Training of mindset & meditation/concentration
It is generally known that a strong mindset can be an important weapon when it comes to thinking, doing and achieving. In the WHM, a strong mindset is important to realize your inner strength. Concentration/meditation is an important part of this. This concentration is required for what you wish to achieve for certain purposes. If Wim Hof would not concentrate, for example, he would feel just as cold as everyone else. Focus is thus very important.
Autonomic nervous system and concentration techniques
Normally, the autonomic nervous system is independently and subconsciously regulated by the body. The autonomic nervous system regulates functions such as breathing, internal organs, digestion, the dilation and contraction of the blood vessels and the heartbeat. In accordance with current medical opinion, no influence can be exercised over the autonomic nervous system.
It has emerged from a variety of studies, however, that certain concentration/meditation techniques can result in independent, autonomic activity (Phongsuphap, Pongsupap, Chandanamattha & Lursinsap, 2008; Wu & Lo, 2008; Paul-Labrador et al., 2006).
Mindfulness-based stress reduction, for example, has resulted in a decrease in activity in the sympathetic nervous system among fibromyalgia patients (Lush, Salmon, Floyd, Studts, Weissbecker & Sephton, 2009). Proof has also been provided that Wim Hof is able to influence his autonomic nervous system by means of his technique (Pickkers et al., 2011). Researchers at Radboud University have investigated the influence of Wim Hof’s concentration technique on the activity of his autonomic nervous system and the (natural) immune system. During the course of this experiment, components of E-coli bacteria where injected into Wim Hof and 112 other trial participants. The test subjects were injected with this bacteria in a previous study. Administering this substance makes the body think that it is being attacked.
Normally this would result in an over-reaction by the immune system, resulting in flu symptoms (headache, fever and muscle pain) for a number of hours. However, Hof only suffered a mild headache at the time when the flu symptoms would normally be at their strongest. The results also showed that Hof produced less than half the number of inflammatory proteins in comparison to the average of the test subjects who were injected with this bacterium. Study leader Pickkers declared that Hof was able to produce a controlled response to the bacteria administered by means of his concentration technique. This resulted in a so-called ‘fight or flight response’, which ensured that the body produced more cortisol (the “stress hormone”). This increase resulted in a reduction in the immune response, thus suppressing most of the inflammatory proteins (cytokines) causing the flu symptoms.
When you think about it, it is quite outstanding that it is possible to influence your immune system by practicing a method. The question was: is Wim Hof just an extraordinary case? And can his achievements be attributed to the fact that he practiced this method for many, many years? Or can others also regulate their immune system by doing what he does? Hof is a strong believer that anyone can accomplish what he has realized. In 2013, a research team consisting of Kox en Pickkers (Kox et al.,2014) examined whether others were also capable of influencing their immune system and autonomic nervous system by practicing the Wim Hof Method. To get to the bottom of this, Hof trained 12 Dutch volunteers over the course of 10 days (4 days in Poland with Wim and 6 days at home alone). The volunteers practiced all the ins and outs of the breathing techniques, the meditation techniques (in order to gain superior focus) and were additionally gradually exposed to frosty conditions.
Back in the Netherlands, 24 volunteers –the 12 test subjects that trained with Wim Hof in Poland and a control group of 12 people- received an injection with elements of the E-coli bacteria (the same dose that Wim Hof received in previous studies).
Under normal conditions, the body can react quite strong to this, resulting in almost all cases in flu symptoms. Remarkably though, the volunteers that had practiced the WHM reported far less signs of influenza (meaning symptoms of nausea, headaches, shivers and muscle and/or back pains) than the control group. In addition to this, the body temperature of the first cohort didn’t increase as much in comparison to the control group.
Similarly, the body temperature of individuals belonging to the test group normalized much faster than those who didn’t practice the techniques. Even more important were the blood results. As the studies revealed, the blood values of the
test group indicated far less inflammatory proteins than the control group. As a consequence of practicing the WHM, the test group produced more stress hormones. This hormone is released by enhanced activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which can suppress the natural response of the immune system. This is pretty extraordinary, particularly when you consider that for decades on end the standpoint in medical discourse has been that the autonomic nervous system cannot be influenced. The blood results however, unequivocally demonstrated that the autonomic nervous system and immune system can be regulated. And has thusfar never been proven scientifically. Another remarkable finding is that the immune system can be improved even after a relatively short training session. Tests even showed that showed that even “normal” people are more than capable of channeling their immune system. The research results have fervidly demonstrated that by practicing these simple yet effective techniques within a short timeframe, anyone can gain more control over their health.
The study also showed that the autonomic nervous system can be influenced. The difference between this study and others (Lush et al., 2009; Phongsuphap, Pongsupap, Chandanamattha & Lursinsap, 2008; Wu & Lo, 2008; Paul-Labrador et al. 2006) on the influence of concentration/meditation on the autonomic nervous system is that the body does not relax, but that a ‘fight or flight’ response is produced.
Meditation/concentration techniques are regarded as reducing stress and cortisol levels in the same way (Lush. et al., 2009; Carlson, Speca, Faris & Patel, 2007). You relax your body, causing the amount of the “stress hormone” cortisol in the body to be reduced. The Wim Hof technique can therefore be differentiated from other meditation/concentration techniques.
The Hof technique is not primarily aimed at putting the body into a relaxed state, but rather into an active state. Wim Hof thus has a strong mindset and makes use of his (trained) concentration to achieve certain goals, such as influencing the autonomic nervous system in the above case.
The outcome of multiple tests also outlined that Wim Hof and those who practice his method are able to actively increase the concentration of stress hormones in their bodies. In the process, the production of inflammatory proteins decelerates. By doing so, it appears as though a stress reaction, the typical fight of flight response, can be steered. The following section discusses the latest component of WHM, i.e. gradual exposure to cold, in more detail.
The Wim Hof Method Explained
By Isabelle Hof, June 2015