The Wim Hof Method
This research article investigates the science and technique behind the Wim Hof Method (WHM), a breathing, mindset and cold endurance practice that enables people to control their autonomic nervous system, immune system, combat illness, and become extraordinarily healthy, happy, strong and energised.
The method was developed by Wim Hof, a Dutchman whose impressive abilities, often under conditions of extreme cold, have earned him the nickname ‘The Iceman.’
He has accumulated more than 20 world records, including climbing the world’s highest mountains in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, running a full marathon in the Namib Desert without drinking, and standing in a container of ice for more than 112 minutes.
The three main components of the WHM are breathing/meditation, mindset/focus and cold therapy.
The WHM is similar to Tummo (inner heat) meditation and Pranayama (yogic breathing); yet it is also something completely different. Hof has studied yoga and meditation techniques for many years, but his method comes from what he calls “cold hard nature.”
Through training and listening to his body, mind and spirit in hard natural environments, he has developed a meditation technique that enables people to overcome mental and physical illness in a way that defies scientific convention.
During his 2009 full ice immersion world record attempt in shorts, Wim Hof swallowed a capsule to measure his core temperature.
Once a body’s core temperature falls below 95 F (35 C), it is not usually able to warm itself again and will spiral downwards without an external source of heat. However, Wim was able to raise his core temperature from 88 F to 94 F using the Wim Hof Method technique.
In 2012, the results of two experiments carried out on Wim Hof by The Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands were published.
Wim first participated in an 80-minute full body ice immersion and was next injected with components of E-coli bacteria which usually induce headache, fever, nausea and muscle pain.
The results showed that Hof was able to control his autonomic nervous system and innate immune system by regulating his body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure in ice, and suppressing the effects of the E-coli bacteria.
Hof only suffered a mild headache at the time when the symptoms should have been their strongest. The results also showed that Hof produced less than half the number of inflammatory proteins in comparison to test subjects.
Wim Hof then trained 12 volunteers in the WHM for 10 days for a 2013 study to show that his abilities are not unique. The results (published in 2014 and 2015) showed that people who practise the WHM for only 10 days are also able to use breathing and mindset (or “outcome expectancy optimism“) techniques to voluntarily influence the sympathetic nervous system, control the fight or flight response, and reduce the negative effects of the same E-coli bacteria.
The body temperature and influenza (flu) symptoms of the WHM test subjects were far less than the control group, normalised much faster, and far fewer inflammatory proteins were produced.
A 2014 report in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine found that a group of 26 trekkers trained in the WHM were able to prevent and, if needed, reverse symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS) while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The participants “aged 29 to 64 years” were “nonathletes with little or no prior climbing experience, inhabitants of low altitudes, some with typically handicapping diagnoses such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and metastasized cancer.”
The mainstream medical narrative states that the autonomic nervous system and immune system cannot be willingly regulated; the WHM method proves this to be incorrect, and a standard issue 3rd year university text book now acknowledges this in the USA.
Recently, a 2018 brain imaging study designed to generate mild hypothermia in Wim Hof and a control group found that the WHM changes brain activity, activating pain/cold stimuli modulation, as well as areas of the brain associated with self-reflection, internal focus and sustained attention in the presence of averse external stimuli.
The video also explains the method itself, while the e-book explains how the method differs from other meditation techniques and how it benefits people with auto-immune disease, heart or vascular disease, and obesity.
Multiple video testimonials demonstrate how the WHM helps with illnesses such as diabetes, lyme disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, as well as progressive wound healing in burn victims, and much more.
The official website explains many other benefits, including boosting the immune system and concentration, improving mental health, creativity and sleep, increasing will power and sports performance, and relieving symptoms of stress, depression, arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
There are many other completed and ongoing studies on the WHM, and the method is also being used as a tool to go into other meditation practices more deeply and as a tool to explore dream-state consciousness.
In a 2010 TEDx Talk in Amsterdam, Wim Hof explains:
My mission is to show that … We got healing power. We really got it, but if we block it because we say “yeah I cannot heal myself. I need to go to the doctor” .. then you won’t have access towards your own healing power.
In a 2015 TEDxYouth Talk in Maastricht, he continues:
The only goal on this planet, this beautiful planet, actually is to become spiritually aware … Our spirit wants to evolve, grow, become strong and expand and become happy therein. There is only happiness from living from this belief, feeling, within the depth of our being.
In a 2015 TEDx Talk in Breda, he concludes:
It’s time that we not only develop beautiful technology, amazing technology, but we become this time happy, strong and healthy, and we got the data to prove that it is possible for every person in this world, very accessible just in a couple of days. …
Any scripture tells compassion and love – that’s the message. [yet] They only fight. This time we are going to show scientifically that we are able to make happen our own happiness, strength and health for our children and for the Earth.
Sit (or lie) in a comfortable position.
Breathe 30 times by sucking deeply through the mouth or nose and releasing most (not all) of the air through the mouth. Focus on the breathing.
On the 30th breath, release and then stop breathing. The body is charged with oxygen. Focus on the sensations in the body. Imagine the body healing itself. Explore your state of consciousness at this time.
When you feel the need to breathe again, take a deep breath in and swallow that oxygen deep into the body. If needed, direct it to where the body needs healing/heat. Feel any aches or pains reduce. Hold for 10-15 seconds (or longer if you wish).
Repeat the 30 breath cycle 2 more times. On the final cycle, release the air and do push ups. Use your mindset to focus only on the push ups. With the cells and muscles charged with oxygen, you will find you can do more dynamic stretches than usual.
Do some mobility stretches (e.g. yoga) in this state. Take deep steady breaths in and out and focus on the mind/body connection. Your body will be able to stretch further but be careful not to overstretch and cause yourself an injury.
Finish with cold therapy. You can take steady deep breaths in and out, imagine a ball of heat in your body (e.g. in the stomach), and/or take 5 deep WHM breaths (breathing out without fully letting go) then squeezing the oxygen into the chest, neck and head to create heat.
The goal is to gradually introduce your body to cold exposure. Start with a warm shower and finish with a cold shower for a few seconds, or turn the water back to warm and back to cold. Start with the feet and hands first. Then the legs, stomach, shoulders etc. When you are ready, you can try a cold bath.
Always listen to your own body, mind and spirit (intuition). You can increase the breathing repetitions and number of breaths to go deeper (but do not pass out), and increase push ups, stretches and length of cold exposure over time.
You can also experiment with Win Hof’s unique breathing technique for deeper stretches explained via videos as part of the mobile app. Make the whole process about discovering your own body/mind/spirit connection, and having fun.
The end goal will be an ice bath; then exploring ice-cold temperatures in nature.
Cold exposure is important for the full cardiovascular health benefits; you will eventually be able to control your body’s core temperature, innate immune response, and experience a deep inner connection between your own mind/body/spirit and nature, but it is not a competition so continue at your own pace.
The WHM breathing/meditation practice and controlled exercises/stretches are already scientifically extremely beneficial, for example in enhancing mood, mobility and energy levels while decreasing inflammation and pain, so they are a perfect place to start.
The official WHM website offers e-learning courses as well as in-person workshops; there are also many videos online from official Wim Hof Instructors and serious practitioners, e.g. 1, 2, 3, and this comprehensive 2019 podcast between Wim Hof and Russell Brand goes deep into the technique’s background and applications in Hof’s own words.
Yet the technique is simple and everything you need to know can be viewed in this post’s video, or via the free WHM mobile app, so explore the science, learn the practice, experience its benefits, and have fun becoming superhuman!