Breath Holding and Polar Plunges

WHM Week 6+:  Breath Work in Cold Water

So when I went through week 6 and 7 in the online course, it wasn’t clear from Wim’s poor English (in videos and in writing) what you’re really supposed to do.  It turns out I was doing it wrong.  He wants you to do breathing NOT in cold water, hold your inhale, then step into the cold water and keep the breath for 30 seconds (week 6) to 60 seconds (week 7).  This is more challenging than I was expecting, because holding breath while experiencing the shock is difficult even if you have almost entirely suppressed your gasp reflex.  It also made me realize how much tension there was in my body during the experience.   In my last 3 attempts, I was only able to make it to 45 seconds.  It’s something to work towards.

Other Breath Holding

I didn’t get a chance to try holding my breath during the polar plunge (see below), out of fear that someone would think I was drowning and try to save me.  But I wanted to try it in still water, after already acclimating to the cold water. I suffer a ton when I try submerging my head in the cold shower for more than 30 sec.  The burning on the scalp and face is worse than it ever was in my hands and feet.  But I think it might be different in still water.

So I filled the tub with 50 F water with anticipation of doing a few minutes of acclimation then breath holding.    However, I felt so good I stayed in for 20 minutes!   I even measured my temperature at 15 minutes and it was 98.0 F!   I was beyond excited to see that my temperature was completely after 15 minutes (my body temp usually hangs out around 98.0 F).

At 15 min, I decided to try a breath hold after 45 seconds of WHM breathing.  My wife operated the stopwatch for me, and took a nice picture.  I held for 2:19!


Holding my breath in 50 F water — 2 min 19 sec!

This was a odd experience because of the sensations I was having.  When holding my breath during meditation (dry), I get 1-3 bursts of feeling like I need to breathe, but it subsides within a couple seconds, and I can continue holding until I actually need to breathe.

In this case, that sensation occurred probably every 15 seconds!   It was so uncomfortable, and I had no luck trying to tell my body to stop sending fake signals.  Again, I think this is an exercise in getting your body to relax, beyond just surviving the cold.  I’m not even sure I needed to come up at 2:19, but I’d had enough of that sensation.  For reference, with a full round of WHM breathing (30-40 breaths), I can hold the inhale for about 3:30 before the need to breathe becomes really uncomfortable.

Update: Having done multiple successful (and comfortable) breath holds while not submerged like this, I think the issue was with the my face up position.  I had to flex my legs to keep pressure to keep me submerged and my nose pinch to prevent water going up my nose.  I think with a more relaxed position, this would be easier.   Next time I will try kneeling and simply tilting my head forward to submerge just my face in the water.  I saw this in one of the 10-week course videos.


Polar Plunge MD

I finally got to showcase my skills in front of a bunch of strangers who didn’t really care about anything except their own suffering, but it was still satisfying nonetheless.  Last Saturday was a polar plunge at Sandy Point state park in Maryland, and I drove the 45 minutes (and raised the $75 for the special olympics) for the privilege to go jump in the Chesapeake bay at a cool 30-something degrees F.

The organizers were aiming for a Guiness World Record for the most number of plungers in 24 hours, so it turned out to be pure chaos.  Thousands of people let loose and waded up to their waists running to the barrier of volunteers in wetsuits preventing people from going too far.  In fact, it was so chaotic, I’m sorry to report that no one I was with was able to even get a picture of me!  At least I have one more plunge coming up…

I waded in to my waist like everyone else, then dipped down and let the water consume my body.  I took a few deep breaths as my body adapted, and then all I felt was a mild numbing and burning, quite familiar from my ice baths.  The key difference here was that I made no effort to do any breathing exercises, but instead just swam around as if everything was normal.  One guy asked if I was alright, then asked if I was crouched down in the water because I was urinating!  lol…

The key difference between this and the ice bath is that the water was moving, making it effectively much colder than my ice baths.  In the ice bath at home, you are sitting still and develop a warm(er) layer of water around you, insulating you a little bit from the full impact of the cold.  I actually try to compensate for this a little bit by moving around every minute or so, and I definitely feel the difference.

After about 5 minutes, my hands were hurting like hell, and I decided I’d had enough.  The hands continue to be a bottleneck for my experience, but it has been improving through ice bucket training.


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