Week 5 – The Wim Hof Challenge

Total Time – An hour or less (per week)
Total Cost – None

Preface:

As a project this week will go down as a success for me. The Wim Hof method is totally in line with the core philosophy of my 5 and 50 challenge, and I believe that costs of the methodology are far outweighed by its many benefits. I found that I gained focus, additional energy, and had better sleep as the result of trying out the Wim Hof method.

As a piece of media I consider this week’s video to be a failure. I’m still going to put it up, but I view the video as a step back in media quality from last weeks. I didn’t really try out much in the way of new editing techniques, it was a tad rushed, and it doesn’t really gel together in a cohesive way. I tried to script out the video just as I did last week, but after I cut it together the video ran far too long (around 16 minutes) so I had to edit it down without really understanding how to do the classic Youtube “jump cut”. It jumps all over the place and haphazardly cuts in footage from the cold showers I took without really providing enough context for them.

At the end of the day this was a very valuable lesson for me in having a clear message about a video before recording it and cutting it together. I recorded all the clips for this video before really understanding what I wanted the video to convey as a whole. I’m really glad I made this mistake so early on in the process because I believe it will really raise the focus and quality of the videos in the future.

Despite the video’s shortcomings, I took some great notes this week on the methodology and I’m pretty proud of this blog post. Please enjoy!

The Blog:

“Breathe Motherfucker”

This was the answer that Wim Hof gave to Tim Ferris on “The Tim Ferris Show” when he was asked “what would you put up on a billboard that millions of people could see?”

Wim Hof is a name that’s been popping up everywhere for me since first heard about him on reddit. My first exposure to Wim was the Vice documentary on him, where he trained 2 vice employees to climb a freezing cold mountain in nothing but their shorts in less than a week. His techniques, which he’s aptly named the “Wim Hof Method” immediately piqued my interest.

For those who don’t know about Wim Hof, he’s perhaps better known as the “Ice Man” for the 26 world records he holds which are mostly related to extreme cold exposure. He’s climbed Kilimanjaro in shorts, swam in water underneath ice which was so cold that his retina froze, and even ran a marathon in the Namib desert without water. Perhaps the most impressive part of the many feats that Wim has accomplished is that he claims anyone can learn to do them, so long as they train in the Wim Hof Method.

Wim has been on 2 of my favorite podcasts, The Tim Ferris Show and twice on The Joe Rogan Experience. I’ve listened to all three interviews, where Wim covers some of the basics of his methodology and accomplishments but also makes some incredible claims about the healing powers that his method may uncover about the human body. Beyond the obvious benefits that his method provides, such as greater focus, energy, raised oxygen levels in the blood, and the release of adrenaline into the system, Wim claims that his breathing techniques, when coupled with cold exposure, can actually cure diseases. He cites one research study he did in his home country of the Netherlands where he trained a group of people, who after just 10 days were able to largely suppress the symptoms of an E. Coli injection into their bodies. The control group, who had not received the training, obviously suffered symptoms like violent shaking and fever.

Despite the fact that this was vetted in a lab setting, this is where Wim tends to pick up most of his doubters. Wim claims that his method has healing powers far beyond that of warding off bacterial infections, and with proper training can cure ailments as serious as cancer. People tend to point towards Wim’s claims that “breathing cures cancer” as grounds to call his whole methodology nothing more than snake oil.

Snake oil or not, after watching videos on him and listening to his interviews Wim had capture my attention. Though I wasn’t terribly excited about the idea of taking cold showers every day, his breathing techniques, which can be over-simplified as “breathing in more than you breathe out”, seemed like a great way to supplement my pre-existing daily ritual of meditation. Speaking as a major advocate for daily meditation and breathing exercises as a means to improve focus and mental clarity, as well as reduce stress, I’m buying what Wim is selling if it means that I’ll also have the added benefits of increased energy and strength (potential disease-fighting benefits aside).

For this week’s challenge I’ll be taking a trial by fire (or ice, as it were) approach to the Wim Hof method. Each morning I’ll do 3 sets of his breathing method, and immediately follow that up by spending as much time in the cold shower as I can bear to stomach. I’ll time everything on a stopwatch and take notes on how I’m feeling throughout the day compared to what I consider to be my normal amount of energy and focus, which is obviously a bit subjective.

