Last weekend I attended the two-day “Advanced Course” in LA tailored towards those who want to eventually teach WHM. If I want to become properly “certified” I need to do a week-long “Master” course in the winter and demonstrate that I understand the science behind WHM and can teach it effectively. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make that this year, and I’m not sure whether I want/need to become certified, anyway. For now, I have been approved to say I’m a “WHM Instructor-in-Training!”.
I was really pleased with this course: it was taught by a Dutchman named Kasper van der Muelen who is absolutely fantastic at teaching, as well as teaching you how to teach. The course was much more academic than I expected, going through tons of science about the body, the brain & mind, and all the ways the breathing and cold exposure interact with it.
As much as I love Wim Hof himself, if you’ve spent any time watching him speak or lecture, you know he can be “a little out there.” He rambles, and runs in crazy directions with his continuous train-of-thought monologues. There’s something both charming and annoying about it, which is why he is part of the course but it’s officially taught by someone more academic and with a lot more structure. They don’t guarantee that Wim will be at the Advanced course, but he was actually there for both days of this course in LA. It was awesome to have his energy there with Kasper’s teaching.
So what did I learn? A tremendous amount!
WHM Breathing is Super Good for You!
One of the most exciting things we learned was about the breathing. We had a lesson from a chiropractor about all the different muscles and systems involved in breathing, and then got practice exploring and optimizing our own breathing. We did four rounds of breathing after that and it was the deepest I’d gone in months (I saw the “stroboscope”). Admittedly, repeating the breathing alone has not generated the same depth, but it is definitely more efficient. Additionally, there is something amazing about breathing in a large group which I think everyone needs to experience.
There were two major technical things that I learned and applied to my WHM breathing:
- Breathe in through the nose! Apparently this isn’t strictly necessary, but there’s a ton of compelling reasons to do so.
- You can fill your lungs up more than with your mouth (?)
- You are activating different parts of your brain (in a good way)
- Your sinuses release small amounts of nitric oxide which is fantastic for many reasons
- Breathe into your stomach first, then chest. We did an exercise which involved laying on our back with our hands on our body and tried to breathe into different parts of torso. It was an excellent exercise to learn more about how your body works. The final recommendation was to use your diaphram and push your stomach out for the first half of the inhale, and then move your chest out for the second half (kind of a rolling movement). Be sure that you expand your chest out (expanding your rib cage to expand your lungs), do not draw your chest back away from the rest of your body.
Finally, we learned about all the ways that the WHM breathing is good for you, in general. The ones that stick out in my mind:
- The breathing induces vasoconstriction and vasodilation, much like cold exposure does. This is good for your circulation.
- The high carbon dioxide (CO2) and low oxygen (O2) at the end of your exhale retention is good for improving athletic ability. The inhale is exercise for your lungs, blood and cells to rapidly absorb large amounts of oxygen. This is the same thing your body needs to do when you exercise.
- I never noticed it, but at the end of your exhale retention your body releases adrenaline as a kind of panic maneuver. This is primarily responsible for the extra alertness and energy you have after the breathing exercises. It also is a distinct feeling that I’ve latched onto and can use to generate small bursts of adrenaline at will. Hold my breath, clench my teeth, visualize the end of a retention, flex my PC muscle, feel the kick.
- The reduction in CO2 increases alkalinity (reduces acidity) of the blood, and it remains more alkaline for a few hours afterwards. Alkaline blood generally improves pain tolerance, reduces inflammation, and improves athletic performance by suppressing lactic acid build up (your blood is super alkaline at the end of 30 power breaths, which is why you can do so many pushups).
Cold Exposure is a Great Way to Get to Know Your Brain
Beyond the benefits of cold exposure already discussed here in the past, they identified some interesting mental components of it. For instance, when I am submerged in cold water, my mental focus because extremely narrow. I’m not thinking about what’s for dinner, or code I need to fix at work. I’m extremely focused, interacting directly with a lower part of my brain that we don’t see every day. And it really only comes out in stressful situations.
The way they explained it was that the brain has three distinct tiers:
- Human Brain
- Mammalian Brain
- Reptilian Brain
I actually thought that this was an over simplified model of the brain & consciousness, but it seemed to fit logically. Most importantly, the Reptilian brain is what’s responsible for “fight or flight” response, and gets priority over all higher-level thinking when it is required. “Since most of us sit in front of a computer and aren’t getting chased by bears all day” (quote from the course), we rarely interact with this lower-level, raw consciousness. By exposing ourselves regularly to our “fight or flight” response, we are getting an opportunity to understand it, and control it.
It sounds like one of the biggest applications that Wim is focusing on (at the moment) is the treatment of anxiety disorders and PTSD. Not only is cold exposure good for bringing these mental functions into control, but the cold exposure is known for releasing hormones that improve mood and reduce depression.
Finally, regardless of the above components, doing mental focus activities while under cold stress is generally amplified due to the narrower focus and lower-level functions being exposed (like adrenaline release!). This isn’t the case when you first start the cold exposure, but once you have adapted over time, cold exposure can be used as a tool. This partially explains why the shift in Wim’s blood chemistry is so much more pronounced when meditating in cold water.
Chest Freezer for Permanent Ice Bath
This post is long enough, but I will foreshadow that my next post will be about how to use a chest freezer as an always-available ice bath. I’ve spent so much time and money buying ice and setting up my regular bath tub to ~40F, and now I can have 33F available to me all the time!
I’ll also expand more on the Advanced course itself, not just what we learned in it.