Breathing is a simple task, right? It’s so basic we don’t even realize it’s happening. So how could someone possibly be bad at breathing? Well, I recently discovered I’m not so great at it. After having my first panic attack, I realized I wasn’t utilizing my breath as much as I should be. As someone who pre-pandemic never experienced this level of anxiety, I knew I needed to find a solution.
I remembered watching Goop’s series, The Goop Lab on Netflix, and revisited the episode about the Wim Hof Method. I dove into research and got my hands on the Dutch extreme athlete’s book, The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential. It outlines three main tools for achieving a healthier, happier life: the breath, the cold and the mind. I casually tried one of the breathing exercises, and I was instantly hooked. Thus, began my four-week journey with Wim Hof. Here’s what happened.
I started my days with 15 to 20 minutes of Hof’s guided breathing technique: three rounds of 30 deep breaths followed by holding my breath as long as I could. After the breathing exercises, I showered and added 30 seconds of freezing cold water to the end of each shower. Easy enough, right? Wrong. It was tough. But the breathing techniques taught me to focus on the breath. Toward the end of the week, I was able to easily do it. I found myself able to stay more focused at work than I had been in weeks, maybe months, and I started to feel like myself again.
The second five days doubled the cold water exposure to 60 seconds. This felt overwhelming, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But I found myself able to hold my breath longer. Only seconds into my cold showers, my body was warming itself thanks to my breath. I could feel the anxiety that had flooded my mind for months starting to melt away. I discovered that it was crucial for me to start my day with the practice; If I waited to do it, my stress levels were higher and harder to navigate by midday.
Time to try 90 seconds of cold water. This seemed daunting to me. I could easily handle 60 seconds, but a minute and a half? But I learned from the method that anybody can achieve the goal — all you have to do is breathe through it. So, I focused on my breathing, and my average hold time continued to increase. This made my showers easier, as I was able to use my mind to find a sense of calm in the cold water. If I told my body it wasn’t cold, it would warm up. Around this time, I realized my average resting heart rate was lower than it had been in a long time, and I started to enjoy things again. This was the week I realized that the method was working its magic.
The final five days consisted of two minutes of cold water at the end of my showers. If I thought 90 seconds was daunting, two minutes was dreadful. But I continued to breathe and instead of psyching myself out before cranking the dial to cold, I just did it without thinking and let my body adapt accordingly. Thanks to my breath, I was able to observe how clear I felt — my mind, my body, everything. I surprised myself by handling two minutes the same way I had handled 30 seconds in the beginning of my journey. It hit me how in control I was of my body and mind, and I started to tell everyone I know how much 20 days of cold showers had benefitted me.
On the final day of the challenge, I knew it wasn’t going to be my last. I can feel that my blood and my brain are more oxygenated, and I am addicted to the tingly feeling I get when I practice my breathing exercises every morning. It’s amazing what humans can accomplish when they do something so innate and simple: just breathe.