How to Do the Breathwork from the Wim Hof Method
For decades, Wim Hof—the man known for trekking mountains in the snow without a coat and holding the world record for the longest time spent in an ice bath—has been practicing self-developed techniques that he says can make the human body more resilient in the face of physical and psychological stress. This protocol is called the Wim Hof Method. It has three basic parts: meditation, breathing exercises, and cold exposure. And the people who consistently practice it report anecdotal results from improving athletic performance to quieting the symptoms of chronic disease.
In the second episode of The goop Lab, “Cold Comfort,” Hof teaches a group of goop staffers how to practice the Wim Hof breathing exercise that’s become the most essential piece of his method. This practice alternates periods of hyperventilation and periods of breath retention. While it’s certainly a privilege to learn from Hof himself, you can learn and practice the Wim Hof breathing exercise at home. First, though: Please consult your doctor when it comes to your personal health and before you start any treatment or practice. And if you’re watching the show: The goop Lab is designed to entertain and inform—not provide medical advice.
We’ve included some instructions from Hof for the breathing exercise here, but for the full set of tools, refer to the Wim Hof Method website, where you can access further information and sign up for live events, or the Wim Hof Method app, which has on-demand video lessons and a breathwork timer.
HOW TO PRACTICE THE WIM HOF METHOD BREATHWORK
What it is:
A controlled breathing exercise developed by Wim Hof and included in the Wim Hof Method. It involves brief periods of hyperventilation followed by brief periods of breath retention (breath holding).
What to expect:
This is a controlled hyperventilation exercise, so you can expect physical, mental, and emotional sensations normally associated with hyperventilation, like lightheadedness and tingling in the hands and feet. It is also possible that you could faint during the exercise; it is absolutely vital that you practice this exercise in a safe place in case you do faint. It is normal to feel intense emotions or end up crying or laughing during the breathwork. Afterward, you may feel energized, awakened, or euphoric.
Where and when to do it:
In the morning, before breakfast. (Hof advises doing this breathwork on an empty stomach.) Make sure you’re somewhere safe and in a comfortable position in a seat or on the floor, where you would be okay if you were to fall. Never practice this exercise in the water, while driving, or in any other situation where fainting could put you in danger.
How to do it:
Hyperventilation. Sitting or lying down in a comfortable, safe place, begin to breathe consciously. Slowly breathe from your belly, making your breaths deeper until each one fills your lungs completely. When you exhale, don’t force it—just let the air go. Fall into a steady rhythm, keeping count of your breaths until you reach thirty or forty breaths.
Breath retention. After the final exhale, refrain from breathing back in. Hold your breath as long as you can. It’s not unusual to reach somewhere between one and three minutes, and as you practice, you can expect your breath-retention time to get longer. When the urge to breathe gets uncomfortable, take one more deep breath and hold it for another ten to fifteen seconds.
Repetition. Repeat the hyperventilation-and-breath-retention cycle for a total of three or four rounds.
What to keep in mind: This exercise should feel strenuous but never too uncomfortable. It should be done without forcing anything. If it becomes too hard or unpleasant, simply stop the exercise and try again later—it gets easier with practice.
NOTES ON COLD EXPOSURE
According to Hof, effective practice of the Wim Hof Method involves a commitment to both breathwork and cold exposure. While Hof and some more experienced followers of the Wim Hof Method might choose an ice bath or a hike through the snow, these are practices you build up to with proper training—and even then, there are significant risks associated with that kind of exposure.
To practice cold exposure with minimal risk, you can try starting the day with a cold shower. Of course, even this gentler practice takes some getting used to: Start with just fifteen seconds of cold water at the end of your regular shower and work your way up to a minute or more over several weeks. (You can track your progress in the Wim Hof Method app.) It helps to concentrate on taking long, deep breaths to relax your way through it. If this practice seems intimidating, consider starting when the weather is hot and the cold feels more relieving.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.