Breathwork can be a powerful component of self care. Studies show that certain breathing exercises can help to reduce anxiety, increase focus, and lower blood pressure. If you’ve been searching for the right technique to fit your needs, you may have stumbled across the “Wim Hof” breathing method. But what, exactly, is it?
First, let’s take a look at the man behind the method.
Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete known for breaking records for cold exposure. Nicknamed “Iceman,” Hof holds a number of Guinness World Record titles for feats including swimming 26 feet under ice and running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle with no shoes, shirt, or jacket.
Wim Hof’s “Method” contains three main pillars:
- Breathing technique: Use breath control to increase oxygen levels and gain control over the autonomic nervous system.
- Cold exposure: Build up exposure to cold by taking regular ice baths or cold showers.
- Mindset or commitment: It takes time to develop skills, so patience and dedication are necessary.
Hof’s method is now a business that features training opportunities, excursions, books, video courses, and more. People can even become certified instructors.
Dozens of media outlets, including New Scientist, National Geographic Traveler, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and The Wall Street Journal, have covered the Wim Hof method.
The purported benefits of the Wim Hof method include:
Stronger immune response against pathogens
Increased sports performance
Faster post-exercise recovery
Relief from arthritis, headache, and fibromyalgia symptoms
Reduction in autoimmune symptoms
Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome symptom relief
Lower blood pressure
Lower stress levels
Higher levels of happiness
Although there appear to be several possible health perks linked to practicing the Wim Hof breathing method, it’s important to note that not all of these benefits have been verified by independent studies.
What Is the Wim Hof Breathing Method?
Breathing is one of the three elements of this training system. So how does the Wim Hof breathing method work, exactly?
Hof recommends engaging in breathwork just after waking or before a meal. Like many breathing exercises, it’s best to practice on an empty stomach.
Here’s the Wim Hof method step-by-step:
Choose a comfortable meditation posture: sitting or lying down.
Inhale fully through the belly, then chest, then let the breath out, unforced. Repeat 30 to 40 times in short, powerful bursts.
After the last exhalation, inhale one more time as deeply as possible. Then let the air out and stop breathing. When you feel a strong urge to breathe again, do so.
This is one round. According to the Wim Hof Method website, this cycle can be repeated three to four times. Check out complete instructions and recommendations before practicing.
Does the Wim Hof Method Work?
It depends. There are several small studies showing that the method produces positive results. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, but it hasn’t been studied as extensively as some other alternative wellness techniques.
For example, a 2014 study found that Hof’s method reduced flu-like symptoms and inflammatory proteins in subjects exposed to the E. coli pathogen. The Wim Hof method also shows promise for increasing levels of the inflammation-fighting protein interleukin-10. Chronic inflammation plays a role in many chronic conditions.
When it comes to increasing performance, the research is less convincing. A 2022 study found that four weeks of Hof’s breathing method training didn't improve breathing efficiency in adolescent runners. And research published in 2021 found no benefit related to sprinters’ anaerobic capacity.
If you decide to give Hof’s method a try, there are a few precautions to take.
The forced hyperventilation aspect of the breathing exercise could increase anxiety in those prone to it. Hyperventilation can also lead to fainting, due to a temporary decrease in blood flow to the brain. This could also be harmful to people living with traumatic brain injuries.
Hof’s website warns against practicing the breathing technique while driving or in water, due to the threat of passing out.
Finding the Right Breathing Exercise for You
Now that you know how to do the Wim Hof breathing method, it’s up to you to decide if it’s right for you. You can learn more through the official Wim Hof method guide.
If it’s not for you, don’t stress. There are many other breathing exercises and mindful living strategies, including those with more scientific research to support them.
Some gentler breathing techniques include practices such as:
Want to be guided through them? Both diaphragmatic breathing and box breathing are part of the AdaRose Spa in a Box on-demand video experiences led by a Certified Yoga and Meditation Teacher.
Regardless of your method, committing to work with your breath can increase your awareness and enhance your self care practice.