DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
The Wim Hof Method is a simple and highly effective breathwork method that can support general mental and physical health in addition to relieving the symptoms of (or even curing) autoimmune illnesses like psoriasis. This Method involves specific breathing techniques combined with regular cold showers/baths to balance the nervous system, modulate immunity, and reduce inflammation.
The Wim Hof Method has been scientifically proven to cure and/or treat the following health problems (among others not listed here):
- Multiple sclerosis
- Lyme disease
- Chronic inflammation
- Guillain-Barre Syndrome
- Bacterial infections
- Viral infections
- Autoimmune diseases
- Altitude sickness
- Bipolar disorder
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
Breath and Alkalinity
In the treatment of psoriasis (as well as in the treatment of other related conditions), alkalizing the body is an absolutely essential part of recovery. While diet, supplements, and some other therapies are important and effective for alkalization, none is simpler than deep breathing exercises. Some studies into the Wim Hof Method note that the specific kind of breathing involved in this technique saturates the blood with oxygen, leading to increasingly alkalized blood. Doing these breathing techniques regularly helps maintain this alkalinity, especially when the Wim Hof Method is combined with a healthy diet and other therapies designed to heal and support the body.
Besides alkalizing the blood, deep breathing also can increase ATP production in the cells. ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is an essential form of energy for cells and is particularly important for stimulating voluntary muscle contractions. Without adequate ATP production, physical and mental fatigue can occur. For athletes, increased ATP production means increased endurance and improved performance. For psoriasis patients (and other individuals with debilitating illnesses), this means overall more energy, clarity, and improved physical functioning. Increased ATP production also means that the body has the energy it needs to successfully heal what’s been damaged.
Why Cold Exposure is So Important
One of the key concepts behind the Wim Hof Method is the idea of a simulated, controlled stress response. Exposing the body to the cold is a kind of physical stress, while the deep breathing techniques simulate the kind of breathing that we do automatically in threatening, stressful situations. When the body is regularly exposed to the cold under controlled conditions such as those replicated in this method, it learns how to moderate and control the stress response more gracefully (some of this control is automatic, and some of it is controlled consciously through training).
Besides controlling stress, though, cold exposure can also reduce our perception of pain and improve general mental health. The Wim Hof technique of cold exposure activates the opioid and cannabinoid systems in the brain in addition to stimulating the body to release dopamine and serotonin (“feel good” hormones). This combined response to the cold can result in a positive, relaxed feeling even while a person is in the cold water or environment. Afterwards, an increased level of control over pain and physical sensations or responses to stimuli can occur.
Cold exposure also increases the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter responsible for focus, positive mood, and one’s ability to pay attention to tasks and the people around them. Besides these effects on mental health, norepinephrine also has vasoconstrictive effects, meaning that it ultimately helps prevent too much heat from escaping from the body. Generally, it’s accepted that more significant changes in temperature (such as from hot to cold) increase the amount of norepinephrine released, thus increasing its effects in the body. Because of this, the Wim Hof Method advises taking a warm shwoer like normal and then following it up with cold exposure at the very end (read onward to learn more about how exactly to do this).
With the combination of breath and cold exposure, you can regain control over your mind and body. Wim Hof practitioners have undergone scientific studies in which they were able to (with only the power of their minds using these techniques) ingest an infectious pathogen and then successfully neutralize and purge it from their system without getting sick. Such stories like this demonstrate the power of this technique when it is done correctly and religiously over time.
How to Follow the Wim Hof Method
There are 2 parts to the Wim Hof Method: Breath and cold exposure. In order for it to be effective, it’s ideal to combine these two parts. Below are the basic instructions for practicing the Wim Hof Method (following these instructions in addition to using some of the other therapies described in the book, such as nutritional therapies or the Sunlight and Seawater cure, will offer the maximum benefit for psoriasis sufferers):
The Wim Hof Breathing Technique
Plan your breathing time for the morning before breakfast, if possible. You may also complete this technique in the afternoons if you feel your energy levels drop, or anytime you begin to feel pain or discomfort (as it can often eliminate pain).
