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Welcome To Polar Prana - My Personal Journey With The Wim Hof Method

A detailed, inside look at the Wim Hof Method… benefits, challenges, tips and more!

Days

My Background

I’ve been an advocate of healthy, natural living all my life… martial arts, yoga, pranic healing… these are just a few of my passions. And now there is a new one… The Wim Hof Method!

This site will chronicle my weekly journey through the Wim Hof Method… the progress, challenges and insights as I continue to seek my personal potential for health, fitness and truth.

 

How I Got Started

My first exposure to the Wim Hof Method started on January 29th, 2017 at a workshop hosted by my friend and certified WHM instructor, Matt Soule.

The workshop concluded with a dip in the frigid 42 degree waters of Seattle’s Green Lake.  I’ve always had a low tolerance for the cold but something about this experience was different. Sure, I was colder than I’ve ever been… but it felt strangely good, euphoric even. This euphoria stayed with me for hours… I was hooked!

My Approach

I believe in living a lifestyle that is as close to our natural state as possible… the way God intended for us.  This includes natural organic foods, exercise that promotes functional efficiency, and consistent exposure to the elements of nature.

New To The Wim Hof Method?

Getting cold has never been so fun.

Get Started

Go Jump In A Lake… Wim Hof Method Style!

wim hof ice water

Wim Hof enjoying a dip in a frozen lake

“Oh boy… what am getting myself into?” Those were my thoughts as I’m walking in the freezing cold rain in the middle of winter, the wind pelting me in the face. Even though I was bundled in a down jacket, hat and gloves I was still shivering. A small group of us just finished the classroom phase of a Wim Hof Method workshop and now it was time for the grand finale.  In a few minutes we would be stripping down to nothing but our swim suits and entering the frigid waters of Seattle’s Green Lake. The sheet of ice covering the lake had recently thawed, leaving the water a bone-chilling 42 degrees.

We arrive at the lake’s public beach area and look anxiously at what we were about to enter. In the summer you’d normally see a ton of activity – kids swimming, life guards, paddle boats, etc. But today there was nothing out there but a few ducks (and even they looked miserable). “Ok, lets take off our clothes” said Matt, our instructor. The instant my shirt came off I was hit by the shock of the freezing rain and wind chill. This already sucks and I’m not even in the water yet. I’m a summer beach kind of guy… I’ve always avoided the cold. I don’t even like to ski. When the weather drops into the 50’s I’m typically wearing full winter gear.  So yeah… it’s VERY out of character for me to be doing something like this.

So why do it then? Why subject myself to this level of discomfort? Do I have something to prove?  Nope. My days of ego-driven physical challenges are way behind me. Now I just want to live a happy, healthy life. And that’s exactly why I’m here today… because of the potential. The possibility of discovering a new method that accelerates physical, mental and spiritual well being is highly motivating to me. If any of the success stories I’ve been hearing about the Wim Hof Method are even partially true, then it will all be worth it. There’s only one way to find out…

“Let’s go in!” This is it. I’m fully committed and one of the first ones in the water. I figured I’d just do it as fast as possible – the sooner the better. And that’s when it hit me… a piercing cold that I’ve never felt before. Nothing in my life prepared me for this sensation. Every fiber of my body, every bone, every cell was screaming from the inside out. My initial involuntary reaction was to hyperventilate and tense up. I knew I couldn’t fight the cold so I forced myself to accept it the only way I knew how – by slowing my breathing and mentally commanding my muscles to relax.

As soon as I got my breathing under control and relaxed my muscles, that’s when the initial shock became less brutal. Yes, I was still freezing, but I was handling it. I started to get into what Zen practitioners refer to as “Mushin” or “no-mind”. This only lasted for a minute or so before most of us had to get out.  One minute may not sound very long. I thought I’d last longer. But keep in mind the majority of us had never, ever, experienced this kind of extreme cold exposure. Believe me when I say a minute was plenty!

Once I was out of the water a strange thing happened… I wasn’t cold. Remember when I said it was raining and windy with a temperature in the 30’s? Earlier I was shivering in a down jacket and hat but now I felt strangely warm. And… happy! The cold exposure had generated a surge of endorphins and now we were all on a natural high. Our class was standing around smiling and chatting in our swim suits like it was the middle of summer!

The euphoria lasted for several hours. It was truly an awesome sensation… I was hooked! My enthusiasm carried over into the evening and I even did a 90 second cold shower before bed. I was eager to to progress in the Wim Hof Method but 90 seconds was the max I could currently handle. That was all about to change a lot faster that I ever imagined. Over the following days and weeks I was amazed at how quickly my mind and body adapted to the cold water.  More on that next…

method detailsHow To Do The Wim Hof Method… Starting Today

The Wim Hof Method (WHM) is fairly simple and straight forward. That’s one of the awesome things about this method… the learning curve is fast and you can be up and running almost immediately. However, there are several subtle details that need to be addressed to you can progress quickly and reap the most benefits.

