EYNTK About The Wim Hof Method

Breathe easy...

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Let’s talk about Wim Hof – and how it could seemingly help with anxiety and stress. We’re listening.

The Wim Hof method has been growing in popularity for years, and has surged since the pandemic. The technique is said to help with anxiety and depression through a unique breathing technique and through exposure to cold water.

We caught up with Níall Ó Murchú, a trained Wim Hof teacher, on exactly how it works.

So what exactly is the Wim Hof method?

It is a simple technique that begins with a very specific breathing exercise. Using the Wim Hof app is a great way to learn how to do it, but the aim is to get as much oxygen into your body as possible. So you will you be taking lots of deep breaths, roughly 30 or so, which will flood the body with oxygen. After this you will hold your breath for as long as you can, and you’ll be surprised after the deep breathing how long you can do this for, then finish off with a deep breath.

Of course, don’t put yourself in any danger or do anything that feels wrong. It’s advised to do this whilst sitting or lying down as it can make you feel pretty light headed. We spend so much of our lives walking around, shallow breathing that afterwards it’s said you’ll feel awake, focused and energised.

The second aspect to the method is exposure to cold water, which you start off doing very gradually. Sounds simple right? Especially now that sea swimming is so popular, and our water temperature’s are hardly Mediterranean. 


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So, how does it help my mental health?

One of the biggest questions I had was about the exposure to cold water, and how this helps with how we feel. Níall describes the cold as a “unique force.” The easiest example to give people is how you feel after a dip in the Atlantic or Irish Sea – many will recognise that feeling of being alive and refreshed when you get out of the ocean.

This is for two reasons. Physically, it’s the 120,000 kilometres of blood vessels in our body getting a workout as they constrict in the cold.

However, it’s the mental side of it that’s most interesting. Níall explains that the cold is representing all the things we struggle with; “fear, uncertainty, anxiety, depression, worry” and that when we are experiencing any of these feelings, it mimics how our body feels in the cold. We go into fight or flight mode.

The cold water makes “our heart rate go up, the body is flooded with stress hormones we’re given this amazing burst of energy to deal with whatever that is the perceived threat that we have in front of us.”

By focusing on your breath, Níall advises focusing on slow exhales whilst in cold water, we are able to calm our bodies down; “even in the chaos of cold, we can use the breath to bring us down to where the body is moving from a state of emergency down into a state called rest and digest.” It is about finding calm and stillness in the sharp, icy water.

For anyone going through a tough time, he describes the cold as acting like a mirror, it; “reflects back at us all the fears that we have, all the anxieties that we have, or the worries that we have. When we’re facing the cold they come flying up to the surface.”

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How can I implement it into my daily routine?

Níall advises to start by introducing some cold water to your morning shower, beginning with just 30 seconds at the end. Again, this is not when to practice the deep oxygenating breaths; instead focus on slow, calm exhaling. It sounds simple, but trust me, even trying to stay under the cold water for 10 seconds is hard.

For Níall, he says it makes all other tasks seem less daunting as when we get stressed, we can return to the breathing that gets us through that cold burst of water.

“When that email comes from some coworker or that conversation with somebody that’s very difficult, whatever pressure, depression or anxiety that we face, we can use that exhale to just bring us back down physically into a place where the body feels safe, and then the mind starts to follow us.”

By doing this regularly, we expose our body to a little bit of shock and difficulty every day, and like any muscle when you practice, you get better and can have a profound effect on how you feel.

At the end of our conversation, I’m feeling fully converted to trying the cold showers, and this is from someone who likes my bathing temperature to be hotter than the sun. It’s an Irish saying Níall uses about regular sea swimming that sticks with me. He translates it for me roughly as; “we go to the sea to drown the miserable person.”

While that sounds a tad extreme, I can’t think of a better way to start your day than by emerging from the shower as a stronger, calmer version of yourself and leaving stress and anxiety behind.