Key takeaways from my Iceman retreat:
- Intermittent fasting helps with mental clarity, fat burning, and hormonal health.
- Deep breathing can help to oxygenate your body and warm it up, enhancing your performance while running, doing push-ups (while holding your breath on either the exhale or inhale), as well as withstanding cold temperatures.
- Cold exposure shocks your body into a meditative state. Start with faster breathing (don’t hold the breathe!), then focus on relaxing the shoulders and welcoming the cold as you transition to calmer breathing. Remember, you control the cold – don’t let it control you!
Why would you pay several hundred dollars to sit in a cold ice bath, not eat and learn how to breathe? “That’s the dumbest thing I can imagine” would be the response from most (sane) people. But understanding the WimHoff method of breath, cold training, and focus was a really powerful and rewarding experience. https://www.wimhofmethod.com/
I’d decided to attend a retreat to discover more about the WimHoff method in Sonoma, which was being held at a beautiful family home with a welcoming and encouraging host family. Looking around on arrival, I immediately noticed the cross-fit junkies, yogis and acrobatic types in our group – people who strive for growth and pushing their limits. I knew we’d get along well.
Our instructor, Pavel, was a guru of sorts and has tried everything from meditation to 10-day dark rooms, and week-long journeys through Poland climbing mountains in nothing but swim shorts. While he’s a proponent of the WimHoff method, he’s also come up with his own ideas, such as the cocoon method where you wrap yourself into a perfect space when something goes wrong. He’s also developed the “luscious lifestyle approach” and sayings such as “bio-system reset, go to baseline” as ways of snapping yourself into an instant state.
Pavel breaks down his system of measuring happiness into three units – Me, We and Be. “Me” is about self-enhancement and help; “We” is about family connectedness and friends; “Be” is about career and doing – passion, purpose and impact.
Pavel began by teaching us that contrary to what we’ve been told for years (the cold is bad for you and causes colds, fasting is bad for you), science is starting to unravel the truth. In reality, the body can withstand the cold (and it’s germs that cause flu) while fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours actually helps you to burn more fat while maintaining high levels of energy (and avoiding the fatigue that often comes after eating). And you might think you know how to breathe. But if you’re sitting at a desk for long periods of time, chances are you’re only using a very small part of your lungs and aren’t oxygenating yourself adequately.
So what did we do? A lot of deep breathing exercises to oxygenate the body. These were quite intense and I soon learned that it’s hard to breathe the right way! But it’s also extremely powerful when done correctly. Your body feels strong, full, and powerful. Both days of the retreat we did one hour straight of deep breathing and it’s amazing to feel the body tingle, see the visualizations that appear when your eyes are closed, and the feeling of elevation. This is just from breathing – no drugs involved!
But more importantly, this style of breathing instantly clears your thoughts and gives you control over the mind, rather than it controlling you. A super oxygenated brain feels full, in control, and relaxed. I found that to be very powerful.
Here is how it works:
30 Power Breaths
Imagine you’re blowing up a balloon. Inhale through the nose or mouth and exhale through the mouth in short but powerful bursts. Keep a steady pace and use your midriff fully. Close your eyes and do this around 30 times. You might experience some light-headedness or tingling sensations in the body.
After 30 rapid successions of breath cycles, draw the breath in once more and fill the lungs to maximum capacity without using any force. Then let the air out and hold for as long as you can without force. Hold the breath until you experience the gasp reflex.
Then inhale once to full capacity. Feel your chest expanding. When you are at full capacity, hold the breath for around 15 seconds.
These steps form one round of breathing. This breathing exercise can be
repeated 3 or 4 times. Then allow yourself to just enjoy the feeling it creates, which is somewhat like meditation. When you start doing these exercises, I recommend that you take your time in recovery.
At one point during the retreat, we did 10 rounds of breathing, which was intense! Our final round involved the typical deep breathing routine, followed by a complete exhale. We were told to wave our arms around with our lungs completely depleted, then we all collapsed, with the idea being that our brains could reset.
One of the most powerful breathing experiences for me was during our nature walk when we did the exercises at the top of a trail. On the way down, I felt completely connected and at one with nature, with the bird song and the sound of the wind in the trees much clearer. It was something I hadn’t felt before. When I’m in nature, I usually try to de-throttle a racing mind by running the trails. For the first time, I could actually feel myself in nature, one with nature almost.
The second element of the WimHoff method is cold exposure, which involved two sessions of ice bath training for up to 10 minutes each. You have to warm up first, which was pretty hysterical to watch as people’s brains go slightly crazy when you tell them they are going to jump in cold water. We did these sessions while listening to spiritual or tribal music, which was effective in getting us pumped up for the encounter.
The body goes through three phases when entering the cold – shock, acceptance, and then relaxation. It’s important to maintain deep breathing throughout the shock phase, and then once your body accepts this is the new normal, you can begin to relax the shoulders and transition to a smoother, more normal breath. Then simply embrace the cold, or as Pavel liked to say: “Control the cold!”
Getting out of the cold water was just as difficult as getting in. Warm blood starts to circulate through your body, so it’s important to keep active and start doing something like push-ups, as it’s during this 30 minutes that hypothermia can occur.
That being said, the power of cold is really amazing! It instantly shocks you into a meditative, survival mode. While you’re thinking about survival, your mind shuts everything else out – depression, sadness, streaming thoughts…or even happiness. It takes you to a very steady state, almost like an “iced” emotional state of mind. Wim talks about how cold water exposure got him out of depression and grief following his wife’s death, bringing him to a steady “iced” state of normalcy, without thought or emotion. That in itself is powerful.
The third component of the retreat revolved around fasting, with two days of 16-hour fasting, followed by 8 hours of eating. We learned about the benefits of fasting and the so-called Bulletproof Diet, which involves intermittent fasting to reset your immune system. It’s designed to help regulate your blood sugar levels and can assist in losing weight. To learn more, head to https://blog.bulletproof.com/bulletproof-for-beginners/.
Through the retreat, I came away with a much better understanding of the WimHoff method and how it’s a multi-pronged approach to achieving a meditative peace of mind. We were taught phrases such as “Be, then do, then have”. So many people focus on having possessions, then doing an activity in order to be it. “When you think, you don’t know. When you know, you don’t think” was another one that resonated with me and “everything can be divided into either love or fear”.
Through intense breathing exercises, cold water immersion and intermittent fasting, you can achieve out of body experiences that target not only your physical but also your mental wellbeing.