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What’s the Wim Hof Method? Is it Real or Fake?

January 23, 2020
5 min read

Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘The Goop Lab’ is as fascinating as it is preposterous. In an attempt to step away from the conventional medical sciences, Goop provides several alternatives that help with healing. The roots of most of these methods do have some scientific backing. But the methods on their own often seem logic defying. Some of them have not even been proven by science yet.

In the second episode titled, “Cold Comfort”, the series introduces us to one such absolutely crazy sounding concept. But before we know it, it proves to be successful, not on one but four individuals. Despite our initial hesitance, we can’t help but feel fascinated by the wonders of our own body.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, we’re talking about the Wim Hof Method that makes use of breathing techniques and cold exposure to build a psychological and physiological resistance to stress stimuli in our environment. But how much of it is true? Does the Wim Hof Method really work? Here’s everything we know.

Who is Wim Hof?

Wim Hof, also known as “the Iceman”, is a sixty-year-old Dutch extreme athlete and adventurer, best known for enduring freezing temperatures. Over the years, he has set over 26 world records. Hof has travelled to Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro in just shorts, walked a barefoot half marathon on the snow, and even ran a full marathon in the Namib desert — without water. He also set the world record for the longest ice bath: 1 hour, 52 minutes, and 42 seconds.

When you think of Hof and all that he’s done to defy logic, you believe he is really special. However, Hof believes that anyone can learn to do what he does. According to him, it is the Wim Hof Method which helps him with his endurance against extreme temperatures. Like he mentions in ‘The Goop Lab’, his first wife committed suicide in 1995, after which he started some soul searching. This eventually led him to embracing the harsh cold nature.

What’s The Wim Hof Method?

Wim Hof created the “Wim Hof Method” (WHM), alongside his twin brother Marcel Hof. The method primarily involves three pillars: cold therapy, breathing, and meditation. The primary focus of WHM lies in breathing, something so simple, yet essential for our wellness. Hof focuses on three key phases in his breathing techniques. These include controlled hyperventilation, exhalation, and breathe retention.

In controlled hyperventilation (a scary sounding oxymoron), there are 30 cycles of breathing. These include inhaling long powerful breaths that fully fill your lungs. It is followed by passive exhaling, and the cycle is then repeated 30 times. This produces the physical effects of hyperventilation like tingling sensations and lightheadedness, without producing the stress inducing feelings.

This phase is followed by another deep breath in, which leads to a completely active exhalation. The third step is called breath retention. This focuses on taking deep breaths in when strong urges to breathe or breathlessness occurs. Ideally, one needs to hold the breath for around 15 seconds or so before letting it go. This usually leads to a minor head-rush sensation. These breathing techniques are then followed by cold exposure that usually include cold showers and ice baths.

Does Wim Hof Method Really Work? Or is it Fake?

It is fairly complex to answer whether or not the Wim Hof Method really works. It should be noted that breathing has always played a key role in increasing body temperature and creating heat. This can be seen from the ancient Tibetan Tummo meditation which makes use of certain breathing techniques to create body heat.

Similarly, cold water is scientifically proven to be therapeutic and help with healing. Something as simple as a cold shower can improve blood circulation, improve one’s skin and hair, strengthen immunity, increase fertility, energy and general wellness. Along with this, it is also supposed to help with stress and depressive episodes.

Wim Hof has also been a part of several studies that have successfully proven that WHM helps in resistance to cold, as well as strengthening the immune system. There was a study conducted at Radboud University Medical Center. In this study, subjects were injected with an endotoxin that creates flu-like symptoms like fever, headaches and shivering. While most subjects responded with such symptoms, Hof, and a group of volunteers he trained showed no symptoms at all, or reduced symptoms. Apparently, hyperventilation can help one temporarily suppress their immune system, which helps in evading flu-like symptoms.

Controversies

However, the truth is not all that simple. Though there is no denying that WHM helps with increasing body heat, and temporarily suppressing your immune system, it is not scientifically proven to cure diseases. But Hof on his website states that WHM has helped in reducing symptoms of diseases like rheumatoid, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. He even went as far as to suggest that it might cure some forms of cancer. Though there may have cases where it helped in reducing symptoms of certain diseases, there is not yet a complete scientific backing of this.

Along with this, WHM if not done properly and under the right guidance can potentially be fatal. Shallow water blackout sometimes occurs in people who hyperventilate before being submerged in water. In 2015-2016, four WHM practitioners drowned, and the breathing exercises were suspected to be the cause. Thus, despite WHM definitely yielding great results, one must be careful about what they believe, and how they perform the method.

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