The power of cold water immersion & breathwork

TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson attends a Wim Hof workshop to learn why so many are plunging into freezing cold lakes
The method continues to be researched, changing the way scientists view our mind and our abilities to positively influence our health
Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 8:24 AM EDT
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GWINN, Mich. (WLUC) - This winter more people than ever have been jumping into the freezing cold waters of Lake Superior.

From the outside, it looks like a plunge derived from a dare or a desire to say, “I did it, I jumped in the lake in February or March.”

But TV6′s Elizabeth Peterson took a closer look, needing to understand the why behind these moments. What she found was a growing group of people, taking their health and their lives into their own hands. On a 36 degree afternoon under blue skies preparations begin for a 4-hour Wim Hof workshop at Shady Grove Farm in Gwinn. It involves, chopping wood, firing up the sauna and cutting holes in Johnson lake.

It’s a lot of work that will eventually lead to the final two minutes of the workshop.

Let’s look at what happens ahead of that jump into the lake.

This session involves 13 people, Elizabeth included, interested in learning and practicing the Wim Hof method, a practice designed to teach people how to reconnect to themselves, others and nature.

Tim Mann, a licensed professional counselor and Wim Hof method instructor from lower Michigan discovered the practice after a life altering accident in 2017.

He recounts, “I was hit by a drunk driver while parked on the side of the highway and really got banged up pretty good.”

In fact, Mann fractured five vertebrae, fractured his skull in three places, broke his right ankle, his left arm was snapped in half, his liver was lacerated. He dislocated his jaw and had multiple seizures.

His recovery was long, painful and left him addicted to pain killers and suffering from a mood disorder. He was alive, but not really living... until he discovered Wim Hof.

“I came across the Wim Hof method and it really helped give me control over my mood, my emotions, and then it actually helped alleviate a lot of residual pain in my brain, my spine, my arm, my foot, it really helped with pain management and really getting a hold of my mood,” he said.

He shared his story with the group and he shared how he made the practice a part of his life.

“I shed a tear inside doing the breathwork today because it’s amazing seeing people doing this deep breathing and getting these benefits because it’s just worked wonders for me,” he said. “Makes me feel good seeing other people do it reaping those same benefits.”

The method essentially has three pieces: breathing, cold therapy, and commitment.

It costs nothing and is today scientifically proven to increase energy, improve sleep, reduce stress, heighten focus and determination, increase will power and improve the immune system.

Mann added, “The breathwork, first and for most, you get a huge boost of adrenaline and that is very beneficial for the body, you get a huge boost of a healthy cell messaging protein known as interleukin 10, it’s anti-inflammatory so it really decreases inflammation through the body and we know that 99% of disease are related to inflammation – so it’s got great implications for all sorts of things. The cold water, you get a huge boost of noradrenaline and dopamine and those neurotransmitters and have a huge influence on your mood and energy levels and it is also just a great cardio vascular workout.”

Sitting in the class, practicing the breathwork, Elizabeth said she couldn’t help but feel the power of what he’s saying, knowing we are so much more than we realize.

Joseph Patrick Harrison, one of the participants said, “There was just kind of a light bulb that went off which was just, it’s never going to get easier and if we can put in the effort and do something that’s really good for ourselves, something as simple as breathing than we really can step into more possibilities.”

A couple of important notes to mention: if you are epileptic, have a serious heart condition or are pregnant, this method is not recommended. Consult with your primary care physician before trying it.

Wim Hof has been studied by scientists since 2011. They were baffled by his ability to voluntarily influence his autonomic nervous system, that’s the system that regulates your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion.

He continues to be studied and his method continues to push science to new possibilities.

But at the heart of it all, the research now shows we have so much more power over our health than we’ve ever realized.

For more on the Wim Hof workshops, click here

And for more on Wim Hof and the studies underway right now, click here

***Thanks to Nick Battistone of Shadow Glass Films for much of the video used in this story.