Wim Hof Breathing Technique (mini) Workshop: My Experience
I’ve been a regular breather for 28 years now (sorry, had to), and have also played around with multiple styles of breathing techniques for over 20 years (!!). My first ever yoga class was at 8 years old, and I remember learning single nostril breathing, as well as even the basic concept of breath-work and how the breath was this somewhat mysterious link between the physical body and the ethereal world.
Fast-forward 20 years from 8 year old me, and the yoga studio that I’m currently practicing at in Amsterdam hosted a ‘Wim Hof’ breathing technique course, with an instructor certified in the method. Despite being a cold-thermogenesis LOVER, I have actually never in my life practiced any sort of premeditated breathing before entering a cold shower or a frozen lake. I’ve aways just centred myself, and focused on staying cool, calm, and collected throughout the experience (pun always intended).
I’ve always loved Wim though, and listened to many interviews over the years, as well as watched videos of his crazy antics. I love his energy, his message, his zest for life. I immediately connect with these types of people on a very cosmic level, because I have this same passion for the magic of human existence. And yet somehow I just never practiced his technique… who really knows why.
ANYWAYS, I signed up for this class, and sat my butt down yesterday evening in a sold-out event, with very little expectations (not in a good or bad way, simply just showing up and seeing what it is all about).
Disclaimer: this class was a “fast track” (mini) course. Generally I believe they are 4-5 hours, but this one was about an hour and fifteen minutes. So I’m sure we glazed over heaps of shit, but anyways.. back to the story.
The instructor gave a quick intro and essentially said that the easiest way to understand is to just do it. AMEN to that. Another thing he said which I really vibe is that everyone has their own way of doing this breathing technique, and to find your own groove. Again: nailed it. Many people breath through their mouths, but personally I don’t “believe” in mouth breathing, as a primary way to breath. A past course where we explored the mechanics of breath and how deeply connected it is to essentially all the functions of the body taught me the importance that the nose plays in regulating the whole “biomechanics” (if you will) of the breath, and so when I heard the instructor invite people to choose I was pretty stoked to stick to nose breathing for the method. I did actually do one round using mouth breathing to make sure I hadn’t just told myself a story about the way things ought to be, but indeed in the end I actually preferred deep belly breathing, through my nose.
For the class we were all lying down on our backs, and I had covered my eyes with my sweater.
The instructor guided us through the last 30 seconds or so with instructions on when to breath in, and when to let go, and then emphasized the last three breaths before telling us to hold the exhale (as long as possible) and then hold the following inhale (as long as possible) before entering the next round. Pretty rad music played in the background, I don’t even really remember what it was- something tribal but also bouts of classical.
I believe we did 6 rounds of the power breaths followed by retentions, and this was followed by 15 minutes savasana (meditation).
It’s pretty hard.. nay, impossible, to really convey a mystical experience. I am so grateful to have had many of them in my lifetime. Most people understand that things like a large dose of psilocybin or an ayahuasca retreat will induce these states (and indeed, they do), but there is something seriously incredible about reaching these transcendental planes of existence without the use of any exogenous substances.
My very first ‘Wim Hof’ experience did indeed bring on a totally out-of-body mystical experience, akin to the ones I experienced doing ayahuasca, as well as during Vipassana retreat (a 10-day silent meditation retreat). The reasons those two particular experiences with the divinity of the cosmos feel similar is that in all 3 cases, there was an incredible element of surrender. It’s difficult to explain if you haven’t experienced it, but I’ll try..
Surrender is quite literally the act of letting go, of not fighting something. In the case of generating a “mystical experience” I think there is also a large element of equanimity involved. Equanimity is the concept of just observing what is, without aversion or craving. When we absolutely need something to happen or absolutely don’t want something to happen, this creates tension, it’s against the natural flow of live. So to surrender is really about trusting the flow of life, trusting that what you are experiencing has a greater purpose.. no matter what that may be.
