Dr. Mersad Alimoradi 09 Feb 2023

Wim Hof’s breathing is one of three techniques developed by Wim Hof as an approach to battle daily stress and improve overall health.

Our breathing is controlled by our autonomic nervous system which also controls other physiologic processes. The steps of Wim Hof’s breathing method are designed to help you gain control over your mindset through controlled power breathing.

This simple breathing practice can improve your mood, reduce your stress, and enhance your performance.

Furthermore, research has found that Wim Hof breathing exercises can boost immunity and reduce inflammation by changing the levels of epinephrine, inflammatory cytokines, and proinflammatory cytokines in the body.

Continue reading to learn more about what Wim Hof breathing is, how it’s done, and what benefits it can offer.

What Is Wim Hof Breathing?

Wim Hof breathing is a set of specific breathing exercises and is one of the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method - breathing techniques, cold exposure, and mindset training.

The Wim Hof Method is an approach developed by the Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, to help people reduce everyday stress and become healthier.

Breathing is an unconscious process controlled by the autonomic nervous system that allows you to inhale oxygen-rich air and flush out carbon dioxide. We breathe every minute of every day even when we’re asleep without even thinking about it.

The cells in your body receive the oxygen you breathe and use it to produce energy and perform their functions. As a result, your general fitness largely depends on how well you breathe.

The goal of the Wim Hof breathing technique is to manipulate different physiologic and biochemical processes in the body through breathing exercises in order to feel more in control and gain better health.

How To Practice Wim Hof Breathing?

Although breathing is autonomic, it’s one of the easiest involuntarily physiologic processes to control and regulate. For that reason, Wim Hof developed a special breathing method that helps control the amount of oxygen that we inhale through our breathing.

The Wim Hof breathing technique is recommended right after you wake up or before a meal so that it would improve your performance during the day. You can also practice Wim Hof breathing before bed or at different times during the day when you’re resting.

Wim Hof’s breathing exercises can affect your motor control. Therefore, you should make sure you’re not driving or are near bodies of water when you perform the steps of Wim Hof’s breathing:

  • First, find a comfortable position that allows you to expand your lungs and chest freely without any constrictions. You can choose to sit or lie down - whatever feels more comfortable to you.
  • Next, close your eyes and assume a meditative state of mind – clear out your thoughts. Inhale deeply and fully through your nose or mouth, then exhale as effortlessly as possible through your mouth. Then repeat this 30-40 times.
  • For your final repetition, inhale as deeply as you can. After you exhale, hold your breath for as long as you can. When you can’t hold your breath anymore, draw as much air in as you can until your lungs and chest fully expand and hold your breath for 15 seconds then let go.

This breathing cycle can be repeated 3-4 times in a single session. People report being overwhelmed by a feeling of blissfulness and calm after completing the process and they usually spend some time meditating with clarity right after.

You may feel lightheaded or some tingling in your hands and feet while performing the Wim Hof Method for breathing. However, these sensations are harmless and a normal part of the process. 

What Are The Benefits Of Wim Hof Breathing?

The different aspects of Wim Hof’s method, including the breathing technique, were designed to reduce stress, provide the body with more energy, and boost the immune system.

In a study, researchers exposed two groups of healthy volunteers to E-coli endotoxin (a bacterial toxin that causes flu-like symptoms). One group was trained in the Wim Hof breathing technique and the other was not.

The study showed that after the endotoxin exposure, individuals trained in Wim Hof’s breathing had:

  • A higher epinephrine plasma level
  • A more rapid increase in the level of inflammatory cytokine IL-10
  • Lower levels of proinflammatory mediators TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-8
  • Fewer flu-like symptoms

These findings support the claim that Wim Hof’s breath training exercises can help the body fight off stress, improve health, and protect against microbial and autoimmune disease.

Improved health

Inflammatory cytokine IL-10 plays an important role in protecting the body against inflammatory and autoimmune pathologies. A rapid increase in IL-10 levels, induced by the breathing training of Wim Hof, helps the body fight off microbes and infections more promptly.

Moreover, proinflammatory cytokines such TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-8 contribute to the initiation and propagation of autoimmune inflammation. Consequently, the reduced proinflammatory cytokine levels, which were apparent in individuals with breath training, can limit autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Therefore, Wim Hof’s method in breathing can lead to a boost in the immune system and an improvement in health.

Less stress and better performance

Although stress is a part of everyday life, too much stress can negatively affect your physical and mental health, your sleeping patterns, and your daily performance.

The study mentioned above revealed that Wim Hof’s breathing exercises promote a high epinephrine plasma level. Epinephrine plays a role in your body’s metabolism, stress response, muscle strength, attention, and focus.

Consequently, Wim Hof’s method can help you battle stress both physically and mentally and perform better in your everyday life.

Better mood

Wim Hof’s breathing techniques teach you how to control and regulate your breathing. Eventually, you’ll also learn how to control your emotions as well.

Additionally, the meditative state you become immersed in while performing the breathing exercises helps you gain control over your mood and combat your anxiety.

Getting your emotions and mood under control can help you feel better, focus more, and concentrate for a longer time on your work or daily tasks.

Overall, the Wim Hof breathing technique is a set of simple breathing exercises which you can integrate into your daily routine. These exercises can help you improve both physically and mentally by building your resilience toward disease and everyday stress.

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About the Author:
Dr. Mersad is a medical doctor, author, and editor based in Germany. He's managed to publish several research papers early in his career. He is passionate about spreading medical knowledge. Thus, he spends a big portion of his time writing educational articles for everyone to learn.