The cold shower’s are pretty self-explanatory – stay in a cold shower as long as you can. I’ve seen recommendations for just 15 seconds of cold shower in your first week, but after doing 3 sets of the breathing method I was able to stay in the cold shower for over a minute on my first day. The health benefits of cold showers are numerous, even if you ignore everything Wim Hof has to say about cold exposure.

The breathing techniques, however, are a bit more nuanced. Instead of trying to explain them myself, I think it’ll be far more valuable to point you to Wim Hof demonstrating the technique himself. Wim is extremely passionate about getting the word out on his methodology, so you can easily find plenty of free resources about how to perform the breathing online.

I’ll be trying to take as much of a scientific approach to this as I can, which means I’ll try my best do the exact same things each day. I’ll aim to get the same amount of sleep, eat the same kinds of foods, and partake in the same morning rituals of journaling while I drink my coffee and meditating before I go to work. In the interest of clarity, I’ve tried out cold showers in the past after reading about their benefits from both Wim Hof and few other sources, but I found them to be totally miserable and wasn’t able to stand much more than 30 seconds of them. I gave up on them after a week.

So let’s dive into my notes and numbers. Is the Wim Hof method worth your investment of time, and to be perfectly honest, discomfort in the cold shower? Let’s find out.

– – –

Day 1:

Amount of time I held my breath – 55, 1:18, 1:17
Shower time ~ 1:30

Breathing – Brain feels tingly, slightly more powerful, more oxygenated. My body is connected, calm. Certainly I was of a different mind, but how long will this last?

Shower – I tried this before and it was incredibly uncomfortable, I felt as though I was counting the seconds till it could be over. This time, however, it was more shocking than cold. The cold almost felt nice at times. It was the exaggerated breathing that made me want to stop. I could have lasted longer than I did if I had to.

Prework– Its been more than one hour after the breathing and I still feel a little “floaty”. Definite difference from nothing. It is debatable as to if this feeling is oxygen related or placebo.

One hour later I feel positive, calm. Not notably different from a good day of morning meditation. Perhaps slightly more energized.

During work – I’m noticing much more calmness with my students. I’m not getting angry when they misbehave, and I’m being much more tolerable of them.

My knees were killing me this morning after a 20 kilometer hike on Jeju yesterday up and down Hallasan mountain. They don’t feel bad at all now.

Post work – Most of the energy seems to have waned. I maintained a higher level of focus throughout my workday than I did most though. I would unequivocally categorize this as a “good day”. I have lots of good days. 5 good days in a row, however, would be quite rare.

Day 2

Breath – 1:35, 1:40, 1:52
Shower Time ~ 2:15.

Breathing – After the 2nd round I felt a notable clearness, presentness, that I normally get from meditating. There are a lot of parallels between the two practices, as you focus wholly on the breath and clear the mind. I am now wondering if meditating should happen directly after the method, but this will wait for next week as to not taint results.

Shower – Much easier. I stopped hyperventilating for the first time. That said, a measured and controlled breath was required. I felt as though I could stay in the cold water for a long time once my breath gathered.

Prework – I was feeling great until eating some McDonalds. Related? Unclear. I still have great energy, but my focus isn’t as great as yesterday’s.

One hour later I took a great dump and I feel much better now. I think it was a stomach issue and not the McDs.

During Work – No notes.

Post Work – I was very focused and clear while having a long conversation after. I felt lots of energy today. 2 good days in a row now.

Day 3

Breath – 1:02, 1:25, 1:10
Shower time ~ 1:15

Breathing – The first set was kind of lazy (maybe 90% in instead of 100%) but it still felt nice afterwards. For 2nd and 3rd sets, I was having serious problems with congestion and couldn’t breathe totally properly. It felt nice but not amazing like day 1 or 2.

Shower – I was able to adjust my breath faster but did not have the motivation to endure a super long shower. It didn’t feel comfortable. I think the breathing effected the shower greatly.

Post Shower – I feel focused. My vision narrows in on something and I’m looking for stuff to do.

Pre Work – I feel decent mental clarity and focus today but not a ton of extra energy.

Work – Not a remarkable day, but not a bad day. I taught well but not well enough that to differentiate today from the norm.

Post Work – Nothing notable in the evening either. Pretty standard energy and focus levels at this point. I did some reading and went to bed at a reasonable hour.