The Wim Hof Method has two primary components:

  1. Breathing Exercises
  2. Cold Exposure

Lets go over each one in detail…

1) Breathing Exercises…

The Wim Hof Method breathing exercises are designed to oxygenate your body and prepare you physically and mentally for the cold exposure. It’s is similar in some ways to the Tummo breathing performed by Tibetan monks

STEPS:

  1. Find a comfortable sitting position
  2. Breathe in as deeply as possible, expanding your stomach/diaphram
  3. Exhale – just let it go naturally, without much effort of force
  4. Don’t expunge all your breath, leave a little bit in there
  5. Repeat for 30 – 40 breaths (this is considered ONE round)
  6. At the end of each 30-40 breathe round, exhale fully and HOLD as long as you can (this is called the exhale retention)
  7. After your exhale retention, take a deep breath and HOLD for 10 seconds (this is called the inhale retention)
  8. Repeat steps 1-7 for 3 or more rounds

NOTES:

  • There should be no lag time between your inhale/exhale – connect them in a “circular” fashion
  • No lag time in between rounds, when you finish one round immediately begin the next
  • I’ve noticed that most people like to inhale through their mouth (I prefer this too – I seem to get more air that way)
  • Inhaling through the nose is ok too, try both
  • You may feel light headed – this is fine. Just make sure you’re not dong your breathing exercises while in water, driving, standing  or any other situation where you could get hurt if you pass out (I’ve never passed out but I’ve heard it can happen on rare occasions)
  • No need to go so fast that you’re hyperventilating – a steady medium pace is fine.
  • Try to do your breathing exercises on an empty stomach – your retention times will be much greater
  • Be consistent – try to do at least three rounds of breathing once or twice per day

2) Cold Exposure…

Cold exposure can be done many different ways – cold showers, ice baths, entering cold bodies of water like lakes, rivers, the ocean, etc. Most people including myself focus on daily cold showers because of the convenience and accessibility. However, occasionally I like to mix things up with the challenge of of an ice bath or a dip in the ocean (our local Puget Sound in Seattle is 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit year round!)

Here is a video of my first ice bath at 47 degree Fahrenheit:

When building up your tolerance to cold showers/baths the idea is to systematically increase your time a little each day or two until you’re able to do 10 minutes at one time. There is no exact formula for this, some people go slower or faster depending on personality, resilience, etc. It’s not a race, go at your own pace.

 

Our Wim Hof Method workshop certified instructor, Matt Soule, gave us an excellent daily practice example. I’ve shared his instructions below:

 

Daily Practice Examples:
 Week 1 – upon waking each day, do three rounds of the power breathing (30-40 breaths followed by a retention and a recovery breath).  When you shower for the day, start with warm water as normal.  Then switch to cold for 30 seconds.  Then back to warm as long as you like.
Week 2 – upon waking each day, do three rounds of the power breathing (30-40 breaths followed by a retention and a recovery breath).  When you shower for the day, start with cold water this time for 30 seconds than switch to warm for as long as you like.
Week 3 – upon waking each day, do three rounds of the power breathing (30-40 breaths followed by a retention and a recovery breath).  When you shower for the day, start with warm water as normal.  Then switch to cold for 60 seconds.  Then back to warm as long as you like.
Week 4 – upon waking each day, do three rounds of the power breathing (30-40 breaths followed by a retention and a recovery breath).  When you shower for the day, start with cold water for 60 seconds then back to warm as long as you like then switch back to cold for 30 seconds.  End on cold.
Week 5 + keep increasing the time of cold until you are able to just go for a 10 minute cold shower.  This will require commitment and focus.
 NOTE: One super important thing is in all cases, NEVER force anything – observe safety.  Just remain present with what is happening with your body.  Feeling is understanding and paying close attention to what is happening allows you to do and get what you need.  Our goal is not to break records right now, but simply gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, our environment and unlock a deep potential within ourselves.  The result is happiness, health and strength!
 Other resources:  There is an innerfire app on ios and android that is about $5 and totally worth it.
Go here to see the primary website where you can learn more about Wim and his method.

Benefits of the Wim Hof Method…

The benefits of the Wim Hof Method are numerous and varied. They include obvious physical changes that are easily seen and measured as well as the subtle mental/emotional/spiritual benefits that are more personal and subjective.

