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More on breathing and cold exposure

In a recent article, I mentioned the Wim Hof method, which includes meditation, breathing exercises and cold exposure. Since that article, I have been asked about Wim Hof and what his method entails.

Wim Hof, also known as “The Iceman,” is a 62-year-old Dutch extreme athlete who holds several world records involving performance in extreme conditions mostly involving cold. He credits his ability to perform to his training method which includes meditation, breathing exercises and exposure to cold. There is little information about his meditation practice online, but both his breathing exercises and cold techniques are well documented and easy to find with a simple search.

His basic breathing technique is quite simple. It involves 20-30 forceful breaths in relatively rapid succession (he does allow for slower and faster breathing based on experience). If you listen to any of his recordings you will hear him provide the guidance as “fully in – and let it go” to describe the inhalations and exhalations. The faster speed completes an inhalation and exhalation in about 3 seconds with the slower speed at about 5 seconds.

Upon completion of the 20-30 cycles and following an exhalation, the breath is held for a minute or more (depending on experience). At the end of that time a single full inspiration is followed by another breath hold for 15 seconds. After a couple of normal breaths, the entire cycle is repeated for a total of 3 or more times. This exercise can be complete in 10-15 minutes and it is easy to do 1-2 times per day.

Our drive to breathe comes from the buildup of carbon dioxide in our bloodstream. This method temporarily “hyper oxygenates” the blood stream and reduces the carbon dioxide in the blood, thus creating the feeling of the need to breathe. The breath can be held for significantly longer than normal. Since carbon dioxide is slightly acidic, the blood becomes slightly more alkaline with the exercise. There is some evidence that human growth hormone is released in response to this exercise.

The exposure to cold can be done quite simply by turning the water to cold as you finish up your shower. A simple approach is to take your normal shower and simply finish it off by turning the water to cold for as long as you can tolerate, which is typically just a few seconds to start. This may seem extremely difficult at first, but it does get easier after just a few days and it can become second nature in no time. You do need to focus and be in the present moment to effectively tolerate the cold.

The cold exposure causes a rapid redistribution of the blood as your body sends the blood deep to preserve the core temperature. The cold challenges the “nimbleness” of the blood vessels to constrict and dilate rapidly, keeping them in good shape. Inflammation is reduced as anti-inflammatory cytokines are increased and inflammatory cytokines are decreased. This occurs throughout the body, even those areas not directly exposed to the cold.

Personally, I combine the breathing and cold exposure splitting my 30 breaths with the first 10 during regular temperature and the last 20 and the breath hold in the cold. I find that any tightness or achiness I am experiencing is released immediately with the exposure to cold.

For those who would like to go deeper, Wim Hof offers an app that has additional exercises and challenges. For more breathwork, Patrick McKeown offers several exercises and tools to accomplish specific situations.

Michael Buyze, L.Ac. is a healthcare entrepreneur with some 40 years of experience including expertise in acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, functional medicine, clinical exercise physiology, and nutrition. He owns and operates East Wind Healthcare, an acupuncture and wellness clinic with a 23-year history of helping people in the Fox Valley with offices in Appleton, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. He holds Master of Science degrees in Chinese Medicine, Business Administration and Exercise Physiology. He and his team offer acupuncture as well as wellness programming for acute and chronic pain as well as many chronic disease states. Acupuncture consultations and wellness consultations are available by appointment. Contact information: East Wind Healthcare, 3000 N Ballard Road, Unit#3, Appleton, WI 54911; 404 N. Main St., Suite 201, Oshkosh, WI 54901 and 180 Knights Way, Fond du Lac WI 54935 (inside Fox Valley Wellness); Tel: 920-997-0511; Website: eastwindhealthcare.com.

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