Updated: Oct 10, 2020
Last year I wrote about my experience whilst attending a Wim Hof Method (WHM) weekend workshop in Stroe in the Netherlands.
The article is here: https://www.apspear.com/post/mind-over-matter
It has been 9 months since the workshop where I met instructors Bart Biermans, Dominique Stulens and Wim Hof. I have continued with the method since learning it. This means doing the breath technique every morning and indulging in cold exposure therapy almost every day. I even went out and bought a chest freezer, sealed it, bought a pump, filter and filled it with water. The water in the freezer is always between 0c and 2c. Perfect for a 4 to 5 minute dip.
But the reason for this article is because I have been on a constant learning curve about the WHM. I have not been sick since starting the method and have increased my lunge capacity and tolerance to the cold. So I wanted to get more into the bio-chemical side of the method and how it boosts the immune system especially when the Corona Virus has affected so many.
This type of breath technique has its roots in ancient Tibetan Tummo Qi Gong practices. There are two stages to this breath work: the breathing and the retention.
The breathing technique is designed to increase the uptake of oxygen (O2) into the blood and decrease the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels at the same time. This is done through breathing in more than you are breathing out. Increasing the O2 uptake produces more of a chemical called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) which is required to transport energy in our cells. There is also an oxygen saturation of the haemoglobin and the body becomes alkaline in this process. This breath work up-regulates your immunity by increasing the production of white blood cells and B-Lymphocyte or B Cells. B Cells protect you from foreign Intruders such as viruses. This technique won't keep Corona Virus from invading your body, but a strengthened immune system means a bigger arsenal to fight the infection, and therefore fewer and less severe symptoms.
At the end of a breathing phase we go into retention, where the breath is exhaled and held for as long as possible. The O2 levels begin to drop and the CO2 increase. This is known as Hypoxia. This spike of CO2 increases the production of a chemical called Erythropoietin (EPO). EPO increases the production of O2 carrying red blood cells, meaning that more O2 is transported from the lunges to all the cells in the whole body. Elite athletes in the past used drugs to increase their EPO thus enhancing their performance. Now we can do it naturally.
During the retention phase, the sympathetic nervous system is turned on, as the CO2 levels increase, the body goes into fight flight mode and adrenaline is released into the blood stream. But through not reacting to the body’s calling for O2 you are able to switch on the para-sympathetic nervous system and remain calm.
The cells in the body and the nervous system learn from doing the technique often, so with practice you will find that you are able to go for longer periods of time in retention. This equates to more EPO production, more red and white blood cells, more oxygen being transported to the cells in the body, a stronger immune system and better physical performance.
It is possible that you become light headed or dizzy during the breath and retention techniques. I myself have blacked out during these techniques. Do not be alarmed. If you do black out, it is because the body wants you to reboot (like a computer). The body will then start breathing in a natural state once this happens, so there is no danger.
The Cold Exposure
Modern westernised man has become too comfortable, soft. We live in climate-controlled environments, rarely are we subjected to extreme cold or heat. Teaching the body and mind to endure extremes in temperature builds physical and mental resilience. We already know that cold exposure has been used for reducing inflammation and boosting the immune system but let’s look at it from a scientific standpoint.
There are two different types of fat in the body: White and Brown fat. Babies are born with a high percentage of brown fat but as the body grows the brown fat becomes less and white fat increases. Brown fat is used to insulate us from the cold and increases during frequent cold exposure. White fat is what we find around our bellies. If we eat too much and do not burn those calories then it is stored as white fat, to be converted later during low food ingestion times.
Another aspect of the cold exposure is the fact that the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine are released during cold exposure once the core body temperature has dropped at least one degree Celsius. Dopamine is a chemical that makes us feel good or euphoric. Norepinephrine is a chemical that repairs cells especially in the immune system. Norepinephrine also gets produced during intense sports and is used to repair the cells, especially the muscles after hard work.
One point that needs to be added here is that norepinephrine is secreted for up to one hour after sport. Therefore, it is essential that you wait at least one hour after sport to indulge in cold exposure. When you go into the cold the body will go into fight flight and the sympathetic nervous system will engage. Your job is to calm the mind, keeping the breath slow and steady then you will engage the para-sympathetic nervous system.
A word of warning with cold therapy. Do not stay in the cold for too long. This could lead to hyperthermia. One should start with no more than 2 minutes cold exposure, then slowly build on the length of exposure. But you shouldn't go for longer than 5 minutes because the body will cool too much. Find a qualified Wim Hof Method Instructor to learn these above techniques. One instructor which I have found very knowledgeable and helpful is a guy from the Netherlands called Dominique Stulens. Check out his Facebook page for more information. https://www.facebook.com/dominique.stulens
So I hope this article has given you insights into the benefits of the WHM and maybe you might wish to give them a go to boost your immune system in these testing times we all are facing.
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