Well I did it.
Had a really deep, meditative WHM breathing session, and I spontaneously decided to do the ten-minute challenge that Wim prescribes in the fourth week of his 10-week course.
The temperature was slightly higher (around 55-60 F) for the first five minutes, but then lowered it to its ~50F level for the last 5 minutes. To make sure it wasn’t an accident, the next day I did a six-minute cold shower starting at the ~50F level and staying there the whole time.
None of this was easy, but my success provided some much-needed encouragement since I felt like I’ve been losing ground recently. I haven’t been able to warm up my hands and feet like I did in the first week of “adrenaline focus”, and it has felt increasingly more difficult to tolerate the regular 1.5 minute cold shower. However, I felt like I had a break-through with the WHM breathing. I seem to easily enter a different/deeper state of mind on a deep inhale retention, and I was able to apply that during the cold exposure.
Heat and Adrenaline Focus
Let me back up a bit. I alluded to “adrenaline focus” multiple times in previous WHM posts, but never described what it was.
Wim’s website and 10-week course comes with links/copies of published laboratory papers. My biggest take away from reading them was that Wim is able to generate large amounts of adrenaline on-demand. This makes sense, especially with regards to the endotoxemia experiment since adrenaline has a strong anti-inflammatory effect. If you get attacked/mugged on the street (or during exercise, in general), the generated adrenaline makes you stop feeling cold, achy, etc, until the “fight or flight” situation is over. Apparently, Wim can generate adrenaline quickly at any time, and keep his blood highly oxygenated, which allows him to do crazy stuff like running a marathon in the desert with no water. Note: Wim Hof doesn’t train for marathons — he claims he simply rejects the lactic acid buildup in his muscles to prevent them from losing power and getting tired (among other things).
My solution to replicate/accelerate this effect during the meditation is what I call “adrenaline focus.” Immediately after the breathing exercises, while I am in a mentally-focused & relaxed state, I start visualizing situations that might cause adrenaline to be generated. It sounds silly, but one of the strongest adrenaline rushes I have gotten in recent past was sitting on my couch playing a video game, and I looked over to see a 2-inch wolf spider on the couch about 2 feet from me. I jumped up so fast and spent the next 30 seconds awash with adrenaline trying to figure out how to deal with this thing. Every time that spider moved while I tried to deal with it, I felt a burst of adrenaline.
Other adrenaline visualizations might include getting mugged on the street, almost falling off a cliff, hearing someone breaking into your house, seeing someone you know get attacked, etc. In traditional “Inner Fire” (the Tibetan “Tummo” meditation), sexual energy may be used to generate adrenaline. With regards to the negative things, the goal is not to depress yourself or induce nightmares, but to put yourself in a specific moment to try to trick your mind into giving you that adrenaline burst.
My “adrenaline focus” is a period of about 10-30 minutes where I breath slowly and deliberately, with short periods of inhale or exhale retention, practicing generating adrenaline through visualization of adrenaline-generating events. Once I feel even a slight rush of adrenaline, I try to “push it” around my body, especially to my toes and fingers to get them to heat up. Just like in traditional Tummo, Wim suggests that you visualize intense heat building in your lower gut, and that heat is pushed around your body. My variant of that is to visualize the adrenaline bursts I generate acting as a kind of gasoline on the “inner fire.”
My goal is to try to be able to trigger the adrenaline bursts without the visualied stimuli I create in my head, and use that adrenaline to heat up my body. Rather, can I train a voluntary trigger (such as a deep exhale out with my eyes closed) that triggers the normally non-voluntary release of adrenaline? I don’t know. But I’ve had fun trying!
This whole “adrenaline focus” idea was made up by me. I have no idea if it has a basis in other meditative practices, besides the heat generation/visualization in the gut which definitely is used in both Tummo and WHM. Wim Hof may not even think in these terms, and achieves the adrenaline release in a more organic way.
Ten Minutes in the Cold
Before the shower, I spent about 5 minutes doing slow, deep breaths, and focusing on the following:
- Trigger adrenaline bursts in my body and push them around. Every exhale generates some kind of tingling.
- Visualize heat/fire in my gut warming my core and spreading out to the extremities. The breaths and the adrenaline bursts cause the fire to intensify.
- Anticipate the discomfort I’m going to feel when the water hits me, and try to program a positive counter-response to it, via self-hypnosis
The third item is important. Rather than dreading the cold, you can mentally excite yourself to do it. I say something like this to myself as I’m doing the breathing: “You are about to step in that shower and you are are going to feel extreme cold and discomfort. The moment you feel that cold, you will feel good and invigorated. The discomfort is fuel to energize you. Instead of tensing up, your muscles and your breathing will relax and you will feel that cold water bounce off of a heat shield around your body instead of soaking into you.” I believe that the deeper you are in your mind from the WHM breathing rounds, the more effective this kind of self-programming can be..
What was special about the ten minute shower was the way I would do 30-60 sessions of inhale retention and adrenaline focus. As soon as I held my breath and closed my eyes, I would feel a “detachment” from my body. Inner fire was building, and the cold outer shell of my body was little more than an annoyance than a discomfort. In that state, I felt protected from the cold pressure outside my body. It was actually a pretty trippy experience.
I successfully sustained 10 minutes in very cold water, and I did so without gasping, shivering, or any other extreme discomforts. And I discovered how to “detach” my mental state from the pain and discomfort experienced by my body through holding my breath. It was a truly satisfying breakthrough.