DO this: Breath exercises + Cold shower = improved immune response and more GRIT

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A couple of years ago I read that taking a cold shower first thing in the morning would be good for me (yea right).  I recently found a fairly lively “cold showers are bullshit” contingency out there, so time for a second look.  Breathing exercises (a mix of hyper ventilation and holding the breath) have also been bantered about among my climbing, surfing and yoga friends for various health benefits.  The major proponent of combining these (with an emphasis on the cold parts) is a crazy Dutchman named Wim Hof.  He has even commercialized his “method” if you have an extra $200 to spare.  There is some third-party validation SCIENCE behind the practice (a necessity for me to try anything).  He recently did an AMA on Reddit which is quite self promotional, but fairly educational.  I found an abbreviated explanation of a morning ritual version of the “method” in the June issue of Outside Magazine.   For the last week I have been doing this every morning.  Here is an explanation of my “modified Hof method” and a first impression.

METHOD:  The Martin Tobias modified Hof method of breathing and cold immersion.

Follow these steps in the morning immediately before picking up a device, having coffee, eating, or training.  Initially do it lying down, with a friend near by who you trust enough to hear you scream like a little girl.

  1.  Lie on the ground/floor (not in your bed).
  2. Inhale deeply but not quickly, pulling in as much air as you can.  When you think your lungs are full, suck in some more.
  3. Exhale fully but not quickly (you may pass out); simply let the breath out.
  4. Repeat in/out for 30 to 40 rounds at whatever pace is comfortable.  If you start to feel light-headed, slow down.
  5. On the last round, exhale and then hold your breath until your body feels the need to breathe.  For me this is about 1-1:30 minutes, your mileage will vary.
  6. Inhale deeply but not quickly, then hold your breath for 10 seconds.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 for three or four rounds.  Total of 90-160 breaths.
  8. After your final round, hop in a cold shower.  Put your whole damn body in there, move around. Do not just have the water hit one arm or side of your body.  If the you feel the water warming up after a few seconds, turn it down.  Try to stay in initially for at least 30 seconds (this is where the screaming like a girl comes in), over time try to work up to 3-5 minutes and maybe even use a little soap or shampoo to have something to do.

EVALUATION:

I have done this for seven days now.  The breathing part has been easy and even enjoyable.  I have to remember to slow down or hyperventilation makes me too light-headed (hence the floor).  The cold shower is the hardest part and there has been alot of screaming.  First day I only lasted about 20 seconds.  After seven days I am up to 3 minutes and can get a fairly productive shower done in that time including taking the shower wand down and getting the cold all over.

No noticeable mental or physical benefits, but I didn’t expect to see/feel any.  I have a distinct feeling of accomplishment.  Of beating back the fear.  Every day of practice makes it easier and builds overall confidence.   Total morning time is about 7-8 minutes.  It is actually less total time than my prior long hot lazy showers were.  I think I will stick with it for the next month and re-evaluate.  It adds very little overhead, has proven science upside, and delivers a daily small victory first thing in the morning.  This one is a keeper for now.

As with all tools I write about here, your mileage may vary.  I only pass along the ones I have personally found to be helpful or interesting or carry very little downside with fairly meaningful potential upside.  I encourage your own examination and experimentation.  Your path is your own and you have to take your own steps.  But DO TAKE STEPS.

RESOURCES:

Becoming the Iceman

 

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Measure and Understand Your Grit

DO This: Practice beating fear and facing the flinch. 

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A couple of months ago my 15-year-old daughter asked me how she can overcome some of her fears.  The “I don’t like to be home alone at night or walk down a dark alley” type.  At the time I was stumped. As a manly man if a buddy had asked that question the obvious answer would be “grow a set you pansy!” Followed by endless shaming until the guy admitted he wasn’t a wuss anymore. As a man I have been shamed out of fear my whole life.

A little birdie (years of therapy) in my hypothalamus sat up and urged me to take a different tack with my daughter.  So I mumbled something about “you only get good at things you practice” and proceed onto google.  Four months, much reading and many trials later I actually have found a few things that are appropriate for exactly the situation I have: a 15-year-old girl with normal age related anxiety  in a few areas and a desire to get a little more gritty and tough.

We tried the first fear buster test at home tonight.  Watch the video of my attempt below.  Hat tip to Julien Smith in The Flinch for this technique that I have added onto.

Directions are simple.  It takes less than two minutes.  Get up right now and go to your cupboard.  Pick out a little used but once loved coffee cup or glass.  Hold it out in your hand at arm’s length, shoulder height.  Now drop the cup!  Yes you heard me drop the damn cup!  Now clean it up.  Sit down and write a list of every feeling that you felt before during and after dropping the cup.  Use a feeling list like this if you have to.  Naming feelings in detail reduces their power over you.  You can just notice them like anything else.  “oh, there is dread.  And his friend fear.  How interesting.”  This exercise takes you through (slight) emotional distress, into analysis and onto (hopefully) some increased awareness and confidence all in less than 10 minutes with very little risk to life or limb.

It took my daughter a couple tries before she could drop the cup.  The flinch made her arm go limp a few times before she pushed it aside. All the training to be careful and don’t break things.  Yet there was her father giving her permission to break stuff and there would not be any consequences.  The monkey mind couldn’t deal. Couldn’t reconcile the conflict.  Multiple disaster scenarios raced through her head. Fear and dread took over. But with my encouragement she pushed through and found out that nothing bad happened.  She stared down the flinch and won.  One step at a time. Keep building and practicing and larger fears will lose their sway.

Like anything else the journey starts with the first step. If you want to get tougher try the cup drop challenge. All you have to lose is a little fear and a cup you don’t use anyway.