The teacher actually indirectly touched on this in his intro, explaining that sometimes unpleasant sensations or emotions will arise… and to just breath through them. Very often we are taught the importance of surrender when things aren’t going well (pain, misfortune, heartbreak, loss)- we hear “time heals everything” or “sleep on it, things will be better in the morning” or “it will be over soon”… but this concept of equanimity (surrender) is just as relevant in times of joy and bliss. Whether the things we are experiencing are bad or good: everything is impermanent. And so if we attach ourselves to the idea that we want something to stay (or go), we are doomed for misery, because even the good feelings pass.
This lesson has been getting imbedded in me for decades. I remember laying in a hot yoga savasana in Montreal and the teacher saying to just observe the beads of sweat as the roll off our bodies. To stop trying to wipe them off. To just observe the sensations and honour the stillness. ProfoundAF. These seeds of wisdom have been planted inside of me from a very young age, and it’s so important to realise that the person we are today is deeply rooted in the seeds planted over our lifetime. It is our duty to weed out our own garden as we grow: to find the things not serving us today, and to continue to plant seeds we want to grow in the future. Going to the Vipassana retreat was of course the fast-tracking, in your face, serious weed-whacking type of learning when it comes to equanimity. When you’re meditating for 10 hours a day, 10 days straight…. let me tell you: you get it.
Taking it back to Wim Hof: as the rounds passed, I started to feel deeper and deeper levels of release. This was actually the intention i set for the class. Release, and freedom. I am currently working on letting go of any emotions stored in my body, that are no longer serving my highest good (weed whacking my garden, if you will). I’ve been ROLFing, doing keep yin/ restorative yoga practices, meditating, dancing, and doing a lot of reading on the subject. Breath work is an integral part of the puzzle, and so seeing the Wim Hof class felt like a no-brainer. I digress…
As the rounds went by, my body just felt lighter and simultaneously heavier. I could feel the separation between “me” and my physical body. It was truly weird, the body felt like dead weight. I was present in the room, hearing the teacher and aware of the other students.. and yet simultaneously in a totally different plane of existence. My thinking brain would quip in every so often with things like, “holy shit, this is fucking cool” at which point I semi-smiled and invited the thought to pass. I would stay focused on my third eye (aka the first eye, common now) and those ego-driven thoughts would drift off. The more I honoured equanimity the deeper the separation between my physical and spiritual experience became, and more so with each round as well.
By the 6th round the teacher had already forwarded us that we would go straight into a 15 minute savasana, and so when he stopped instructing everyone just stayed there laying down until he came back in to tell us the time was up.
During those last 15 minutes in Savasana I was honestly in a different plane of existence for 95% of the time. He gave us no instruction on what to do with that time other than be still, and intuitively my body went into slowed, deep, belly breathing. I would exhale gently and hold (which seemed to be for about 20 seconds), and then inhale slowly and deeply (into my belly) and hold for 1-2 minutes. It was in-sane. Every time I released my breath I sort of floated back into my body and then with every inhale I took off again into outer (inner?) space. This heavy physical body sensation persisted through out, I felt like I was in a coma actually. I remember thinking “it feels like I literally couldn’t move my body even if I wanted to”.
When the teacher came back in the class to tell us 15 minutes was up, I took my final exhale and wiggled my toes, and returned to a normal breath. I couldn’t believe it. I felt even more grateful than normal for this magical life we are living, for all the incredible tools life has given us to tap into the world of the unseen. Breath! BREATH! What a gift to be alive.
I rode my bicycle home listening to Krishna Das and chanting out loud, high on my own supply.
The Following Day
I woke up still buzzing, much like I had the days following Vipassana, ayahuasca, or tripping balls on psilocybin. I had seen the unseen, I had felt it, and it felt frickin awesome. I was trying to decide how to start my day (I’ve been playing around with kundalini, and a few styles of morning meditation), but after fidgeting my way through 3 types of meditation I decided to give Wim a go.
I found a random video on youtube that directed the breath for 3 rounds, and on the 3rd I slammed my laptop closed and continued on for 2 or 3 more rounds solo. And yes, exact same experience as the night before. Out of body, celestial, floating. This time I actually felt even more connected to my inner energy, I could feel it flowing through the “prana tube” (ie. that energy channel that passes through all your chakras from your bum all the way up the crown of your head). My thoughts were racing, as things started to click (a deeper understanding and value for things like kundalini and kamasutra). I finished with the same slow breathing for about 15 minutes and then started my day high on life.
