When Wim Hof, a record-breaking Dutchman, runs arctic marathons in shorts or hangs by his finger off a cliff, he serves to make a philosophical point. We’re all freaks of nature, he’d say. If he can exert mental control over his autonomic nervous system, perhaps you can too.
This article will cover Hof’s healing protocol, the Wim Hof Method (WHM), which combines cold therapy, concentration and breathwork to break self-limiting beliefs and amplify the body’s healing powers. Hof claims that by doing so, we can treat chronic diseases, beat depression, lose weight, enhance athletic performance and sleep better.
Just as Paleo dieters strive to eat more like our Paleolithic ancestors and proponents of the “rewilding” movement idealize pre-agricultural society, Hof draws inspiration from antiquity. He argues that the comforts of modern life, such as artificial climate control, have stifled our bodies’ adaptive mechanisms. But by incorporating practices like cold exposure and intense concentration, the WHM aims to re-awaken people’s biological prowess.
Sound crazy? Some people think so. However, he has amassed an impressive following. Science hasn’t revealed exactly how or why the WHM works, but once people start his protocol, they tend to stick with it.
As we mentioned earlier, the WHM includes breathwork, meditative-like concentration and controlled exposure to the cold. We’ll provide a general overview of his technique, but you may want to visit the Wim Hof website for more specifics. Also, we advise against trying these exercises without first enlisting the guidance of an expert. Under no circumstances should you attempt the WHM while you’re under water or driving. With that said, here’s the gist:
- Breathwork: Hof’s breathing technique might feel familiar if you’ve ever done yogic breathwork. Inspired by Tummo meditation, it involves taking deep, powerful breaths and incomplete exhales. This method of “cyclic hyperventilation” generates internal heat, priming the body to withstand freezing temperatures.
- Cold therapy: Following the breathwork, the WHM calls for cold exposure. Many people start off by taking cold showers, eventually adopting more intense options like ice baths. This part only feels uncomfortable to beginners, Hof would say. You can build a tolerance to freezing temperatures by training your vasoconstrictors, the intravenous muscles that contract in the cold, to perform better over time.
According to Hof, “exercising” your vasoconstrictors can strengthen the entire cardiovascular system, which is one reason why professional athletes use his method.
Clinical studies also show that the WHM may alleviate chronic inflammation, which is a key player in health issues from autoimmune diseases to depression. Participants in one study were injected with an endotoxin, which would typically trigger an inflammatory response from the immune system. However, when the subjects practiced meditation, cyclic hyperventilation and cold exposure, their plasma showed minimal pro-inflammatory proteins. An experiment on Hof himself elicited similar results.
While these existing studies may indicate that the WHM has potential, Hof’s claims still require practitioners to take a leap of faith. There’s no scientific proof yet to support that the WHM can spur weight loss, improve sleep, sharpen concentration, cure depression or unleash any kind of exceptional powers.
Proceed with caution
As technology advances, Hof’s theories can serve to remind us of nature’s existing accomplishments, like the millennia of evolution that refined modern humans. If you or your loved ones have suffered from any chronic challenge – from Crohn’s disease and depression to persistent brain fog – we hope this information gives you hope. However, the studies that align with some of Hof’s claims do not conclude that his method should replace conventional medical treatment. Please consult with an expert prior to trying any of his techniques.