Learn about the science and history behind the Wim Hof Method as well as the physical and psychological benefits.
The Wim Hof Method is named after the person who developed it–a man named Wim Hof from the Netherlands. He developed his method after years of pushing the physiological limits of his body and the perceived limits of his mind through cold exposure and breathing techniques. Wim holds several world records for various cold-weather activities such as the longest ice bath and running marathons around the polar circle (Hof, 2015). These physical achievements lead to a scientific case study about him by an academic research institution.
This case study turned out to be groundbreaking as the researchers were able to show that through concentration and meditation, Wim was able to deliberately activate his autonomic nervous system. This is a feat previously believed to be impossible, as the autonomic nervous system controls involuntary bodily functions such as sweating and blood pressure. The paper concluded that Wim was able to achieve a consciously controlled stress response through his practice which also seemed to activate his innate immune responses (Kox et al., 2012).
Three Components of the Wim Hof Method:
RMIT University in Australia conducted a survey of over 3,200 Wim Hof Practitioners to determine what the subjective benefits of the practice are. The answers were compiled into the following categories (Wim Hof Method, n.d.). Remember these results have not been scientifically evaluated and may only occur on a case-by-case basis.
Physical Benefits of The Wim Hof Method
Increased sports performance
Faster workout recovery
Autoimmune disease relief
Lowered blood pressure
Mental Benefits of The Wim Hof Method
Improved mental health
Improve mind-body connection
Breathing is the first of the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method. Breathing is an essential function of your survival that is usually controlled by your autonomic nervous system. This means you usually breathe without even giving it a second thought. However, you have an immense amount of control over your breath, and exerting this control can help activate your immune responses by increasing the overall amount of oxygen in your blood which increases the amount of available energy for your cells.
Cold therapy is the second pillar of the Wim Hof Method. One study found that the combination of breathing exercises and cold exposure produced a more potent anti-inflammatory response in participants compared to either breathing or cold therapy alone (Zwaag et al., 2022). This means that the combination of breathing exercises and cold therapy is what drives the activation of your immune response. Skip the cold therapy, and you might not see the full benefits of this method.
Wim Hof Breathing Steps
Get yourself into a comfortable position sitting up. Try putting pillows under your legs if your hips feel tight while sitting down.
Take 30-40 deep breaths. Close your eyes and focus on inhaling into your belly and chest then exhaling unforced. Repeat this cycle in powerful bursts. (This type of breathing exercise may induce lightheadedness so use caution.)
Hold your breath. After 30-40 breath cycles, inhale once more as deeply as you can and then exhale completely. Hold your breath until you feel the need to breathe again.
Take a recovery breath. Once the urge to breathe strikes, inhale as deeply as you can into your belly and chest and hold this breath for 15 seconds. Exhale completely and start another cycle at step one. You can repeat this cycle 3-4 times.
Wim Hof Cold Therapy Steps
Note: You can either take a cold shower solely for this purpose or incorporate this exercise at the end of your regular shower. You also might want to complete meditation or the breathing exercises above prior to this to prepare yourself mentally for the cold exposure.
Turn on the shower and adjust the temperature to the absolute coldest that you can tolerate for at least 10 seconds.
Step into the shower carefully and quickly. Going quickly rather than easing in is often easier and more efficient.
Try to tolerate the cold for as long as possible. Start at ten seconds before working your way up to 1 minute. Your tolerance to the cold will build over time.
Wim Hof Mindset Steps
The final pillar of the Wim Hof Method can often be overlooked. However, it serves as the foundation for the two other practices which makes it an integral piece of this method. Increasing your willpower and self-control will help you withstand cold exposure and endure breathing exercises. Showing up and completing the exercises–even just one cycle of breath and 10 seconds of cold exposure–will help you demonstrate to yourself that you do have the ability to show up and get things done. This effect can snowball into more willpower and self-confidence, leading to even better results.
The Wim Hof Method is a well-being practice consisting of breathing exercises, cold therapy, and commitment/mindset. Make sure to check with your doctor before starting any new wellness program, especially if you have underlying health conditions. Utilize the resources set forth to begin your own practice. Try and start slow before working up to the full Wim Hof Method. With regular practice, you could see some of the benefits reported by practitioners like improved mental health, increased energy, and better sleep. If you are looking for a more structured, proactive approach to your overall health, the Wim Hof Method might be exactly what you have been searching for.
Hof, I. (2015, June). The Wim Hof Method Explained. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
Kox, M., Stoffels, M., Smeekens, S. P., van Alfen, N., Gomes, M., Eijsvogels, T. M. H., Hopman, M. T. E., van der Hoeven, J. G., Netea, M. G., & Pickkers, P. (2012). The influence of concentration/meditation on autonomic nervous system activity and the innate immune response. Psychosomatic Medicine, 74(5), 489–494.
Wim Hof Method. (n.d.). What are the benefits of the Wim Hof method? Wim Hof Method. Retrieved November 27, 2022.
Zwaag, J., Naaktgeboren, R., van Herwaarden, A. E., Pickkers, P., & Kox, M. (2022). The effects of cold exposure training and a breathing exercise on the inflammatory response in humans: A pilot study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 84(4), 457–467.