When you do this breathing technique, you might feel a variety of different sensations. Some people feel tingling in their hands or feet, others feel a little lightheaded. Some people even experience tetany (where the muscles in your hands, feet, or other areas of your body involuntarily spasm), which is caused by the excitation of nerve cells and is no cause for concern. If the tetany is painful, stop breathing and ask a professional for advice. If it is only mildly uncomfortable (not painful), you may stop the breathing for a few minutes and then try restarting, or stop completely for the day and try again the next morning.
It’s not entirely unusual to feel a little like you’re going to pass out the first time you do this practice, so if you need to stop midway through to regain your composure, that’s fine. You’ll eventually become accustomed to this sensation and it will become a normal part of the technique.
Follow the instructions below to do Wim Hof breathing:
- Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable (yet meditational) posture. Make sure that your lungs and chest are not constricted and that they can move freely. If you are lying down, make sure you’re lying relatively flat so that you can breathe properly.
- Close your eyes and begin to become aware of your breath.
- When you’re ready, breathe in as deep as you can using both your lungs and belly (both should expand), and then let go. On the exhale, don’t release your breath completely, but rather just relax and let the breath come out gently. Don’t push the breath out. Your breaths should be somewhat faster than normal (and much deeper), but not quite so fast as if you were hyperventilating.
- Do 30-40 of these breaths, one after the next.
- On the last breath, breathe out and then stop. “Hold” your breath until you feel the need to breathe again. Aim to hold your breath for at least 1-2 minutes, but if you can’t do this yet, that’s fine! Try to not have any judgments of what can or cannot happen in advance. When you’ve been practicing this method for some time, you may very well be able to hold your breath for up to 2 minutes at a time with relative ease. If you can only hold your breath for 15 or 30 seconds though at the beginning, don’t stress, do what feels comfortable to you.
- When you need to breathe again, breathe in deeply and hold the breath in for 15 seconds before letting it go.
- Return to Step 4 again. Complete at least 3 rounds of breathing before moving onto the cold exposure part of the method.
Don’t attempt to jump in an icy lake or go hiking in the Himalayas right from the start. Do your breathing techniques first each morning, and then go slow and work your way up as you feel comfortable (you might surprise yourself with how quickly you become comfortable with the cold water though, so do what feels right):
- During the first week, take a warm/hot shower like normal, and then at the very end, turn the water to cold. Stand in the cold water for 30 seconds (if you can) and then turn it off and finish your shower.
- In the second week, do your breathing exercises like normal and then complete 1 minute of cold water at the end of a warm shower.
- For the third week, work up to one-and-a-half minutes of cold exposure at the end of your shower.
- Finally, by the fourth week you can move up to 2 minutes of cold exposure at the end of your shower!
Some people may feel more comfortable with starting with only 15 seconds of cold exposure, which is perfectly fine. Aim to do at least 5 days per week of the steps described above, but follow your body. Some individuals may need to make special modifications depending on their situation. Whenever possible, do the breathing techniques right before bathing to prepare your body for the cold.
Note that if you live in a very warm climate, you may need to prepare ice baths to get the benefit of this technique. If your cold shower water is surely less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, though, you’re fine! The benefits of cold exposure begin at this temperature. If the water is warmer than this though at its coldest, consider preparing ice baths to jump into after your shower. However, in most cases shower water will be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit at its coldest, if not colder than this.
Contraindications for the Wim Hof Method
Though there aren’t many situations where the Wim Hof Method is contraindicated, there are still a few situations in which you should seek the advice of a professional before beginning this breathing technique. These situations are listed below:
- High blood pressure (particularly if you are currently taking medication for high blood pressure)
- Coronary heart disease
- A history of heart failure or stroke
- Migraines (you can still do the breathing portion of the Wim Hof Method if you suffer from migraines, however proceed with the cold exposure part of the technique with caution)
- Children under age 16 (children younger than 16 can do the method, but only according to what you think they can handle and only if they feel comfortable with it)
 Hof, Wim (2020). The Wim Hof Method (1st edition). Sounds True, Inc.
 Rapp Learn, Joshua (2018). Science Explains How the Iceman Resists Extreme Cold. Retrieved January 13, 2022 from: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-explains-how-iceman-resists-extreme-cold-180969134/