The "Ice Man" Claims It Helps Him Reach Great Heights, but Is There Any Scientific Backing to Wim Hof Breathing?

The "Ice Man" Claims It Helps Him Reach Great Heights, but Is There Any Scientific Backing to Wim Hof Breathing?

If you’ve heard of the mysterious Ice Man who can run marathons in the snow or watched Netflix’s The Goop Lab, you’ve heard of Wim Hof. The enigmatic man behind the Wim Hof Method of breathwork has proven to be a somewhat polarizing figure (no pun intended).

But is there any scientific backing to his breathwork methods? A quick glimpse at his videos, you may be inclined to try them, but here’s what you need to know about Wim Hof breathing.


Who Is Wim Hof?

Wim Hof is a Dutch athlete and founder of the Wim Hof breathing method.

He’s commonly referred to as the Ice Man (even on his own site) due to his ability to endure intense cold temperatures.

According to his site, he has:

  • Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts.
  • Run a half-marathon in the Arctic with bare feet.
  • Achieved 21 Guinness World Records that he attributes to his training and asserts that anyone can learn his methods.


What Is The Wim Hof Method?

wim hof breathing - glacier

Hof’s approach is based on three main pillars according to his website:

  1. Cold therapy
  2. Breathing
  3. Commitment

Combining an exposure to cold with deep and intentional breathing techniques, Hof asserts he can control the autonomic nervous system.

The breathwork is predicated on deep inhalations and restful, non-exertive exhalations.


What Does Science Say About The Wim Hof Method?

While some may dismiss Hof’s methods, there is some science that points to some potential truth to his assertions.

  • A study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that using Hof’s methods, people were able to control their autonomic nervous system and immune system after practicing his breathing techniques and experiencing exposure to cold.
  • Another study published in NeuroImage looked at Hof’s reaction during an MRI after he practiced his method. The study found that he was able to produce a stress response that allowed him to feel less pain and distress like cold.
  • On Hof’s website, the Iceman offers a multitude of published studies that seem to support his method which means this breathwork technique is not completely devoid of scientific backing.


What Are The Potential Benefits of Wim Hof Breathing?

wim hof breathing - man walking into icey water

Hof’s claims

Wim Hof asserts a multitude of benefits on his website including:

  • Increased immune strength
  • Better mental health
  • Athleticism
  • Stress relief
  • Increased energy
  • Better sleep

However, not all of these claims have been put to the test scientifically.

Studies show

While Hof’s full list of claims has not been proven, some positive research has been published.

  • The above study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences theorizes that a reduction in inflammation from the method could result in potential treatment of autoimmune disorders.
  • The breathwork aspect of Hof’s method may temporarily reduce stress and anxiety.


Should You Try Wim Hof Breathing?

Karla Tafra, a Seattle-based certified yoga instructor and nutritionist says Hof’s methods work well when combined with other Pranayama breathing techniques.

“Their purpose is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and help lower our bodies’ stress levels and reduce overall inflammation,” Tafra says. “His method is very unique and is therefore recommended to always have someone guide you through it, as quick and intense breath cycles combined with longer breath holds can be overwhelming for those just starting out. That’s why I believe everyone should start with basic, yogic breath first, as it’s much easier to handle and control.”

If you think Wim Hof breathing may be something you want to try, it may be best to take Tafra’s advice and seek the help of someone trained in his methods.

Via his website, Hof does not recommend his practices for those who have certain medical conditions.

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