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The power of breathing to improve your life and how to do it

Breathing is something we do sub-consciously, every minute of every day, throughout your entire life; you probably don't give it a second thought most of the time. However, training and practising breathwork can have profound effects on the body and the mind.

One form of breathing that has recently gained a lot of attention is the Wim Hof method. Making headlines for the apparent super-power abilities it bestows on the 'breather', it has allowed people to sit in ice baths for hours, climb Everest and Kilimanjaro in just a pair of shorts and run marathons in the desert without water!

While we're not advocating trying any of those feats, breathing exercises can have a profound effect on your everyday life:

  • Boost immune system: regular users of the method are said to rarely get ill. In controlled experiments, users of the technique were injected with E.coli bacteria and were able to effectively suppress the infection showing hardly any flu-like symptoms;

  • Improve mental health: the technique increases mental resilience helping you deal with stress better. It can also increase focus, concentration and willpower while elevating mood;

  • Increase sports performance: the method has been shown to allow the user to train harder and longer and recover faster;

  • More energy: users report more energy and less sluggishness in their day-to-day lives;

  • Improved sleep: the improved focus, energy levels and reduced stress are said to all contribute to improved quality of sleep;

  • Others: there are many other reported benefits including improved willpower, dealing with depression, helping arthritis and asthma and boosting creativity.

Learn more about the benefits on the Wim Hof website.

Sounds great, so what is the Wim Hof method?

The method was originally developed by the Dutch 'Iceman' Wim Hof, who began experimenting with different breathing techniques. The method is fairly simple as follows:

  1. Controlled fast and deep breathing;

  2. Emptying the lungs and holding;

  3. Breathe fully in and hold.

  4. Repeat 3-4 times

Getting started

Pre-flight checks

Firstly a couple of safety points:

  • As with all forms of breathing or exercise, you should check with your doctor before beginning this technique;

  • Sometimes people may faint whilst practising this technique, it is best to do it alongside a qualified practitioner until you are confident;

  • Always perform this technique sitting down or lying, never standing up;

  • Never do the Wim Hof while in water or while driving;

The cycle

1- Deep breathing:

Take a deep breath in, fully filling the lungs; breathe out only passively, letting the air naturally exit the lungs due to the pressure in the chest. Before the lungs have fully exhaled, breathe again. All breathing should be through the mouth and you should be breathing deep into the belly. Do 30-40 repetitions of this breathing. It is a form of hyperventilation so you may feel tingling or itchy sensations or light-headedness;

2- Fully exhale and hold: after the final breathe in, let all of the air out of the lungs fully so they are empty and hold for as long as possible. After some practice, it will be quite easy to hold this for 3 minutes+. This holding period can be a good time to clear the mind of all thoughts.

3- Breathe and hold: when the urge to breathe is too great, breathe in fully and hold for 10-15 seconds.

4- Repeat: repeat the cycle 3-4 times and at the end of the last set, meditate using your preferred form of meditation.

The video below includes audio of Wim Hof himself guiding you through the exercise can help:

Whats next?

There are a number of certified Wim Hof instructors around the world who often run workshops and sessions that can be a great way to build expertise and experience in the practice. They often incorporate ice baths into the training, based on an Ancient Tibetan practice called Tummo. The ice baths have a number of benefits but should only be practiced with a Wim Hof professional. Find your nearest course on the Wim Hof website.

Of course there are many types of breathing exercises, some of which you might prefer to the Wim Hof method. For an alternate guided exercise you can do at home, check out the awesome Breathe Guy's guided breathing exercises on the FIIT app.

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