This week on Mind Tap, Scott Greeves takes on the freezing challenge of the Wim Hof Method, as he tries to reconnect with nature and his own mental wellbeing.
This week on Mind Tap, I investigated my spiritual connection with nature and tested the Wim Hof Method, which is a practical guide to physical and mental wellbeing. First, to introduce the concept of nature and mental health, I visited the liberal arts building at Idaho State University to speak to Professor Katrina Running. Professor Running’s focus is on environmental sociology, where she investigates how people interact, shape and perceive their environments. I started by asking Professor running about the impacts of natural environments on people and their mental health.
“My understanding is that being outside has obvious physical health benefits, when you are outside recreation you are getting exercise but beyond that it is also good for your mental health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that forest bathing, which is a practice where people go and they take off their shoes and try to get close to nature, can be beneficial. When people are directly touching and experiencing nature they can be more balanced, less stressed out, and in general provides positives for their physical and mental health.
Somebody who embodies these ideas (as discussed by Professor Running) is the Dutch Ice-Man Wim Hof. Wim, who participates in extreme cold challenges, is the creator of the Wim Hof Method. Wim describes his method as a practical way to become happier, healthier and stronger by re-connecting us to others, ourselves and to nature. To test some of the concepts central to the Wim Hof Method, I experimented with some extreme cold challenges and reported the consequences live from the cold Portneuf River in early March.
“I’m just about to climb into the Portneuf River, it’s early March and the temperature outside is about 40 degrees, the water isn’t much warmer at about 44 degrees, here I go!”
But why did I put myself through this? Well, key to the Wim Hof Method is cold exposure. Wim has been receiving growing attention from scientists, who have been testing his claims that his claims that he can control the automous (or sympathetic) workings of his nervous system. To control this system was previously thought impossible, but remarkably, Wim’s claims have been supported by scientific studies.
-Back to the Portneuf River-
“It’s extremely cold, but I believe in the power of nature and so does Wim Hof. However, the iceman isn’t just talk, he has set 21 world records, including the farthest distance swam under ice with a distance of 57.5m. During this swim, the corneas in his eyes temporarily froze and he was temporarily blinded. Okay, I’m going to submerge myself now and recreate Wim’s famous breath hold, but I doubt I’ll last 6 minutes like him!”
Wim suggests that we can use cold exposure to influence our fight or flight response to reduce the stress hormone cortisol. To gain a clinical perspective on the Wim Hof method, I spoke to Doctor Ryan Manwaring who is an ISU an ISU clinical Assistant Professor in both the School of Nursing and Psychopharmacology.
“What he’s doing is trying to speak to the limbic or automatic part of his brain and there are many ways to do that. We always try to reason our way out of mental illness, like ‘oh I should just do this’, but it’s hard to have control over this massive limbic system, with our small frontal (brain) lobe. So, having ways to communicate and tone down our limbic system with sensory experiences, it all makes sense to me.
As Doctor Manwaring mentioned, the Wim Hof Method uses sensory experiences to communicate with the automous region of our brain. It’s important to say that cold challenges are not the only way to do this. I’m not suggesting we should all start our day by jumping in the Portneuf River. It’s possible to achieve a similar affect with a short cold shower. Also, another sensory technique taught by the Wim Hof Method is to do with breathing. Wim suggest we should get comfortable in a meditation posture before closing your eyes, clearing your mind, and taking 30 to 40 very deliberate breaths. Powerful inhales through your nose and unforced exhales through your mouth. Wim suggests doing this in short, powerful bursts and then holding the last breath until you feel a powerful urge to breath. I asked Doctor Manwaring more about sensory experiences and how these might translate to mental health treatments.
“When you are having a sensory experience, you are having an effect on the brain, you are strengthening connections somewhere, and what I do know is that a lot of my clients benefit from occupational therapy. I’m talking about a lot of young kids, they are moving around, they are exercising, they are moving their body in different ways and helping them modulate their autonomic nervous system. This is what you are doing through sensory experiences all the time and you might not even notice or be aware of it.”
I hope this week’s episode of Mind Tap has got you thinking about all the different things we can do to promote our own mental wellbeing, be it spending time in nature, trying out cold exposure through a cold shower, or by taking some time to medicate, breath, and focus on being present in our own minds and body.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Wim Hof Method, you can go to https://www.wimhofmethod.com/
Tune into Mind Tap next Friday morning at 7,35am, where I catch up with Daniel Hurd who is cycling the lower 48 States for suicide awareness.