MIND OVER BODY IS CONFUSING… LETS FIX THAT
Welcome, thank you for joining us. With a few days until our next Wim Hof Method Fundamentals Workshop in the Cotswold village of Aldsworth we thought it prudent to tackle one of the most powerful and often confusing elements of breath-work and the Wim Hof Method... the mindset pillar. The element that can give you 40% measurably higher immunological response in your blood when breathing! (Seriously).
It seems like motivational none-sense doesn’t it? People often conflate “mind over body” with “mind over matter”. As anyone who has suffered depression or hell if you just didn’t sleep enough last night, you will know when told to apply “mind over matter” it doesn’t exactly galvanise you into action. Often it has the opposite effect, especially if you are in a physical or emotional rut.
As with everything here, there isn’t one size fits all for this and I can’t tell you what your mindset is but I can show you the science so far, how to apply it and the potential benefits if you do. I can share my continued journey with my own mindset, in the hope that it will illuminate or unlock something for you. Ultimately all of this is a feeling practise, not a thinking practise. The dichotomy of which isn’t lost if me as I try to explain it to you with my thinking brain. Just bear in mind, science and explanations are great and interesting but they are there to simply remove our doubt. Once we know these things and their effects we can cast them out of our mind and just feel our way through our practise. It doesn’t help to think these things when actually practising.
Mindset in the Wim Hof Method is many things but ultimately in the study’s published so far we have shown the measurable positive effects of the below:
- The, (now fact), that humans can exert top down influence over their central nervous system, at will. Giving you control over the quantity hormones you release, how quickly they re-balance (homeostasis), the cytokines in your blood and your mitochondria. Each of these help you to strengthen your immune system, make you happier, remove inflammation and control your energy levels. Not in a buzzword way, literally.
- Effective use of visualisation to activate internal systems that respond to the Wim Hof Method even when not doing the exercises.
- Using “positive outcome optimism expectancy“ to literally increase the effectiveness of your exercises by 40%.
- Training your brains natural ability to be less stressed and respond faster to stressful situations. Called your “Adaptive Stress Response”
- Fostering a “Challenge Mindset”. Making you more able to face difficult physical and emotional challenges with bravery, determination and peace. This is a learned behaviour that gets easier with the chemical rebalancing the rest of your breath-work and cold exposure helps foster.
- Then most importantly forgetting all of this and feeling rather than thinking your way through it all. These are feeling responsive systems we are effecting here nestled deep in your reptilian brain, they respond to feelings. This also leads into a key element I want to share with you from my own experiences. How to communicate with these systems, if you have seen “Kill Bill” you will get the reference, I call it, “move your big toe”.
Top down control of your central nervous system is huge. It has giant implications for your immunity, happiness and health as a whole. This was proven in a study done at Wayne State University on Wim Hof himself. They put him inside a fMRI machine wearing a suite that was filled with tubes. They could pump hot or cold water into these tubes to artificially raise or lower his core body temperature. Given that an fMRI requires you to be motionless to work, Wim wasn’t able to do the horse stance or his breathing exercises that are already proven to raise your core body temperature in response to the cold. This meant that this experiment would only be on the power of his mind to influence his internal systems and, (in this case), raise his temperature. The results were remarkable and a perfect foundation for our understanding of mindset in the Wim Hof Method.
Firstly they asked him to do nothing. They then pumped cold water into the suit and his temperature dropped, they pumped hot water into the suit and it rose, just like every one else they had tested. They then asked him to apply his mindset and repeated the test, cold water than hot water in a cycle just like before. However this time Wim’s core temperature stayed exactly the same. What they learned was that Wim was able to increase his metabolism by 300%, (this is his brown fat, the mitochondria within and the ATP activation it produces). This maintained his temperature. There are physiological explanations and reasons why and if you come to one of our workshops we will give you an insight into all that. The “how“ is the most important for us today. What did he do? This brings us onto our next two points. Visualisation of exercises practised in real life and positive outcome expectancy.
Visualisation is an incredibly powerful tool. Sports figures have used it for decades. We use it when going into the ice water. We visualise going in, the effect on our body, we see ourselves adapting, our breathing slowing, becoming comfortable in the uncomfortable, then coming out and rewarming from the inside out. What we now know about visualisation is it is more than just a mental rehearsal. Your body reacts to visualisation the same way it reacts to the act of doing whatever you are visualising. There isn’t a distinction. By Wim visualising his breathing techniques, he was able to create the effects of them in his body. This phenomenon has been seen in multiple studies. If we practise the thing we visualise in the real world, the new neural pathways we create, in our case Wim Hof Method breathing, are better activated through that visualisation. They go hand in hand. And as you improve your ability to visualise and you continue your exercise practise in the “real world” those neural pathways solidify and become easier to control to a greater degree.
