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Mountains in Clouds

The Wim Hof method has gained popularity in recent years, with some scientific studies showing that it does have many health benefits

The Science

The Wim Hof method, also known as the "Iceman" method, is a set of practices developed by Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof that involves a combination of breathing techniques, cold exposure, and meditation. The method is based on the idea that through controlled exposure to cold, deep breathing, and meditation, individuals can improve their physical and mental health, increase their energy levels, and reduce stress and inflammation in the body. The method has gained popularity in recent years, with some scientific studies showing that it does have many health benefits, such as improved immune function, decreased inflammation, and increased resistance to the to cold and stress responses.

Study

Radboud University, The Netherlands (2014)

  • Aimed to test if the results from the first study on Wim could be reproduced with a larger group

  • Scientists injected 12 Wim Hof Method practitioners with an endotoxin

  • Results showed that, like Wim, they were able to control their sympathetic nervous system and immune response

  • Anti-inflammatory mediators were ~200% higher, while pro-inflammatory mediators were ~50% lower

  • Potentially important implications for “conditions associated with excessive or persistent inflammation, especially autoimmune diseases.” (2014, Knox et. al.)

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Study

Wayne State University, Michigan, USA (2018)

  • Also known as the ‘Brain Over Body’ study

  • Aimed to understand the brain function that allows Wim to withstand extreme cold exposure

  • Wim was put in a special temperature controlled suit and placed in both an fMRI and a PET scanner

  • Results showed activation of areas in the brain associated with pain suppression, self-reflection and well-being, in particular the periaqueductal gray area (PAG)

  • This may have implications for “lifestyle interventions that might ameliorate multiple clinical syndromes.” (2018, Muzik et. al.)

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Breath Work

  • WHM's first stage oxygenates the body through sequential breathwork, which reduces CO2 levels in the body. Holding the breath, you are pushing the threshold of an oxygen deficit which causes vasoconstriction.

  • The retained oxygen in the body is redundant as it requires additional carbon dioxide for the oxygen molecules to be taken into the haemoglobin through diffusion in the alveoli/lungs and at a cellular level. This raises the pH level of the bloodstream, creating an alkaline environment in the body, which reduces inflammation. Thus, it reduces stress and increases clarity in the brain, creating a faster doorway into the natural state of 'flow'.

  • When you have an oxygen deficit, the body is forced to adapt. The spleen, which is the filter and blood bank of the body and the bloodstream, begins to contract, producing more red blood cells. Therefore, oxygen saturation increases in the body.

  • The body releases endogenous cannabinoids(a type of lipid), reducing inflammation and the body's natural opioids, allowing more significant pain management. Therefore, it can significantly help sustained periods of immersion in the ice water.

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Ice Water Therapy

•High level of focus from the clients is needed during the Ice Therapy. Concentrating on the breath during self-induced stress enables the participant to take control of their stress response. 


•Chronic stress is one of the main antecedents for inflammation in the body. 


•Emersion in cold water triggers the stress response and increases the production of white blood cells. By controlling their breath in this extreme environment, the participants learn how to access the parasympathetic nervous system, which ultimately gives them the ability to control their stress response. 


•In the human body, there is a network of 125,000km of capillaries, veins and arteries. When the body is immersed into the cold water, the system goes into vasoconstriction through the homeostasis process to protect the inner vital organs. The blood circulation is reduced to the extremities to maintain 37.5ºC of internal core body temperature. 


•This section of the WHM causes the body to adapt to the external environment, which activates the production of brown adipose tissues(BAT). The ‘brown’ colour of adipose tissue exists due to the high concentration of mitochondria, which is potent in ATP molecules(the energy source of the body). 


•Post-ice water therapy, clients will be guided through a sequential movement by the certified instructors, allowing the vascular system to open up slowly. This brings the body a set of exercises which strengthens the respiratory and circulatory system, benefiting the blood flow. This conditions the body to enhance performance for athletes, with improved cardiovascular system, recovery rates, increased alertness, and improved sleep.

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