Day 4 

Breath – 1:09, 1:32, 1:40
Shower time ~ 2:15

Breathing – I tried extra hard today to breathe clearly and with focus. I treated it more like meditation, and really cleared my mind. I also cleared the mucus from my sinuses before doing the breathing, it should be noted I have a bit of a lingerer cold. Immediately I could feel the improvement while holding in my breath. The other big change was that I noticed I was taking very long in-breaths because I was pursing my lips, so I stopped that. My breaths became much more abbreviated and smooth, and this seemed to work better. It also reduced the tension in my shoulder and neck area.

Shower – The shower still provided an initial shock, but after a while I totally I adjusted for the first time. I felt like I could finally do normal shower activities, such as shampoo and apply body wash and what not. It was actually comfortable after a minute or so.

Pre Work – Its hard to say how notably better or more energetic I’m feeling, but I jumped out of bed today feeling great (after getting a good nights rest). Before the breathing and during the coffee I was pretty unfocused, but now I’m feeling very clear and focused and am looking to check boxes off my to do list.

Doing my daily kettlebell exercise today was easy. I was far less out of breath than normal and my muscles felt great. More energy for sure.

Work – Energy levels were very average today. Not notable in any direction. My mood was good though, and I was able to keep focus on maintaining a positive attitude easier than normal.

Post work – Very lazy evening. Unclear focus, not a lot of energy. Went to bed early.

Day 5

Breath – 1:14, 1:29, 1:43
Shower ~ 3:30

Breathing – Solid session. Didn’t feel a surge of energy, more a meditative like calm and focus.

Shower – Easy! Adjusted after seconds and could have stayed there indefinitely. No heavy breathing, just a nice soothing cold feeling.

Pre Work – Clear, focused. Overwhelmingly positive. I set goals in the morning and obtained each of them sequentially and energetically.

Work – The best day of work, from an objective performance perspective, that I may have ever had. I’ve had a long-term mindfulness goal of approaching each interaction from a place of love, thinking “I love you” before providing feedback or responses to anyone. Though this seems like a noble goal, children, at times, make this far from easy. My day started out with one of my troublemakers sticking my headphone cord into the pencil sharpener. However, truly for the first time since reading about these principals and trying to integrate them into my life, I lived them. I didn’t get angry, I looked at him lovingly and asked him a serious of calm questions. He was still a little shit that day, but the goal was met and I brought that attitude with me throughout nearly all of the day. Today was, unequivocally, the most focused and energetic day of teaching I’ve had.

Post work – I came home and jumped into a book instead of my computer, which was a great and rare start for me. Today was a very good day from and energy and focus perspective.

Results

If I had to choose yes or no as answer to the question “does the Wim Hof method work as advertised?” I’d choose yes. That said, I had both good days and bad days on this method and its far from a magic potion. I felt better energy, focus, and clarity on the days where I did the breathing well, and always felt an energy boost after the cold showers. On the days where the breathing didn’t go as well I didn’t feel as much of the benefits, which may mean that doing the breathing wrong is a waste of time.

Though I couldn’t do any truly scientific tests to see if there really was more oxygen in my system or if my blood was circulating better, I did feel notably better while exercising. When I did my routine workouts I did not experience nearly as much shortness of breath as I usually did.

The feeling directly after doing the breathing is very strong and noticeable. I immediately considered the idea of doing sets of the breathing technique before a big moment, such as a job interview, public speech, or “hot date”. Though I’m still unclear as to how long the energy boost from the breathing actually lasts, its clear that for at least 30 minutes to an hour afterwards you feel notably better. My current plan is to incorporate a set or two of the Wim Hof breathing into my daily meditation, and to apply it topically (or as needed) throughout the day.

The cold showers were far from fun at first, but by day 5 they were really not that bad. In my opinion, the health benefits from them far outnumber the uncomfortable feeling of the cold. I’ve been hearing for years that cold showers are good for you, Wim was simply the first person to motivate me enough to try them out. I’ll be incorporating cold showers into my normal shower routine, though I still need to do some more testing to see if they’re preferable at the beginning of a hot shower or at the end.

Conclusion

There’s something to this methodology. I feel better after doing it and I view the measurable benefits after a week of its practice to be worth the minimal downsides. That said, I feel like I have a long way to go with this methodology before I experience the full benefits it has to offer. To provide truly informed results I feel I’d likely need to keep up with this practice for a month or two, which is obviously outside the scope of 5 and 50. That said, for those interested in Wim Hof, a week long challenge like this one is a great way to get your foot in the door.

See you all next week!

– Aleco Pors

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