We all do it.
But we never talk about how to breathe. And that’s a shame.
You see, learning how to breathe properly is of great importance.
There are times when you need to say something smooth and witty.
Maybe you’re talking to a girl you’re interested in.
Or maybe you’re the best man at your friend’s wedding, and trying to perform a nice toast.
Hell, you might even be performing an improv routine.
All eyes are on you. As you gaze upon the audience, your heart starts to raise.
You can feel yourself choke up a little…
The adrenaline is pumping through your system.
Maybe, if you’re really nervous, your hands start to shake a little, and your knees feel weak.
In the moments where composure and the ability to think on your feet matter the most, our bodies betray us.
The trick is to just breathe.
If you know how to breathe right, you can regain control over your own bodily functions.
You will stop trembling.
You will no longer feel weak, and you will be able to channel all that adrenaline and excitement inside you to achieve your goals.
When everything is on the line, the trick is to keep breathing.
Your brain and body need oxygen to perform optimally. Stress leads to heavy, shallow breathing — which in turn leads to even more stress. Deep, intentional breathing calms us down.
That is why meditation is effective at relieving stress and enabling us to concentrate better.
When you’re aware of the connection between breathing and your mental/physical state (two sides of the same coin), you can train yourself to manipulate your mind and body “in the moment”.
The science of proper breathing
In fact, science bears this out.
When you breathe properly, the following things happen:
- You have more energy
- Your stress levels are reduced
- Your muscles perform at an optimal level, giving you a higher level of performance in sports
- Your immune system improves
And it goes even deeper than that.
In the 1980s, Harvard researcher Herbert Benson found that Tibetan monks could control their body temperature through meditation:
During visits to remote monasteries in the 1980s, Benson and his team studied monks living in the Himalayan Mountains who could, by g Tum-mo meditation, raise the temperatures of their fingers and toes by as much as 17 degrees. It has yet to be determined how the monks are able to generate such heat.
Other monks could also control their metabolism:
They were astonished to find that these monks could lower their metabolism by 64 percent. “It was an astounding, breathtaking [no pun intended] result,” Benson exclaims….
To put that decrease in perspective, metabolism, or oxygen consumption, drops only 10-15 percent in sleep and about 17 percent during simple meditation.
Medical researchers have also found that, with the right training, people can learn how to control their body’s fight-or-flight response system — as well as their immune response! Crazy.
(The study is extra relevant to me and you, because the researchers looked at people who studied meditation under a man named Wim Hof. I will talk more about him very soon.)
Why the cold is your best friend (or worst enemy)
Just like breathing, exposing yourself to cold temperatures affects a number of aspects of your brain and body.
Showering in cold temperatures improves your metabolism.
It stimulates fat loss.
It’s even been found to reduce inflammations in your body.
Cold temperatures stimulate your body to properly regulate hormone levels…
Exposing yourself to cold temperatures through showers (or ice baths!) will improve your sleep quality…
And it will even cause your body to release more endorphins.
Asceticism and self-mastery
Science isn’t everything in life, though. Personally, since learning how to tolerate extremely cold temperatures I have gained additional confidence in myself and my body, and — no matter how silly this sounds — I feel more courageous.
Being a professional boxer, I already wasn’t very concerned about pain. I’m used to it.
Since proving to myself I can take extremely cold showers, though, I have gained an even better understanding of pain:
I now know, better than ever before, that it is more mental than it is physical.
That you can choose to let pain control your life…
Or to suck it up and power through.
When you do the latter, oftentimes the pain will go away altogether.
That’s the power of the mind for you.
Who is Wim Hof?
So who is this Wim Hof guy, anyway?
I have only mentioned him briefly so far, and that’s because any introduction to this guy requires its own section of the article.
The main thing you need to know about this guy:
He is batshit crazy.
There is no other way of putting it.
I first found out about Wim Hof through Mike Cernovich:
— Mike Cernovich 🇺🇸 (@Cernovich) December 6, 2015
After seeing Cernovich talk about this guy for several months straight, I had to check him out for myself.
Wim Hof is a 58-year-old adventurer and professional daredevil from the Netherlands.
His nickname is “The Iceman”, which he earned because of his ability to withstand extreme cold:
Wim holds 26 world records (that’s not a typo). One of them is for taking the longest ice bath in the world:
1 hour, 52 minutes, and 42 seconds if you’re wondering — a record that he’s broken several times since then.