I think I touched on them a bit throughout this post, but I wanted to emphasize that there are so many different ways to experience divinity. You may have tried Wim Hof and disliked it, or felt nothing… this doesn’t mean you’re broken or that I’m crazy- it just means you haven’t yet found what works for you. A big part of this is no doubt the surrender, which is deeply connected to expectations. You cannot expect any type of outcome, because this is a “craving” (lust), which is no different than “aversion” (wanting something to stop happening). I don’t exactly know how or why some people are more equanimous than others, but like all things you can cultivate the craft through practice.
Observe yourself throughout the day, this is where you start. Start to notice how often you try and manipulate an outcome in your favour. Is it 50% of your day? 75%? 99%? If you’ve never truly thought about it, you are probably subconsciously doing it about 99% of the time because this is how our society is programming us to behave: achievement on the pillars of power, and greed.
Find ways to distance yourself from manipulating outcomes. Stop forcing people and things to go your way through subtle language, passive aggressive actions, and planning. Try not caring when the café is out of your favourite blueberry scone, or when your plans to go out Friday night fall through. If you miss the bus, try laughing “I wasn't meant to be on that one!” instead of “SHIT NOW I’M LATE”. You’re never late, there is no such thing as time, only clocks we humans have invented to punish ourselves with and create rigidity in life.
It’s no coincidence that so many (if not all?) of the deeply mystical experiences are connected to equanimity. Meditation, breath work, cold exposure, water fasting, yoga… even running. All these practices have as aspect of surrender, because many of the sensations that arise are not comfortable. We have to get comfortable being uncomfortable: that is equanimity.
In time your equanimity practice will become so strong that it spills out into every aspect of your life, and you will literally see it as a blessing when things don’t go “to plan”- as a gift from life. “THIS is what I’m meant to be experiencing. THIS is my lesson, how can I grow from the pain or discomfort?”
I’ve reached a place in my own journey with equanimity where more often than not I actually don’t “hustle” for anything. This doesn’t mean I don’t work hard, or care (I do), but I don’t force things. An example of that is that I actually haven’t applied for any of the writing jobs I currently freelance for, nor did I apply for the nannying gig I had before I went freelance. I have this funny relationship with life, so full of trust, that things I am meant to experience will find me.
I actually haven’t read “the secret” but I do know what it’s about, and what I’m saying isn’t at all that. It’s not about “manifesting” all the things you want to happen, it’s about trusting that whatever happens is exactly what is meant to happen. There’s a massive difference. We’re not shooing away the bad, we’re welcoming it with open arms. We are loving all the polarities of life, and finding a deep bliss in the experience of being human, fully human.
So to conclude, I’ll give you a few #hottips for anyone keen to try Wim Hof breathing for the first time.
Hot (err… cold) Tips for first time Wim Hoffin’
Get proper instruction in a group setting; not only to properly “learn”, but because there is something intoxicating about group energy. If you have a hard time surrendering, it is helpful to see other people doing it (sometimes if you’re deeply programmed by societal approval, your body feels like it needs permission to let go).
Cover your eyes. At least for the first few times. This related to point 1 (helps you feel less seen/ judged), and also the less sensory input the more you can go inwards.
Don’t have expectations. (Lol, as if reading this whole post didn’t just give you f’ing massive expectations, sorry about that) But seriously, try to just breathe deeply and trust that whatever happens, you will be OK with.
Set an intention. This is so fundamental with any spiritual practice: why are you here? Dig. Journaling can be a good way to uncover your intention, connect with the emotions (not the outcomes). Things like surrender, trust, expansion, release, love, empowerment… find something that lights you up and when your mind starts to wander, reconnect with your intention.
Go with the flow. No two practices are alike. It’s actually quite odd that my following morning breath work brought me to a similar place as the day before, because from my experience with all things cosmic… no two journeys are ever the same. You could have the best meditation of your life in the morning, and have the worst of your life that same evening. There is no linear progression when it comes to the spirit world, just go with the flow, keep practicing, and stay open to whatever journey life has in store for you!