The Wim Hof Method, healing body and mind through structured breath practice and cold exposure, is a hot trend in BoCo (and beyond).
By Robyn Griggs Lawrence
Photos by Heidi Andringa
Boulder native Andre Hamm was living his dream, training to slopestyle ski in the 2018 Olympics, when a head injury sent his life sideways. He went to chiropractors, massage therapists, acupuncturists and a cranial-sacral therapist, but nothing could help him shake the headache, brain fog and trauma-induced obsessive-compulsive disorder that developed after his fall.
During the pandemic, Hamm started exploring the Wim Hof Method (WHM), which consists of a breathing practice, cold-exposure therapy and meditation. Developed by Dutch athlete Wim Hof, who is known as “Iceman” for his almost superhuman ability to withstand freezing temperatures, the WHM is said to heal the body by reducing inflammation and normalizing hormones while relieving stress and improving sports performance. It’s popular among professional athletes, including tennis player Novak Djokovic, surfer Laird Hamilton and UFC fighter Alistair Overeem, and is becoming more widely adopted by wellness seekers around the world.
With the help of a WHM app, Hamm started practicing the breathing, which involves taking a powerful breath through the nose and releasing it through the mouth for 30 to 40 repetitions, expelling all but about 10 percent of the air from the lungs and holding the remaining breath for as long as possible, then inhaling and holding the breath for at least 15 seconds. He also began taking daily plunges in a garbage can filled with ice-cold water. (Cold exposure, another key pillar of the WHM, can also be accomplished through cold showers.)
“I was so impressed by the way I was able to make myself feel good during this really challenging time,” Hamm says. “It was so freeing. There’s no escaping the stresses of being human, of day-to-day life, but it was incredibly empowering and uplifting to feel this groundedness within me—this freedom, this feeling of space.”
WHM breathing causes oxygen to reach deeply into the body and reawaken the limbic system, which is located in the brain stem and processes memory and emotions. Wim Hof proponents believe it also stimulates the autonomous nervous system by releasing adrenaline and causes the body to become more alkaline, eliminating the acidity that can cause disease.
Cold therapy—which has been used medicinally for thousands of years—stimulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, triggers the release of feel-good hormones such as norepinephrine and reduces full-body inflammation.
“Scientifically, what’s been shown is the magnificent way the method can tame inflammation, which is at the core of so many of the diseases that plague us today, from heart disease to depression to autoimmune disease,” Hamm says.
Inspired by what the WHM did for him, Hamm got certified as a WHM instructor and now offers workshops at Yellow Barn Farm in Longmont.
“I know how this practice makes me feel,” Hamm says. “If I can help someone else feel that way and get the benefits I’m getting, that’s enough for me. This technique is really powerful, and I’m passionate about sharing it.”
Learn more about the Wim Hof Method, find events and workshops in your area, and download the app at wimhofmethod.com.
A Wim Hof Meetup group practices breathing exercises and cold-water immersion in Boulder Creek. For more information, visit meetup.com.
In The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential (Sounds True, 2022), Wim Hof details the three pillars of his method: breath, cold and mindset.
Information about Wim Hof instructor Andre Hamm’s workshops, online breathwork classes and private coaching is at respiritwellness.com.