He also climbed both Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro wearing nothing but shorts and a pair of shoes…
He even completed a full marathon above the arctic circle, wearing nothing but shorts.
On the other extreme side of things, he also ran a full marathon in the Namib desert — without water.
Wim, probably more than anybody else, has challenged the limits of what the human body is capable of.
VICE made a documentary about him, which I highly recommend watching:
Why I bought his course
Aside from doing crazy stuff all the time, Wim Hof also has a 10-week long video course where he teaches his methods to laymen like me and you.
Now, I’m not gonna lie:
I was skeptical at first. I wasn’t sure it’d actually help me in any meaningful way, and the relatively high price tag didn’t help (the course costs $199).
But then I went over it in my mind.
As a professional athlete, I need cardiovascular performance. If I can get an edge on my competitors in this area, that’s worth a lot to me.
As an undergraduate student in Physics, I need to be able to focus when I study. Especially considering how busy and stressful my life can be: I’m balancing my sport, my studies, my work, my writing, and my relationship.
So if I can reduce the stress produced by my busy lifestyle, and improve my ability to focus…
It’s going to pay dividends in all areas of my life.
Lastly, I thought, if nothing else it will make for an interesting story.
People seriously underestimate how important it is to try new things. In the grand scheme of things, a couple hundred bucks isn’t much. Hell, you can’t do much with that amount of money even now. But an experience? That lasts a lifetime — and pays off in wisdom and character.
So I decided to pull the trigger.
In late 2016, I bought Wim Hof’s video course.
And I’m glad I did.
The Wim Hof Method revealed
The breathing technique (which is really a form of meditation) developed by Wim Hof is similar to the meditation forms practiced by the Himalayan monks mentioned earlier on in the article.
This is what it consists of:
The first step of the Wim Hof is simple. Sit down in a meditation posture — whichever one is most comfortable for you.
Then, make sure you can expand your lungs freely without feeling any constriction.
Wim recommends that you do this practice after waking up, since your stomach is still empty. You can also do it right before a meal though.
The next step is to take 30 power breaths.
Wim says to imagine you’re blowing up a balloon. Inhale through the nose or mouth and exhale through the mouth in short but powerful bursts.
Keep a steady pace and use your midriff fully.
You should close your eyes and do these power breaths 30 times.
You might experience tingling sensations in the body or light-headedness. That’s normal when you’re a beginner.
“The Hold”: retention after exhalation.
After you’re done with your 30 power breaths, draw the breath in once more. Fill your lungs as much as possible (but without using any force).
Then let the air out and hold for as long as you can, again without using any force.
Hold your breath until you experience the gasp reflex.
Now, inhale to full capacity. You’ll feel your chest expanding. Once you are at “full capacity”, hold your breath for around 10 seconds.
That’s round one. Repeat about 3 times.
Now you’re done with the breathing exercise.
Take some time to recover — I’d recover 5-10 minutes. Don’t over-exert yourself, especially in the beginning.
Do this exercise daily. After a while, you can add another “round” or two of the exercise.
So again, in summary:
Sit down comfortably, make sure you can expand your lungs without feeling any constrictions
Blow balloons 30 times
Breathe in fully
Breath out fully, hold (but don’t force it) until you feel the gasp reflex
Inhale fully and hold for about 10 seconds
Repeat about 3 times
Relax and “feel” your body for 5-10 minutes
Now, please keep in mind I am not a doctor or health professional. It’s probably best if you consult a pro before you do these exercises, especially if you have had problems with your health in the past.
Starting out, I did feel a little light-headedness (which I hear is a pretty common thing). For this reason, you should not do any of these exercises underwater, while driving, standing up, etc.
(If you do feel light-headed, take a break.)
With all those disclaimers out of the way, I will say this:
After doing these exercises for several months now, I have never felt better.
An added “bonus” of the course is the cold showers.
I’ve known about the benefits of taking cold showers for a very long time, but despite this I never bothered to develop the habit.
Volunteering to freeze your ass off every morning just never seemed that appealing to me.
But since I’d already purchased the course, I figured I’d give cold showers a try. If for no other reason than to get the full “Wim Hof experience”.
Now? I definitely endorse the practice.
To me, the greatest benefit of taking cold showers regularly is that I’m now aware of how my body reacts to the cold, and how I can control this response.
That might sound insignificant, but I don’t think so.
