Wim Hof has set the Guiness World Record’s for farthest swim under ice, fastest half-marathon barefoot on ice and snow, and the longest time in direct full-body contact with ice a total of 16 times. Hof summited Kilimanjaro in two days and climbed to 23000 feet on Everest wearing only shorts and shoes and ran a full marathon in the Namib Desert without water. He claims to have accomplished all of these feats by employing a regimen of cold therapy, breathing techniques, and meditation in order to control his body’s stress response and immune system. “That power is the same power we can learn to embrace and awaken in which we are able to tackle any stressor in the world – emotionally or physically, mentally – whatever you have, we are built to be able to get through and to learn and not to be afraid because we have the power of the mind.” I wonder if I can will myself a few inches taller?
In the 1920’s Walter Cannon coined the phrase “fight or flight” describing how perceived stress can influence reaction of the sympathetic nervous system. Perception in the mind controlled physical reactions in the body. During World War II, Henry Beecher ran out of morphine when treating his wounded soldiers and started administering a saline solution in place of the pain killer. Not telling the wounded of the saline many of the soldiers reported a reduction or even an absence of previous pain showing the power of the placebo. The soldiers believed they were receiving pain killers so thei
r mind relieved the pain.
For centuries many cultures have believed in the power of the mind to influence their physical bodies. According to “A clinical guide to the treatment of human stress response” by George S. Everly, Jeffrey M. Lating 2002, some of the earliest written records of meditation (Dhyana), come from the Hindu traditions of Vedantism around 1500 BCE. Benefits can include improved sleep, decreased blood pressure, and reduced anxiety. A study in Psychoneuroendocrinology 2019 Feb 26 demonstrated that long-term meditation practitioners had faster cortisol recovery from stress as measured by changes in salivary cortisol, heart rate, and heart rate variability. In yoga, pranayama, also dating as far back as 1500 BCE, is the formal practice of controlling the breath. This practice is said to purify the blood and respiratory system while enriching the blood with oxygen. A study in the International Journal of Yoga showed an 8-week yoga intervention for healthy inactive middle-aged people improved the overall respiratory and physical functions, and the inclusion of pranayama had the added benefit of improving inspiratory muscle strength and global body flexibility. Egyptians used cold therapy to treat injuries and inflammation as far back as 2500 BCE. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, the most ancient medical text known, dated 3500 B.C., made numerous references to the use of cold as therapy. In a collaboration with Radboud University in 2013 Wim Hof and 30 participants underwent a study to see how far his method could go in regulating immune response. 18 of the participants were trained in the Wim Hof Method by Wim Hof himself. They practiced for six days prior to the experiment taking cold showers, meditating, and utilizing breathing technique. On the day of the experiment the trained group as well as a control group were injected with an E. Coli bacteria. For the three hours of the experiment the trained group practiced their breathing and meditation techniques. Blood values confirmed the trained group produced less inflammatory proteins and more anti-inflammatory proteins than the control group. The trained group also showed far less symptoms of influenza. The researchers concluded that this experiment confirmed a clear voluntary activation of the autonomic nervous system.
Who amongst us couldn’t benefit from more efficient stress response, less anxiety, lower blood pressure, higher flexibility, better immune response? These days many people are quick to rely on pharmaceutical intervention to treat many of their issues. If breathing, meditating, and even taking a cold shower have all of the benefits discussed above I think all of us should be using these methods to ensure a long happy and healthy life. Who knows the limits of our mind body connection? Keep meditating. I just grew three inches since the beginning of this article.