My Experience with the Wim Hof Method
So I have a confession to make: I love hot showers and hot baths. I always have and despite rarely taking either anymore, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss them. Like gluten, daily coffee, chocolate, and cheese whenever I want it, it's just not in the cards for me at this juncture of my life. I know, wah, wah, waaaah! Autoimmune issues kinda suck ass.
For those of you unfamiliar with Wim Hof, he's a crazy genius from Holland who learned how to master control over his body's responses to fatally unsafe situations by adapting yoga breathing techniques, a series of streches, and most importantly, ice-cold (literally) baths and showers. He teaches and preaches this work all over the world and its health benefits. I would encourage you to Google him rather than have me explain his legacy here. You'll find a barrage of articles, interviews, and YouTube links to demonstrate that the man has truly made his mark.
I first learned of him in 2014 when I had begun studying craniosacral therapy. Because we learn to work directly with the central nervous system, then what would be a better example of its power than to show a clip of the Ice Man swimming under the ice of a frozen lake in only a swimsuit. If that's not impressive enough, he comes out of the water craving only beer, rather than the hot shower, blanket, and hot beverage us weaker folks might desire. He hadn't quite broken into the New Age circles just yet, but he was about to and a few years later I started seeing him in various interviews, articles, and small YouTube documentaries and whatnot. It was when I saw him in interviews with Joe Rogan and on Gweneth Paltrow's "The Goop," that I realized I'd better see the efficacy of his "method" for myself.
What initially inspired me to try it was that my psoriasis had become worse and hot showers were not helping, so I decided to take on Mr Hof's suggestions in the hopes have having clearer skin and seeing what else might come of it. That was in February of 2020....
So here's how it went down from then until now....
I tried the breathing technique (30 quick deep breathes then hold your breath as long as possible and repeat at least two more times) and took a shower where I turned it cold for about 15 seconds. I noticed after the first time that I felt a bit more relaxed than usual. I started challenging myself with longer periods of cold water in the shower and eventually got to the point where I would finish cold. The relaxation was the only thing I really noticed at first. I should mention that I wasn't being consistent with the breathing.
I then moved to Japan in October of 2020 where the showers and weather was colder and I had more time in the morning. I started to get much more consistent with the breathing and the fully cold showers, timing myself how long I could go (ten minutes was my max). I even walked outside a few times in my boxers after drying off during November and December. By the last weeks of 2020, I was doing this religiously every morning and continued to do so for the entirety of 2021.
As for the ice baths, I began them in April 2021 a few times a month and I found that they were much more manageable than I would've thought, until late Fall hit: that's when it became a challenge. I can't really afford to buy bags of ice daily and my freezer is way too small, but luckily, it's gets pretty cold out here in the winter and my bathroom is poorly insulated, so I can just fill the tub up the night before and get cold enough water in the morning.
What Wim Hof has been able to do for me
*I'm much less anxious. Truth be told, I never fully realized how anxious I could be until I stopped having so much anxiety. I stay calm longer, I get triggered less in uncomfortable situations, and I generally just don't worry as much I as used to. Despite studying Energy Medicine, Craniosacral therapy, receiving all types of therapy myself, and practicing meditation for 20 years, the breathing and ice baths were noticeably effective at supporting this part of my process.
*I'm more focused. I have ADHD and I make no pretensions about it nor do I use it as an excuse for my behavior. But I have to be honest with myself, especially since I swore off taking pills for it eons ago; I forget things, I get easily distracted, grounding takes effort, and often so does consistently listening and minimal talking in everyday circumstances. While I'll allow that the training I did to be a body worker helped tremendously, Wim Hoff was the cherry on top and now I lose things less often, I'm a bit more organized, and I'm more productive during the day. I also attribute this to waking up much better with a cold shower (I wasn't exactly a morning person).
*My digestions is better. I suffer from Ulcerative Colitis. For those unfamiliar with that, it's a chronic lifelong condition that causes inflammation in the colon leading to bloody stool, fatigue, weight loss, several bowel movements a day, bad breath, and this in turn, affects one's mood. I wouldn't wish this on anyone, although I'm grateful to have had it because it led me to what I do today. Flare ups occur less frequently and they're significantly shorter when they do. I wish I had discovered this years ago for this purpose alone. Better late than never I suppose....