In this section I’ll outline the benefits in three categories:

  1. Scientific Proof
  2. Anectodal Evidence – what other’s are consistently reporting
  3. Personal Evidence – benefits I’ve observed through my own (limited) experience so far

1) Scientific Proof:

So many alternative health methods are lacking in the area of definitive scientific proof and instead depend on anecdotal evidence. We’re lucky that the Wim Hof Method has the best of both worlds… lots of scientific data AND individual success stories to back up the bold claims of super health, vitality and control of the autonomic nervous system.  Wim Hof has allowed himself to be subjected to rigorous testing under strict laboratory settings. The results have been nothing short of mind blowing and are causing modern science to rethink (and in some cases rewrite) what they thought was possible for the human body/mind.

Examples of proven health benefits include:

  • Consciously affect the autonomic nervous system
  • Enhance immune system
  • Lower inflammation
  • Pain reduction
  • Improve circulation
  • Balance hormone levels
  • Increase brown adipose fat (increases heat production and helps burn calories)

The PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) published an article that states the following:

“The present study demonstrates that, through practicing techniques learned in a short-term training program, the sympathetic nervous system and immune system can indeed be voluntarily influenced. Healthy volunteers practicing the learned techniques exhibited profound increases in the release of epinephrine, which in turn led to increased production of anti-inflammatory mediators and subsequent dampening of the pro-inflammatory cytokine response elicited by intravenous administration of bacterial endotoxin”. Read the full article here.

In other words, through the practice of the Wim Hof Method breathing and cold exposure techniques, it’s possible to consciously affect the autonomic nervous system. This was previously believed to be impossible. Why is this a big deal? Because having some degree of control over the autonomic nervous system allows one to potentially combat a vast array of illnesses and infections. For example, Wim allowed himself to be injected with the ecoli bacteria (under close medical supervision – see the PNAS article above) and nothing happened to him. No symptoms whatsoever.  But can these results be realistically duplicated by the average person? Wim claims that what he’s doing is attainable by nearly anyone. To prove his point,  a group of 24 volunteers agreed to be injected with the e coli endotoxin.  Wim trained twelve of  them for about a week (they had no prior experience with the WHM). Then all 24 were injected with the endotoxin. The results? The twelve people Wim trained have very few, if any, symptoms. The other twelve had extreme reactions – fever, vomiting, sweats, headaches, etc… exactly what you’d “normally” expect.

So many health issues from the common cold and flu to more serious conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Chron’s disease and even cancer are caused or exacerbated by a weak immune system and/or inflammation.  It’s clear that boosting our immune systems and greatly reducing inflammation will have enormous  long term benefits.

Brown Fat Activation – The Key To Weight Loss?

Brown adipose fat is a type of fat typically only found in babies. Since newborns are unable to shiver to keep warm, the brown fat provides heat by burning calories. As we age, the need for brown fat decreases and it starts to disappear and is replaced by white fat (the kind we don’t like!)

In a nutshell – brown fat is healthy and helps burn calories (just two ounces of brown fat can burn 200 calories per day – the equivalent of 30 minutes of exercise). White fat on the other hand stores excess calories and contributes to obesity.

Here’s the good news:  Consistent cold exposure increases the activation and production of brown fat significantly. Tests have shown that Wim has the same or more brown fat than most young adults (35% average compared to the average 0 – 20% average of young adults). He has proven that people middle aged and older (Wim is 58) are totally capable of generating youthful amounts of brown fat… something thought impossible before!

There are an impressive number of scientific studies that prove the benefits of the Wim Hof Method. I’ve given you a very general overview here. Below are some links where you can get more details:

2) Anecdotal Evidence:

The word is getting out about the Wim Hof Method and thousands of people from all walks of life from around the world are getting involved and reporting all kinds of impressive results.  Of course, testimonials are not that same as absolute proof. However, when  people are consistently reporting similar benefits, that can be very compelling and reason to perhaps test the method for yourself.

The following are some common benefits typically reported:

  • Enhanced immune system (less colds and flu)
  • Better health – illnesses disappearing (can’t make medical claims here!)
  • Enhanced athletic performance
  • Faster recovery from workouts
  • Better sleep – vivid dreams
  • Increased libido (men and women)
  • Weight loss – increased metabolism (brown fat activation?)
  • Happier, better moods (increased endorphins)
  • Reduced inflammation – less aches and pains
  • Better concentration – less “brain fog”
  • Much more tolerance to the cold (obvious!)

There’s a great forum with thousands of people actively discussing their personal experiences with the Wim Hof Method. You can check it out here.

