Did you know that it was possible to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, run a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot? Yes, you can do it too.
Yes it's possible to influence your autonomous nervous system with the power of the combination of breathing techniques, concentration and (gradual)exposure to the cold leading to countless health benefits.
Breathing exercises help your body reach the state required needed to tap into your autonomic nervous system and adapt to the cold. The breathing technique is essential to activate various physiological responses which will energize and strengthen the body. At the same time, they can activate or ease down the immune system. Ultimately with exposure to cold (such as ice), the physiological effects are even stronger. In simple terms, the breathing exercises help to get your body into the state required to gain access to your autonomic nervous system and to resist the cold. Breathing techniques rather than targeting neurotransmitters with medication may be a superior method to address the whole body changes that occur in stress, anxiety, and depression.
A strong mindset is essential to achieve the required concentration and focus, so that the techniques are correctly executed even in extreme situations. In addition, results in concentration and endurance.Exposure to cold is a less common but very effective technique. When heating systems were first developed in Greek antiquity, cold baths were still thought to have health benefits. In our society we are used to turning up the heat or putting on an extra jersey as it gets colder. We are used to this comfort and there is nothing wrong with this. However, the cold is an essential force involved in accessing the autonomic nervous system. Due to the exposure to ice a boost in cortisol is caused leading to the number of inflammatory proteins had almost decreased to zero.
Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well. Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect.
By taking a cold shower, the metabolic rate during and after such a shower is increased to keep the body warm. At the same time the immune system is activated, resulting in the release of more white blood cells leading to the conclusion that exposure to the cold boosts our immune system.
Related: Wim Hof's Superhuman Routine
The immune system is part of the autonomic nervous system which could not be consciously influenced according to medical opinion. To test this hypothesis, Wim Hof was injected with E-coli bacteria which triggers the immune system to produce inflammatory cells, leading to fever, nausea and headaches.
By applying a breathing concentration technique for 30 minutes, the rise of cortisol levels in Wim's bloodstream were evident. This trend continued after Wim Hof was further exposed to an ice bath, also leading to a decrease in inflammation. The bacteria had no influence over Wim Hof's body. It was now shown that he was able to influence his immune system and raising the question whether the method can also be learned by others leading to a breakthrough in science.
“Challenges bring about the true nature within me. It alerts my body and mind, altering my state of being. It makes me feel so alive!"
Over the course of ten days, from a census of 30 participants, 18 of them practised with Wim Hof. The training included a meditation that was focused on full relaxation, gradual exposure to cold and performed Hof’s controlled breathing exercises. Both the control group as well as the experimental group received injections with elements of the E. Coli bacteria. Throughout the 3 hours of the experiment, the participants from the experimental (Wim Hof's) group practiced the breathing and focus techniques under the supervision of Wim Hof. The control group did not.
Again, the test results showed that those who did participate in the training showed far less signs of influenza than those who were categorized in the control group.The blood results verified this: the experimental group produced less inflammatory proteins than the control group. The researchers also concluded that this experiment confirmed that a clear voluntary activation of the autonomic nervous system triggers an increase in the production of the stress hormone adrenaline. In turn, this resulted in a suppression of the activation of the immune system.
“If you can learn how to use your mind, anything is possible"
Reduced stress levels. Regularly taking cold showers imposes a small amount of stress on your body, which leads to a process called hardening. This means that your nervous system gradually gets used to handling moderate levels of stress. The hardening process helps you to keep a cool head, the next time you find yourself in a stressful situation.
Routinely taking cold showers, which are a physical stressor, resets your stress response and ensures that stress won’t feel as overwhelming as it otherwise would. Furthermore, it exercises your nervous system, endocrine system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system, which is beneficial for your overall health.
Higher level of alertness. Cold showers wake your body up, inducing a higher state of alertness. The cold also stimulates you to take deeper breaths, decreasing the level of CO2 throughout the body, helping you concentrate. Cold showers thus keep you ready and focused throughout the day.
Increased willpower. It takes a strong mind to endure the cold for extended periods of time. By incorporating cold showers into your daily routine, you are strengthening your willpower, which benefits many aspects of (your) daily life.
Lower Blood Pressure: The impact of exposure to cold, as well as the WHM breathing techniques, strain the little muscles in your veins. They close (vasoconstriction) to keep the heat in, and fully open up (vasodilation) to get the heat out of the body. When these little muscles in the veins work properly, there is not much pressure on your heart. It does not have to pump that hard, because the veins do all the work, and your blood pressure stays low.
More robust immune response. Scientific studies have found that taking a cold shower increases the amount of white blood cells in your body. These blood cells protect your body against diseases. Researchers believe that this process is related to an increased metabolic rate, which stimulates the immune response.
Burn brown fat: Exposing the body to the cold, by taking an ice bath or a cold shower, contributes to losing weight. With faster metabolism, more calories are burned. Apart from burning calories, exposing the body to the cold also activates brown fat. Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, helps the body to produce heat and control its temperature in cold conditions.
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Wim Hof's achievements describe a superhuman. Running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle in shorts or even swimming underneath ice for 66 meters is something you only hear in comic books. On the other hand, Wim Hof claims that these techniques can be practised and mastered by everyone. Wim Hof has broken 21 world Guinness records and has made scientific discoveries, proving that we can willfully influence our autonomous nervous and immune system.
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