There is an ever growing number of athletes such as big wave surfer Laird Hamilton, who have begun using the breathing exercises of adventurer Wim Hof as a way to achieve peak physical performance, beat illness and to significantly reduce stress in life.
After the death of his wife to suicide, who also left behind their 4 children, Wim entered a stage of depression which is very easy to understand. His wife had suffered from schizophrenia for many years. Hof had a vision in which he saw how his breathing technique could help people like his wife. "I can bring people back to tranquility," he once said. "My method can give them back control."
The 57-year-old Dutchman is an unlikely fitness guru. Hof has spent decades pursuing obscure feats, nearly all of which are designed to demonstrate his singular ability to withstand extreme cold: climbing to 20,000 feet on Mount Everest while wearing only shorts and shoes; running a marathon barefoot above the Arctic Circle; staying submerged in an ice bath for nearly two hours. Dutch TV has dubbed him the Iceman.
Hof credits much of his success to his breathing exercises, a practice he began five years ago. And he says his technique—which involves a series of deep, rhythmic inhales and exhales, followed by breath holding—can strengthen the body, improve the immune system and circulation, prevent disease, and help with focus, confidence, and mindfulness. Research is continuously getting stronger and stronger evidence confirm his claims.
In 2014, a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesshowed that people could learn to control their immune response and autonomous nervous system after just ten days of Hof’s breathing exercises, meditation, and repeated exposure to cold. In the study, 24 participants—half of them trained by Hof—were injected with the endotoxin E. coli. Those Hof trained had a different inflammatory, immune, and hormone response, allowing them to fight it off significantly better than the other group.
"If Wim told me that in person, I would have said, ‘This is hippie yoga shit,’ ” says Andy Galpin, a researcher at the Center for Sport Performance at California State University at Fullerton.“ But PNAS is a highly regarded journal.” Galpin met Hof last year and tried the technique himself. “My whole body immediately felt warm,” Galpin says. “What I think is happening is that you’re increasing oxygen saturation in the muscles and making the body more adaptable to absorb oxygen and perform more effectively.”
There is more and more popularity in the mainstream with regards to utilising breath to both improve performance, boost immunity, battle disease and to significantly reduce anxiety and stress.
Lay down with your head supported. Make sure you can expand your belly & lungs freely without feeling any constriction. It is recommended to do this practice right after waking up since your stomach is still empty or before a meal. Also this is a great practice to do for mindfulness.
30 POWER BREATHS
Imagine you’re blowing up a balloon. Inhale through the nose or mouth and exhale through the mouth in short but powerful bursts. Keep a steady pace and use your diaphragm fully - so imagine your belly is a balloon, breath in & it rises, breath out & it empties. Close your eyes and do this around 30 times. Symptoms could be light-headedness, tingling sensations in the body.
After the 30 rapid successions of breath cycles, draw the breath in once more and fill the lungs to maximum capacity without using any force. Then let the air out and hold the air out for as long as you can without force. Notice what is going on in your body - from top to toe.
When you reach your breath hold limit inhale to full capacity. Feel your belly & chest expanding. When you are at full capacity, hold the breath for around 10 seconds and this will be round one.
Round 2: Begin back to your 30 breaths. The breathing exercise can be repeated 3-6 rounds in total.
After having completed the breathing exercise take your time to enjoy the feeling afterward. Notice what comes up for you, and a good practice can be to write down how you feel after.
We hold weekly breath sessions in Brighton & Hove on a Wednesday night - 7:30pm-8:30pm. If you've never tried it before and want some guidance, it's a great place to start: