the specialized breathing technique of the Wim Hof Method unearths them all: more energy, reduced stress levels and an augmented immune response to swiftly deal with pathogens”

Seems legit, I mean, I’ve been breathing for 27 years now – should be pretty good at it. With this in mind we were instructed to lie flat on our backs – heads slightly propped up by a pillow – close our eyes, and sink into a rhythm of deep diaphragmatic breathing. In, out, in, out. Filling the lower abdomen and lungs up to capacity and exhaling nearly all the way out – essentially leaving a surplus of oxygen in the body.

Lying on floor breathing
The beginning of our breathing exercise

This continues until you reach about 35 breaths (one round), whereupon you’re told to exhale about 80% and hold your breath for as long as possible. Once you can’t hold it any longer, you must then take a massive inhale and hold the new air for around 10 seconds. I tapped out at what felt like a minute on the first round, but as we continued and came to the fourth and final round, I exhaled 80% and held, only to experience a strange calmness come over my mind. Tingling was felt all over my body and the muscles in my arms began to twitch ever so slightly.

Jacked Up On Wim Hof

Was this what they talk about when they said you’ll feel “charged”?

On this last breath hold I was 100% in the moment and focused on my body. Tell me the last time you concentrated on one thing for 5 minutes straight, free from distraction and without being swept away in a river of thought.

This hold, as I was told later, went for over 4 minutes (on an exhale breath mind you). Time however was not relevant to my thinking and a feeling I can only describe as euphoria began to fill my body. Upon opening my eyes it felt as if colours were brighter, noises were sharper and every single one of my senses was on fire. I was in disbelief – Viva La Hof!

Wim Hof’s Cold Exposure Exercise

Part two of this Wim Hof endorsed coaching session encompassed immersing ourselves in a pool of ice water. This was undertaken outside on a cold, grey winter’s day. The setting from inside the club looking out resembles a depressing English beach and nothing like the usually inviting Australian coastline, which only added to my initial reservations.

Cold water immersion
Yours truly trying to remain composed as his testicles search for higher ground

Post Wim Hof breathing however, I felt like I could take on an iceberg. And ice baptism in a piddly pool of near freezing water be damned!

So we began. A gathering of half naked “Wim Hofers” standing around a blow up pool filled with water, and ice from the bottle shop around the corner. We took a step forward, waited, then linked arms and stepped in. If the initial shock of the subzero water rising up over your nipples didn’t rattle you, the groans of the people beside you did.

Sitting in an icebath
The cold is your friend, not your foe!

Once submerged up to my neck I began to focus my breathing, in the same way the trainers briefed us, by taking full breaths in then letting out air in a sustained and measured manner. This went on for three minutes.

Three whole minutes in an ice bath… outside… in winter

It’s the most curious thing though. You’d think you would hyperventilate and struggle against the cold. But upon accepting it and remaining calm, you can actually endure an incredible amount of time in the pool. Is this the secret to Wim Hof’s cold exposure methods? Those three minutes passed in what seemed like a second, and before I knew it we were climbing out to jump into the comparably hot ocean.

Post Wim Hof Ponderings

After coming out of the ocean, saying my goodbyes and scuttling away from the session with high hopes and promises of warm pizza, I began to reflect on the day. I was still buzzing from the breathing exercises and feeling buoyed by a sense of achievement.

Three weeks down the track and I’ve been “Hoffing” it at least once every couple of days with mixed results. Some days I feel pumped, others, just sleepy. Perhaps I’m only half-assing it? Cold water exposure is hard to maintain but an icy shower in the morning does wonders for when you need a bit of help waking up.

I can’t help but think that perhaps the collective energy and nervous anticipation of those around me contributed to that enlightened moment during the breathing exercise. But one things for sure, I do notice a rise in energy levels and overall increase in mental sharpness on days when I Wim Hof successfully – enough of a difference in fact that I am now a staunch believer in his methods.

H.E.L.P. Sydney
Thanks to the team at H.E.L.P. Sydney for organising this event

All photos courtesy of H.E.L.P. Sydney


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