Dear Folks; There has been a lot of interest in my recent email to students with a video of my Wim Hof Method breathing practice and it’s emphasis on leaning into the cold. My way of leaning into cold one recent morning was into the ice and snow near my place and offered a glimpse through the video I shared (below). Given the keen interest generated, I thought I would explain further and provide some context for that practice and how it relates to mindful yoga practice, contemplative practices (meditation), and more.
Breath is a fundamental element of our lives and yet happens without much conscious effort. However, we have the ability to control and work with our breath though seldom do so unless we are victim of illness and forced to change breathing for therapeutic reasons.
There has been overwhelming evidence for eons that we can work with our breath to enhance our state of ease, resilience, embodied presence, spiritual experience, and essential vitality. Yogis long ago attended to breath work with a variety of practices grouped under the methodologies termed pranayama (working with life’s energy). While ample scientific evidence mounted over many decades, western scholars and popular media continued to discount such breath work as new age superstitions, until recently.
Knowing this, I became more interested in pranayama and breath work and then I stumbled upon the superb recent book about breathing, Breath, by investigative journalist James Nestor . He practiced many well-documented and proven breathing methodologies, both western and eastern in origin, over a decade as he researched his book and interviewed experts and practitioners all over the world.
One of the techniques he describes and practices now is the Wim Hof Method which has been very well received, well documented, and reasonably well researched so far. A medical doctor I have been studying with and who points his practice and teaching toward wholistic health, Dr. Zach Bush, mentioned the method in one of his trainings. I was intrigued and followed up.
The Wim Hof Method is very straightforward though very challenging with series of rapid deep breaths, long breath holding, cold immersion (cold showers or ice baths). Being a scientist by training and further intrigued I began practicing the Wim Hof Method six months ago to learn more, investigate, and personally experience the Method through a Wim Hof course. I then began a personal practice every day and continue to this day.
My experience has been very positive and extremely interesting: enhanced energy levels, greater mental clarity, more motivation, elevated sense of physical and mental confidence, a greater sense of ease. All this beyond my experience of the benefits from that have emerged over the decades with my other mode of practicing embodied presence; mindfulness, yoga, mindful movement, and otherwise.
I have found that the Method is a deeply effective mode of awakening more generous layers of the experience of mindful and embodied presence. The deep-breathing itself evokes a quality of alert and unqualified capacity for attention toward direct experience; sensation, sound, thought, emotion, fragrance, etc. The subsequent cold emersion, beyond what what I consider ‘normal’ or even tolerable, evokes a physiologic and cognitive edge that I would ‘normally’ react to and flee from. Yet I find a way to settle into the experience of the cold, the fairly extreme discomfort, with a quality of curiosity and interest, offering it a place at the table of momentary embodied experience. This is of course not easy and calls for patience and willingness to persist in the face of such challenge. Not to much willful pushing as much as patience and willingness to learn more.
I think our bodies, minds, and spirits can rise surprisingly to the occasion in the face of such stressors as extreme cold if we work patiently, with good instruction, patiently, and step-wise . My experience tells me that we must be designed to meet, and in some ways, require such stress to be fully alive and balanced; physiologic, mental, emotional, and otherwise. Perhaps to enliven what has been deadened in our modern, stress-laden, and habit-filled lifestyles that tend to seek physical comfort and mental distraction to meet life’s stressors rather than calling upon deeper layers of our capacity to do so. I think we can remember the embodied experience and physiology of our inherent capacities as we tap our deeper layers of our inherent and forgotten abilities with such a practice laden with duress.
Not that I believe the Wim Hot Method is the be-all method for calling forth our vitality. It’s just one method among a myriad of paths toward unencumbered and embodied presence that helps us, as Wim Hof says often, be healthy, strong, and happy as a way of life.
In a lovely coincidence I found this video of Wim Hof talking about his early days of Yoga practice and how diligent he was. And then later in life to find out all the study in the world doesn’t replace the willingness to engage directly and personally with a practice to find the fullness it offers and to invite creativity and interest to guide that practice. Though my personal style is different than his, I share much of what Wim Hof describes about yoga, mindfulness, a life’s path of practices. Here is that video!
I hope you consider the possibility that we have so many untapped capacities to open life’s energy. Stepping into such practices in our own unique manner, we may find more of our inherent life energy to support us in the work that is most important to us and those we love while we are still here! Let’s continue to be curious and interested as we open to new possibilities in this life.
I even was inspired by Wim Hof’s video to combine the breathing method with my yoga practice on a cold snowy day on one of my recent hikes in the Hoyt Arboretum here is this video! Congruent with my description of how a vivid, rich, and embodied experience emerges with this Method (and many other practices of course) I find that my experience of being in a natural setting evokes an incredibly rich experience of the natural world; profoundly rich soundscape, vibrant and shimmering colors, subtle shifts in lighting more notices, more presence to my own deeper emotions and flow of thought, presence to the kaleidoscope of physical sensations, and much more. Perhaps this is direct experiential evidence that we are woven deeply into the natural world.
Warmly! — Brant