Breathing... and Being Uncomfortable. Wim Hof etc.
Y’all know I’m into breathing techniques.
Maybe it began over twenty years ago when I swam competitively and learned how to control inhales while working out and being under water. Or the first time I made out with a boy, I found myself wondering, “How the fuck do you breathe and do this!?” Or perhaps the interest rose over the years of empathically picking up on the negative toxicity in my home and dormitories. I remember crying a lot a lot, hiccuping, burping, and desperately trying to breathe normally when my emotional body took control— trusting a deep breath in would help my sobs subside.
The one constant here? Holding my breath caused me some serious stress.
So I explored. Well, let’s be honest. Firstly, I was the victim. I internalized the anger and deep desire to exchange love instead of fear, and chose lots of things besides breathing. Substances, intense employment, adrenaline high sports and activities, you know the drill. Live fast, play hard, avoid the truth under the surface of all the business.
Thank goddess I found teachers to humble and transform me.
Pranayama and Kundalini introduced me to yogic breathing styles that specifically target the layers of your being depending on your intention. Heating, cooling, calming, nourishing—you name it, Yoga can breathe you into it. Ahhh finally, a spiritual science I can rely on.
But wait, there are SO MANY OTHER KINDS out there! I soon realized I didn’t have to be in a shala or a studio to practice with like minded individuals.
The Wim Hof method discovered me a few years ago (see how I take no credit here), and my first thoughts were that this dude, the “Ice Man,” was downloading techniques from ancient practices and reintroducing them to human consciousness. Super rad. Look at this enlightened guru posing as a crazy European! What a fun body to pick for this lifetime. He is all about performance. Testing limits. Destroying mental blockages and rebuilding the perspective of what is possible. He attracts the folks that want a masochistic approach, not a hippie woo-woo cult. My competitive side was enticed.
I went to lectures and classes, studied YouTube tutorials, and read stories about the kinds of benefits and super powers his followers boasted. I spoke with Scott Carney about his training and attempts to de-bunk the legend, only to find himself in awe and respect for the man and his abilities. And thus I dabbled. I swam in as many fresh water streams as possible, and signed up for specific challenges relating to pushing the body.
Allowing myself to become super cold and super hot, from snowboarding in -10 storms, to sitting through several doors of a sweat lodge, I learned more and more about how being uncomfortable is a luxury most modern societies strive to avoid.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.
I’ve heard it before, but to practice it is a totally different reality. It actually helps me change perspective. We get so content with routine and little systems we put in place to make ourselves short term happy, that we completely forget about the big bright world of options!
Example: I was beyond pissed at my partner and our relationship one festival this summer, and all of a sudden, a rogue hurricane hit the ground. Tents didn’t just go flying around the campsites—they evacuated the place and made all the wooks go back to their cars. All of a sudden? No more anger in my head. Sometimes I just need a life threatening shift from mother nature to realize how stubborn and stupid I am.
This weekend, we had the pleasure of doing an intensive Conscious Breathwork + Wim Hof session with a group of crazy awesome Michigan friends. Day one focused entirely on connected breathing, which is my happy place. I love brewing cacao and listening to my soul sister, Lindsay, talk about the benefits of group honesty and healing. Day two, our co-facilitator zoomed in on who Wim Hof is and how we can practice his theories. Turns out, he is a hilariously strong being.
“How will I know when I’ve conquered the cold?” a participant asked Wim in a training.
“When you can get an erection!”
I wasn’t shooting for arousal here, rather a focus on reset. A big, fat, good ole’ wipe the slate clean reset. No more obsessive pining thoughts or random excuses based off of our cabin fever from vanlife. Just presence with the group, learning to love and laugh in the face of discomfort.
I almost passed out doing the breathing exercises before hand, and my ego used the dizziness as a potential way to back out from the cold water therapy. I could hear that nagging thought pattern, you know, the one that jumps up and protests anything that might be good for you, say, “Ah, wonderful, I have an exit strategy in my pocket!” And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is why community is so powerful.
I 100% believe I would have quit right then and there if I had been by myself. I give all the credit to Wim Hof for sneakily pretending to be a macho man, when really his techniques are about UNIFYING! This work with others is so potent. He goes to extremes to remind the monkeys to wake up. Eye gazing before, during and after swimming in Lake Michagan in the middle of fall provides a bond and collective power to the group.
We practiced some Qi Gong before stripping down, moving energy and nerves as a whole.
And then the fun began. Bobbing up and down, singing, laughing, and braving the waves for over 15 minutes in the 52 degree water. Our dog, Winnie, tried to keep up, but even her love of swimming couldn’t keep her in the lake. That’s how we really know it was our preparation that made us stronger!
Okay, maybe we couldn’t feel our feet for an hour or two after this. But it was totally worth it.
Signing off with love and a query: what makes you uncomfortable at first but ecstatic afterwards?