This is a huge topic. It’s easy to dismiss and underestimate but in short feeling is the key! See yourself doing the thing, recovering from the thing. You don’t need to think your way through it, just remember the methodology and feelings from your practise. (For more science on this see this study )
Next we have “positive outcome optimism expectancy“. In essence, how well you feel the exercise will go. Those that reported higher showed 40% greater immunological response in their blood from Wim Hof Method breathing. 40%! Health is a slow process and advice changes with each day, what exercise we do and the food we eat etc. It’s not about blind faith. There is no dogma here. You know the studies, you know how you feel when you practise. The more you practise the more at peace you are, the less stressed, less fatigued. You feel the positive effects every day. Going into exercises knowing that is beneficial not just during the exercise for for the days after. The chemical environment you create in your exercises and the adaptive stress response you cultivate can then apply to other challenging aspects of your life. This positive outcome optimism is contagious and can seep into your daily life in a highly beneficial way!
Ok. That’s a lot to take in right? Don’t be overwhelmed by this. The key as always is listen to your body and just do it. All of this will take care of itself. We are down to the final two; a “challenge mindset” and “move your big toe”.
A challenge mindset feeds into your adaptive stress response. When we go into something like ice water. Something that is scary, exciting, that our bodies instinctively try to make us avoid, (everyday my brain comes up with reasons why I don’t need to go into the ice today. But I overrule it and feel incredible afterwards!). When we become comfortable in that ice, through our slow long exhale and our focus we are not just training our brains and body to go into ice water but to go into any stressful situation and come out at peace and full of power. That meeting you don’t want to have, that conversation you’ve been avoiding, that run you’ve been putting off. It is the same neural pathways for all these stressful situations and by going into the cold water everyday, learning the tools to cope and constantly reenforcing our ability and our belief in our ability to cope with it and come out stronger we become emboldened to apply the same to all aspects of our lives. We want to go for that run. We know we can stay calm in that difficult conversation. We start wanting to challenge ourselves because we have been on the other side of it and felt how good we feel. We have a challenge mindset. Add to that how much physically better we can feel through daily practise. Having more energy than ever, more determination. All of this feeds into wanting to face challenges and come out the other side, because we know we can! I started running half marathons. If you'd told me that when I first started I would have laughed at you.
Onto our final point, "move your big toe". It's all very well knowing you can have "top down influence of your central nervous system" and that you can influence your hormones and immune system. But the how is crucial. This will differ for everyone and when I talk about this I am doing so from my own experience as a paraplegic and not from a basis of scientific study, so take it for what it is. When we try and communicate with these internal systems just like when I tried to communicate with my paralysed legs during my illness, we do so consciously. Meaning I told my foot to move. When I moved my foot before, yes my brain gave it the signal to move but that signal wasn't conscious. I didn't have to think, "I want to move my foot" I thought "Oh I would like a drink" and moving over to the drink activated all the many signals to get me there. That is what I want to talk about here. I have found in my own practise as soon as I found out I could influence these internal systems I was right back to conscious, front brain, think-talking, to these system. "More immunity please", "More Alkaline blood" etc etc. When I stopped doing that a felt the effects of the exercise is when things really started moving. My advice would be to try not think-talking to these system. When we do that we are trying to operate subconscious systems with tools of the conscious mind that are not designed to communicate with them. If we simulate a more natural environment for the signals we can have better results, in my experience at least. What on earth do I mean? Well for my legs, my foot specifically, I stopped thinking, "move" and started clearing my mind and then "deciding" to get something from my side table. To do that I would have to swing my legs off the bed stand up and walk over. Now none of those things happened but the results were remarkable. I went from some sudo Jedi pose, trying to will movement with my mind, to naturally activating the pathways that communicate with my body. By not thinking about doing it and instead thinking about the thing I wanted to pick up and the feeling of doing that from my past experiences of doing it. For breath work, when setting my focus, which for me is to be happy and present with my wife and the most well I've ever been. I now imagine a real time with my partner where I felt the optimistic, happy mindset I want to have and let those feelings from that memory fill me up. As well as a time when I had just ran a half marathon and felt full of energy. I visualise those moments and let the feelings of them fill me up. That is me asking my body for "good mental health and physical prowess". Without having to use my thinking brain, but rather feeling. It is the feelings that matter. Movies are fun, but "move your big toe" won't help you. Instead she would have been better thinking "oh a penny on the floor, I want that" and going to pick it up as if she wasn't paralysed at all. Starting the nerve signals organically rather than consciously.
Good luck in your own adventures into mindset. Remember all of this information is great but in practise we'd do well to forget it and just do. These are reptilian brain systems, they respond do doing not thinking. Feel your way through and you will be fine. Happy practising! See you at the next workshop.