3 years in
This is quite a long post, so have segmented the topics
I have been actively and very consciously been working with Breathwork and Cold Water “Self-Therapy” now for nearly 3 years. In this article, I want to talk about my own personal findings and results, along with others’ feedback and knowledge I have met and that I have gleaned along the way.
We are born into the world, (on average) after somehow living for nine months with no breathing or oxygen entering our lungs. It is only as we arrive, that within seconds of exiting our warm amniotic dream state we fill our noses, and mouths with life-giving air and inhale our first of an estimated 90 million breaths (average lifespan) unless afflicted by some illness or malady.
We spend most of the time breathing automatically and only focussing on it if we run fast, or have some flu or illness i.e. Asthma that inhibits the natural process. We could talk forever about illness and its impact on the respiratory system, however, we will dwell on my experiences.
As a child I had bronchitis and I believe I spent some time in hospital and seeing a specialist, this would have been mainly due to the fact that I grew up in an uninsulated house, where there was often condensation and occasionally ice on the windows. The effect of dampness and mould is now more understood on the human system and modern houses are working to mitigate the impact of these factors, with varying degrees of success!
Apart from running cross country, rugby training and playing, along with the occasional cold I never really dwelt on my breathing growing up. It wasn’t until I was in therapy to recover from Hep B You can read that here
Intro to Belly breathing
When the physiotherapist asked me to take a deep breath in, I proudly sucked in a large amount of air into my upper lung cavity and hoisted my shoulders up and back. “No,” she said “from your abdomen” I tried to breathe down deep as she lightly placed her hand on my stomach, I felt like I was suffocating, and it took many hours of consciously breathing to the spot and then up filling my lungs before the memory in the muscle was formed and it became second nature. This gave me a nice feeling, I could control my speed of breath and also use this method if I was feeling anxious or unsure. However, I was to learn quickly that this was only the tip of the iceberg!
Unconventional has always attracted me
I have always been drawn to the unconventional, and thus forays into alternative thinking and methodologies have always been in my eye line. ( I could write a book about this one day!) Doing regular Astanga Yoga where the focus is on breathing and movement I started to explore more deeply the effects of conscious breathing. With Astanga, every movement is tied to a breath, and it is very rhythmic once you get into the flow state
Wim Hof Method aka WHM
So it was timely when I first discovered Wim Hof and the breathing method that he was espousing. While his “method” is not new, it is derived from the ancient Tumo method, he has bought it to our collective conscious. He has managed near superhuman feats with the almost trance like state through breathwork, coupled with cold water. His list of feats is quite staggering, sitting in ice for nearly two hours, defeating E-Coli inside 15 minutes, and running a marathon in the desert with no water… If you have 45 minutes, I highly recommend this doco here
My journey into the Altered state of consciousness
As stated, I bumped into the WHM and was captivated by the experience and natural high one gets from rapidly breathing in and out for 30 breaths without pause, and then letting the breath out and holding, without the need for some time to begin the inhalation process. Wim talks about how when you are in this state you are tapping into your autonomous system, kind of like hacking the autopilot of your body’s system, and it is here when you can direct calmness, healing and reset your mental state of mind. I have spent many hours now in this beautiful place and have regressed my memory to bring about mental resolution of personal conflicts.
But it’s bloody cold!
So the WHM is not complete without the cold water aspect. This took a while to get to, I have a natural aversion for the cold, hence the reason why I shifted to WA, where we have many days above 35Degrees C! My first foray was to slowly turn the shower down to a tepid coolness. But there were other things happening in my life, Nicky and I had shifted to WA with an NZ company that I had been part of for several years, only to find once I got here they went into Receivership. The stress and panic were at times overwhelming.
Break open in case of emergency
I had done a number of cool showers, and then one stormy cold night in the middle of winter, I bit the bullet and only turned on the cold water, took a deep breath and plunged into it. WOW, yes cold, but so exhilarating! I left the cold water tap for 5 minutes, my mind quiet, my nervous system coping only with the cold, and the feeling of power crept into my bones. Later that night I awoke at 2 AM, my mouth was full of a foul chemical taste, which I can only think was the stress hormone Cortisol. It was as if my body was releasing the stress and tension that had built up over many years and had suddenly a released. The last time I experienced the foul taste of stress was when we lost our second daughter. Then I was hooked, but I still, have a love-hate relationship with the cold water!
We are a penguin family
Birds of a feather flock together, I had found an online community for the WHM Facebook group in Aust. and joined that, and soon met with Mark up the road from me, and we braved the cold Indian ocean on a few Sunday mornings. He alerted me to the Rockingham Penguins, a newly formed group just a few minutes down the road that were jumping off the jetty early in the morning. So in due course, I contacted Brocko and rambled along and found a like-minded bunch that had no judgement, just a love for cold water, and the fellowship that it bought about. Since then we have grown to over 800 people coming swimming with us over the last few years. a few links here https://www.rockinghampenguins.com/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/986689988433506/about
Once I started to explore the WHM, I quickly found other styles of breathing and one book that has been like my bible is Breathe by James Nestor One such proponent of a different form of breathwork is Daz, he runs Holotropic breathwork sessions, Holotrophic was formed by Dr Stanislav Grof, who was originally a psychonaut using LSD to treat trauma. When it was outlawed, he then pioneered this method, which is where you use an eye mask, and loud music and then turn your breathing into a locomotive type, deep heaving breathes that take on a life force of their own. It was here that I had the vision of my ancestors stretching back eons and wrote this piece Also I love Box Breathing and there is an article here
Conclusion isn’t the right word, because learning never stops. But if I had to sum up my experiences I would say the following
Breathwork is a worthy discipline, it leads to a feeling of wellness
There is evidence that it may well be an effective treatment for viral infections in the lungs
Coupled with Coldwater it is of tremendous benefit to both mental and physical health
Do I enjoy the cold water? Not really the “doing” of it, but I rarely go a day without either a cold ocean swim or cold shower, and have done several icebaths.
There are plenty of guided breathwork sessions online, I have run this one many times
As always happy to talk if you have any burning questions
[…] with anything, it pays to be educated, just as in my breathwork blog, I delved into the science of sleep, watched programs, and videos, listened to Podcasts and really […]