When I first heard about the Wim Hof Method it struck me like a match. Wim had scientific evidence supporting what I had been experiencing for over a decade... voluntarily influencing the autonomic nervous system.
In 2011, I trained with International Wilderness Leadership School. We took sea kayaks around two islands in the Sea of Cortez, just off the coast of La Paz, Mexico. The islands are named Isla Espirtu Santo and Isla San Jose. During this training, I noticed frequent rushes of endorphins throughout my brain and body while engaging in everyday life. Whether it was kayaking up the coastline, setting up camp or cooking dinner... endorphins would come and have my hair stand up like when listening to great music. These rushes of endorphins (that feel amazing) kept happening throughout the day. When they would come, I focused on them and would breathe into it. I found when I did this the feelings / endorphins would intensify and get stronger.
Over the course of a week, I developed a sort of "muscle memory", or rather strengthened the connection of a network of neurons that stretched from my frontal cortex into the brainstem. This allowed me to voluntarily influence my endocrine system. Meaning... I could self-induce rushes of endorphins (happy and healthy hormones) simply through focused breathing. No longer did I need an interesting conversation or to see a cool landscape / wildlife / some sort of external event to trigger the rush. I had learned from nature that I could bring about these endorphins through a focused mindset while breathing. It felt great. Still does. I began to use this focused breathing throughout the days, whether if I was bored, to combat stress, or to simply feel the wonderful sensations throughout my spinal column, brain and body. A few inhales + attention placed on the brainstem = endorphins (with practice).
I returned home to find very little on the topic. All I found in the scientific literature were a couple small studies conducted regarding a phenomena known as Voluntarily Generated Piloerection (VGP). VGP can be defined as self-induced goosebumps. No said benefits were connected to the studies, just links to certain personality characteristics. Apparently VGP is an ability that very few people have... at least that's what a few articles say. As far as I can tell we all have this innate ability. I have taught others how to perform VGP with success. Regardless, I thought to myself that I would love to put together a mainstream program that teaches others to significantly influence their endocrine systems through focused breathing. To say I was obsessed with VGP would be an understatement. I constantly practiced it, talked about it and read about it (mostly in eastern literature).
So... I thought of developing a program to teach others VGP in the midst of attending graduate school, studying Counseling at the University of Detroit Mercy. For a few years, I worked as a graduate assistant for the basketball program while taking night classes. I graduated in the summer of 2017 and shortly after began working in Detroit Public Schools at the Detroit Institute of Technology (Cody High School) as a School Counselor.
One night on my way home, I got a flat tire while driving on the highway. As I was sitting in my jeep getting ready to change the tire, I was hit by an impaired driver. The police report says he crashed into me at eighty miles per hour and ultimately fled the scene of the accident, leaving both vehicles totaled, with me folded up like a bed side pillow case. I fractured five vertebrae, broke my right ankle, snapped my left arm in half, lacerated my liver, tore my medial meniscus, dislocated my jaw and had multiple seizures. One seizure came as they were rushing me into the intensive care unit. I had intracranial hypertension as my head swelled up like a balloon due to my skull being fractured in three places. Brain surgeons drilled a hole in my head to relieve the pressure. I woke up from a coma eight days later tied down to the hospital bed, unable to move and not knowing where I was.
After weeks in the intensive care unit and another month in the hospital, I began to walk short distances, urinate without a catheter, drink fluids and chew food. I was taking a combination of muscle relaxers, oxycodone and Ibuprofen for pain management. Not a day had passed by for over a month that I had not had some form of narcotics passing through my veins. Fentanyl, dilaudid, oxycodone, hydrocodone, tramadol, morphine, codeine, you name it, I had it. I went home with a number of prescriptions. Repercussions of the traumatic brain injury had me living with an emergent mood disorder, having high peaks and bottomless lows accompanied with frequent emotional outbursts. I was in a neck brace, boot, cast and sling, not to mention addicted to pain killers.
While home, I was sitting on the couch listening to the Joe Rogan podcast and came across Wim Hof. I still remember hearing Wim for the first time, stating that he had scientific evidence humans can voluntarily influence their own autonomic nervous systems. I was excited, better yet ecstatic! I listened and then researched. I came to find that Wim had already developed a systematic and scientifically backed breathing practice that teaches individuals to raise their adrenaline levels at will. A study done at Radbound University in 2013 found for the first time in scientific history that human beings have the ability to voluntarily influence their autonomic nervous system through a training program Wim developed! This is exactly what I had dreamed of doing, but now the groundwork had already been laid through a tried and true method. The WHM consists of breath work and gradual cold exposure that BOTH have the effect of releasing endorphins throughout the brain and body (aka hair standing up on the skin). I couldn’t take ice baths at this time due to the neck brace, boot and cast, but I could breathe. I performed rounds upon rounds of breathing every day at the house.
It’s been scientifically proven (and I can personally account for) the WHM Breathing exercise triggering the release of endogenous opioids and endocannabinoids (the bodies natural pain killers) that help with pain management. Within two weeks I was off the oxycodone, muscle relaxers and ibuprofen. My mood became stable and I had transformed from being bitter, resentful and depressed into radically accepting the experience while maintaining a strong commitment to life.
Eventually the neck brace, boot, cast and sling came off. Understandably, I was still experiencing some residual pain from all of the fractures, broken bones and brain injury. I began to take cold showers and ice baths. It wasn't until this point that I realized that not only the breathing exercise, but also a cold shower / ice bath makes our hair stand on end (as mentioned previously). Wim had connected the dots and found hacks into deep parts of our own physiology. I kept training, taking ice baths and practicing the breath work resulting in a FULL RECOVERY from my auto accident. I attribute most of my success to the Wim Hof Method and soon enough found myself in Poland, swimming in waterfalls in the middle of winter and getting certified as a Wim Hof Method instructor. Since then I have trained hundreds of individuals in the Wim Hof Method and feel honored to keep going.
Wim Hof Method
Voluntarily Generated Piloerection