*I don't get headaches like I used to. Prior to cold showers and the breathing, I would get headaches that lasted several hours, sometimes an entire day, at least once a month and migraines when the seasons changed (especially into Spring). I don't really get them so bad anymore and. when I do, they're generally dull and short-lived. Even if I wake up with one or it occurs as a result of drinking the night before, it's fading once I've finished my shower.
Why has it helped with these things?
Based off of all my reading and research from learning about human anatomy and psychology for the work I do now, the following is what I've inferred. Hot showers and baths are quite comfortable and allow us to disassociate if they're taken alone as you don't need so much focus on the world around you. You also don't feel into your central nervous system as you can relax and space out a bit. I imagine it's the reason that so many people have some amazing epiphanies during this time because their mind-body connection is taking a break from work and vital functions, particularly if they're too fatigued to think clearly. If you doubt this, I would encourage you to learn about Archimedes, the brilliant Greek scientist/mathematician who discovered the theory of boyency by accident while taking a bath. He's been tirelessly trying to prove that king Heiron of Syracuse's crown was not completely made of gold and had become exhausted with his research. He'd hit a wall and figured it out while taking a bath break. This is where the word "eureka" became a catch-phrase as he ran naked through the streets shouting it after he jumped out of the bathtub. I don't know about you, but I've had some amazing realizations while in the shower myself.
However, I used to take very long showers and for a guy with ADHD and a history of spacing out, that's just not supportive and it further disconnected me from feeling into my body. The cold showers on the other hand, wake up all of nerves and force me to feel everything, no matter how uncomfortable and even painful it might be. This pushes my body to process certain things that may be dormant in my nervous system. The full attention and awareness of unnoticed barriers in the nervous system sound the alarm in the body to address this, which I assume, would help the body correct irregular synaptic behavior. It also helps that cold water increases blood circulation to the organs.
Conversely, during a hot shower, the body is so much more relaxed and disconnected from the mind which is where all of the person's activity is going to daydream, make affirmations, or even have realizations. These aren't bad things, just things that may not serve everyone all the time in exchange for attending to neural activity.
My guess is that because the body is also attending to neural activity, this helps regulate inflammation, the biggest problem for people such as myself with auto-immune disorders. I'm sure the cold probably calms the heat of inflammation as well for a bit. I would be curious to hear from the perspective of somebody who studies Chinese medicine as to how this functions in regards to Yin and Yang balance.
What Wim Hof has not been able to do for me.
*My Psoriasis has not gone away and had been affected minimally. I will say that it makes my skin smoother for the most part, but until I cut out gluten and coffee, my psoriasis was worsening, despite regular cold showers and an ice-bath here and there. Which, ironically was the main reason I started doing this!
*My tinnitus has remained unaffected. I've heard this from other Hoffers as well, that in some cases, it actually amplifies it. I could offer several reasons why this happens, but I don't have any that could attribute it to the Wim Hof Method except that perhaps there's a deeper listening of the nervous system or an effect in the cranio pressure in the head, as outlined by therapist Julian Cowell Hill. But these are guesses at most, and I know there's other things that would contribute to tinnitus since I started doing this like staring at computer screens, which I've been doing much more frequently since covid hit.
*I have not become any more comfortable in cold weather. This was surprising to me because I really thought I'd be more resistant to the winter, but no, it still hits me just as hard as ever. To be fair, I've spent the majority of my life living in places with relatively warm or hot weather (I was raised in Phoenix, AZ and lived in Thailand for three years). I only feel the resistance to the cold right after a cold bath or shower.
I plan to continue with cold showers and baths as the benefits have been worthwhile. I'll also allow that there's a series of stretches and exercises encouraged by Wim Hof which I haven't learned or tried yet. Between meditation, Chi Kun, a brief cardio, and minor weight lifting I don't know how I could fit that into my regiment. Not to mention the time constraints of my family and career, but maybe at some point. All in all, I salute you Wim Hof and I feel your method has been worthwhile so far. Thank-you for sharing it with the world!