There’s no way, I think to myself as I stare at the running water. I’m supposed to get into a cold shower and I can’t. I adjust the knob. The ice cold water is now moderately cold. I step in but stand far enough back that the water hits only my feet and shins. Goosebumps.
I stand there, telling myself to be brave and that I can do anything for 30 seconds all the while wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.
Finally, I take a deep breath. I step forward into the water, and…
Welcome to week 2.
This is what I had to do every day this week:
- 3 rounds of breathing followed by breath holds
- 1 round of breathing followed by pushups (as many as you can do)
- Forward bends, back bend, plank
- 30 seconds cold shower –> warm/hot shower –> 30 seconds cold –> warm/hot shower –> 30 seconds cold
I feel a little bit… worse?
I come into the week expecting to feel amazing and I don’t.
Instead, I feel anxious and on edge. I’m gripped by a powerful urge to inhale deeply, like I can’t fill my lungs with enough oxygen. I Google my symptoms and conclude that I’m having a panic attack and need to see a therapist immediately.
I calm down. I’m not having a panic attack. Something about the deep breathing, breath holds, and cold showers is causing my body to react this way. I know first hand how this kind of breath work can cause some intense sensations, but I don’t understand why.
I share my situation with the private Facebook group for people who have purchased the program. The comments come quickly and I learn that I am not alone:
One person points me to a short documentary on the Wim Hof method. In one scene, after a particularly intense breathing and meditation session, people appear to be tripping out. One guy is shaking with euphoria. Another is twitching and grabbing his head. A girl is crying from some giant emotional release. It’s all very bizarre. I wonder if I’m going to have an emotional release. I don’t.
The other commenters explain that my body is reacting to the ways that I’m manipulating my levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone). The body and brain need time to adjust to this change, which is why I feel so off balance. They add that all of the oxygen being pumped through my lungs and bloodstream in combination with the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm gives the lymphatic system (i.e. the body’s sewer system) an extra boost. As a result, my body is naturally detoxifying itself.
In the end, I am assured that my symptoms are normal. Sometimes, things have to get worse before they get better. They tell me to keep going, to listen to my body, and in a few days or weeks, I’ll feel better.
Sure enough, by the end of the week I’m feeling great. Here are my week 2 breath retention times:
I love stretching. I love the feeling of breathing directly into that one tight spot, and imagining the muscle fibers becoming looser. The pushups, on the other hand, are not so fun. According to the Wim Hof program, we do them to show how much more strength and endurance we have when the body is in an “oxygenated” state. Last week, I could do 16. Now, I’m knocking out 30 without breaking a sweat.
I spend most of the week struggling to get into the cold shower. While transitioning from warm to cold is easy (like I did last week), starting with cold is an entirely different story. It takes me several minutes to work up the courage to step in and when I do, I’m counting the seconds until I can turn that knob to warm. Fortunately, every day gets easier and by day seven, I can step into that cold shower without hesitation.
I realize now how merciless the cold can be if you’re not focused, and I appreciate what a perfect training ground it is for mental toughness and overall well being. The cold conditions the body. The breathing and meditation teach control. Two weeks ago, I shivered and howled with a few drops of cold water. Now, it can pour over me and my breathing remains calm, steady and slow, in spite of my discomfort. I can survive a (short) freezing cold shower because A. my body is becoming used to it and B. I’m learning to stay in control and find warmth through the breath. It’s a wonderful feeling.
And so, I end Week 2 with a great sense of accomplishment. I’m a little calmer, a little more flexible, a little tougher, and my chain is getting longer.