3) My Personal Experience:

Although I’m still fairly new to the Wim Hof Method (about 3 months at the time of this writing), I’m already experiencing some obvious benefits.  Some  I noticed almost immediately. Others are more subtle and are coming on gradually. As I progress with the method I’ll continue to update this site with my latest observations.

Meanwhile, here are some of  the benefits I’ve noticed so far…

Happier, better and more consistent moods.  As long as I can remember, I’ve had a low to medium level of anxiety. Since practicing the Wim Hof Method my anxiety levels have gone down considerably. A sense of calm is slowly emerging. This is huge for me and one of the best benefits so far.

Better sleep. This is something I noticed immediately.  I don’t wake up in the middle of the night, my sleep is deep, dreams are vivid and I wake up feeling refreshed. Also, I need about an hour less sleep per night.

Weight loss. This was an unexpected surprise. Since I already have a fairly strict diet and exercise regime I wasn’t really looking to lose weight. However, without doing anything different (except practicing the WHM) I lost around 5-6 pounds within the first six weeks or so.  True, not a lot – but remember I was already at a healthy weight and wasn’t looking to lose more.

Faster workout recover. My weekly workouts are pretty intense with a combination of Muay Thai kickboxing, yoga and weight lifting. As I’ve gotten older my recovery times have increased as well as lots of aches and pains, minor injuries, etc. Since I introduced the Wim Hof Method I have very few aches or injuries. The ones I get are usually gone within 24 hours.

Increased physical performance. My endurance has increased considerably. It feels like my body is utilizing oxygen more efficiently. I haven’t felt like this in years! Noticeable withing the first two weeks.

Increased libido. Umm… pretty self explanatory! I noticed this almost immediately.

More energy. My energy levels are totally consistent throughout the day – no more ups and downs like before. I used to go through periods of sluggishness, brain fog, sleepiness, etc. Not anymore. Even if I get less sleep I still feel totally alert all day. I don’t even drink coffee anymore!

tipsTips…

Below are some tips I’ve discovered that have helped me progress with the Wim Hof Method:

Consistency is more important that duration. A couple minutes in a cold shower every day is more beneficial than 10 minutes once or twice per week.  Studies have shown that cold exposure benefits are possible with only 30 seconds. If I don’t feel like doing a full 10 minutes then I just get in for 2-3 and pick it up the next day.  Similar to working out, consistency is one of the keys to progress.

Don’t stress if you miss a day. I allow myself the luxury of taking a day off if I feel like it. However, because I enjoy the sensation of well being the cold water provides, I rarely miss a day. As a matter of fact, in the last three months I’ve only taken four days off. You might think you’ll have an aversion to jumping in a freezing cold shower but I’ve found that just the opposite is true – I actually look forward to it! I hear this from others too. Once you get into a routine you’ll find yourself craving the cold water.

Acceptance. In the beginning, the cold water was shocking… to the point where the natural tendency was to tense up, hold my breathe, etc. What really helped me was going into the cold water with an attitude of acceptance and total surrender. There’s no negotiating with the cold… what you resist persists. Instead, embrace the sensation of cold and mentally command yourself to relax and breathe deeply. The initial shock passes more and more quickly as you progress. Soon you’ll barely notice it.

Do the method at a time when you’re feeling alert. Many people like to start their day with the breathing and a cold shower first thing in the morning. I’m more of an evening person and prefer to do my practice later in the day. However, if I procrastinate and get too relaxed right before bedtime it can be tough to get motivated. The key is to get a regular routine that works for your schedule and personality.

Try to do your breathing exercises on an empty stomach. My exhale retention times are always much greater on an empty stomach (including no water). I keep a daily record of my times, and without exception my exhale holds are 30-45 seconds greater on a totally empty stomach.

Don’t neglect sensitive body areas. There are certain areas of the body that tend to be more sensitive to the cold. It seems to vary from person to person, but generally speaking those areas tend to be the hands, feet, top of the head and collarbone area. For me it’s been my hands and top of the head. When you’re in the shower, make sure these areas are getting their fair share of direct exposure (I’ll talk more about this in the next segment on challenges)

Mammalian dive reflex.  Huh? Yeah, I’d never heard of this before getting into the Wim Hof Method either. The mammalian dive reflex is a term used to describe a phenomenon that occurs when cold water directly covers your entire face. The heart rate will automatically slow down 10-30% in untrained people and up to 50%+ in trained people (like free divers). How is this helpful for us? If I get too cold for whatever reason I just put my face into the cold shower stream… I immediately feel relaxed – it’s a natural response. I also find it helpful for dealing with the initial shock of entering very cold water. Putting my face into the water is one of the first things I do and it’s like a “relaxation switch” is turned on. Try it for yourself and you’ll see.