When the ice cold water hits your body, you struggle to breath and your body starts to shiver.
That’s an involuntary response, and to have control over it is remarkable. And my ability to do so transfers over to my ability to control nervousness and other involuntary responses.
I’m by no means some mystic yogi, but the shivering from cold showers used to be so intense I couldn’t even speak.
Now, if I wanted to, I can have full-fletched conversations. I am in control of my body.
Coupled with the other benefits of cold showers, such as:
- Improved blood circulation
- Anti-depressive effects (exposure to cold increases beta-endorphin and noradrenaline levels)
- Healthier skin and hair (hot water dries out skin and hair, whereas cold water closes up your pores)
- Strengthened immune system (your white blood cell count increases)
- Increased testosterone levels
- Increased fertility (your sperm count decreases when you expose your testes to warm temperatures)
… I think taking cold showers should be a no-brainer.
There are a couple exceptions though:
If you suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, or feel overheated or feverish, you should not take cold showers.
That’s because when you expose your body to cold temperatures, your blood vessels contract. This can be dangerous if your blood pressure is already high. And if you’re overheated, your blood vessels need to dilate to release heat.
If you are healthy, though, I cannot recommend cold showers enough. They’re truly great.
Tip: start out by slowly decreasing the temperature. That way your body can adjust to the cold better, and it won’t be as scary.
About the ice baths…
In the course, the cold showers (or “ice showers”) are a way to build up to eventually doing ice baths.
I haven’t been able to do these yet, since my old apartment only had a shower. I’m looking forward to trying them out in my new apartment though. Once I’ve done that, I will update this article with my thoughts.
Want to know what my first ice bath was like? Click to sign up to my newsletter and you’ll be the first to know when it happens.
Other things included in the course
The course also contains a lot of bonus material.
For example, you learn how to do several different mini-exercises. These are perfect if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands to dedicate to the full routine.
You also get access to bonus footage of Wim Hof carrying out different incredible feats, as well as a documentary about him, etc.
I think the main material is the real selling point of the course, but the bonus material is a big value add. Even if you don’t care about Wim Hof at all, the mini-exercises alone are super useful.
Is Wim Hof’s video course worth the money?
There’s a big elephant in the room.
A question that’s on everyone’s mind:
Is it worth the money?
The 10-week video course is $199.
So why would you spend that kind of money on a course about… breathing?
It seems pointless. Everyone knows how to breathe, right?
But like we established earlier, not everyone knows how to do it properly. As the Himalayan monks show, learning how to meditate and breathe properly is basically a superpower.
Like I mentioned earlier, I was skeptical of this course at first. I almost didn’t buy it.
So I understand if you’re hesitant too.
But honestly, when you keep things in perspective, $199 for a 10-week long programme isn’t that much.
It’s about 20 bucks per week.
Or half a cup of coffee every day.
You probably spend at least that much on Spotify, Netflix, HBO, and other subscription services. You most definitely spend more than that on going out, buying coffee, etc.
And unlike Netflix (or getting drunk on a Friday night), self-improvement has a positive ROI.
You’re not wasting your time.
You’re not indulging in mindless consumption:
You’re investing in your health. You’re making your mind and body better.
We all know that. But it’s tough to comprehend beyond a purely intellectual level. It’s pretty abstract.
Ultimately, what convinced me to make the investment was the refund policy.
You get to try out the course for 14 days (that’s a generous 20% of the course duration). If you’re not happy, you get a full refund.
In a nutshell, trying it out is risk-free.
And after the first 14 days, the value of this course was already clear to me. They didn’t “hold out” on the good stuff until right after the trial period. So I kept going, and I don’t have any regrets so far.
(Note: as I’m going back and updating this article more or less a year after I bought the course, I still don’t have any regrets!)
I’ve recommended this course to several friends and family members, which is why I feel very comfortable endorsing it to you, my blog readers, as well.
If this review was helpful in informing your decision to buy the course, I’d appreciate it if you use my affiliate link.
It comes at no extra cost to you, and helps me keep writing and producing content for you.
Yes, the Wim Hof Method does work.
To recap, this is why you should try out Wim Hof’s video course:
- Increased control of your nervous system
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Heightened focus
- Lower stress levels
I personally bought the course a year ago and the impact it’s had on my everyday life is significant. I even plan on re-taking the course to prepare myself for 2018.