Vagus nerve stimulation.  The pharmaceutical company Glaxo has invested over 50 million dollars trying to develop fancy technology that stimulates the vagus nerve. With the Wim Hof Method you can do it a lot more effectively… and for free.  The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system and it play a big role in controlling inflammation and immune system response. It runs from the brain, down the neck and spine, and interconnects with all the major organs. You want to make sure and get plenty of cold water exposure time on the back of your head, neck and spine.  Wim’s breathing technique is also very beneficial. Stimulating the vagus through cold exposure and deep breathing has a wide array of benefits like treating high blood pressure, inflammation, depression, boosting the immune system and more.

how to overcome challengesChallenges… (and how to overcome them)

Below I’ve outlined some of the challenges I’ve encountered since practicing the Wim Hof Method and what I’ve done to help overcome them:

Detox effect. About one week into the method I came down with body aches and an overall feeling of being run down. Apparently this is fairly common an is probably attributed to the immune system adjusting and flushing out toxins. It only lasted about 24-48 hours and afterwards I felt great.

Extreme cold sensitivity on hands and head.  Direct cold water exposure on these areas was brutal for me when I first started. It’s a lot better now, but still challenging to go more than a couple minutes (I’m a work in progress). Everyone seems to have their own areas that are hyper-sensitive to the cold, although hands and head are very common. The key is to give special attention to these areas. For example, I started by putting the top of head directly under the stream of water for a count of 10 seconds then take a break and repeat several times. The next day I’d try to increase my time by a few seconds and maybe do extra rounds.  I do the same thing with my hands.

Extreme core temperature drop.  Within the first few minutes after exiting the cold water, I’ll often experience a drop in my core body temperature and start shivering. The colder the water and/or longer the duration, the more severe the temperature drop.  While in the water I’ll be fine… it’s not until after I’ve dressed and started to relax that the cold hits me. Apparently this is common and is the result of the cold blood near the surface starting to mingle with the warmer blood in the core.  The key is to not get too relaxed immediately after your cold water exposure. Instead, do some deep breathing and light exercise. I like to do some dynamic stretching and about 5 minutes on a rebounder.

Ice melting too fast.  As you progress with the Wim Hof Method you may want to start experimenting with ice baths. The first time I did this I added two bags of ice thinking it would be plenty. It wasn’t. The ice melted within minutes. Yes, it still made the water about 5 degrees cooler but not nearly as much as I anticipated. This is fine for your first few times but eventually you may want to challenge yourself with much colder water. Around 5 bags of ice is about right and will  drop the water temperature by at least 10 degrees. If you get serious about ice baths you’ll probably want to buy an ice machine. You can get quality ones on Amazon for about $100. They don’t take up much space and will make around 30 pounds of ice per day.

Cold shower not cold enough.  You’ll quickly adapt to the cold water and may find that your tap water just isn’t cold enough. This is especially true for people who live in warm climates or during summer months. Benefits will still be found in water 50-60 degrees but it’s natural to want to continue challenging yourself with colder temperatures. The only solutions I’ve found are (1) Take longer showers; (2) Take ice baths; (3) Find a cold body of water like a stream, lake or ocean.

wim hof method courseThe Wim Hof Method Course… Do You Need It?

Wim has created a comprehensive, step-by-step 10 week video course.  It starts you out with 30 seconds of cold exposure on day one and gradually builds until you’re doing 10 minute cold showers every day.  The videos are clear and well produced and are supplemented by a detailed workbook.  A big plus is the weekly progress emails and support.

The question is… do you need it?  The answer really depends on your personality. If you’re the type of person who likes details, exact plans and a little bit of hand holding then it’s perfect. If you’re more of a “wing it and see” type of personality then the information I’ve shared on this site may be enough. Keep in mind that although the WIm Hof Method course is very structured, there is room for flexibility. If you want to go faster or slower you can easily do that by adding more time to your cold showers, subtracting time, etc.

Here’s my take on the course:  I started off without it and made pretty good progress. However, I had the advantage of taking a comprehensive workshop with a certified Wim Hof instructor. I was able to ask questions during and after the workshop. There was ongoing support. Like most people, I had lots of little questions. Stuff I probably could have figured out by trial and error or my searching the Wim Hof Method forum. But it sure was nice to cut my learning curve down by having clear instructions. And that’s what the course offers… a decreased learning curve and support.

So yes, I think anyone can greatly benefit from formal training, either through the course or a proper workshop.

To see the details of the official Wim Hof Method 10 week course, click here.

Good luck with your training and let me know if you have any questions!

Matt Olson