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A study on the willful regulation of autonomic function during cold exposure (sciencedirect.com)
94 points by labatbell 73 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments



I have tried the Wim Hof method a few times but I just can't get used to the cold showers. I can do it for a few days but instead of getting used to it I dread it more and more.

Has anybody else tried it and got used to the cold?

I should add that I always got easily cold and there is almost no temperature where I say that it's too hot.


> there is almost no temperature where I say that it's too hot

Did you ever ask a doctor about this? Especially an endocrinologist. One example of many possibilities: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothyroidism

As for cold showers, I dreaded them but at some point in my life I just relaxed. I would call it "acceptance", in general, life throws bad stuff your way and all you can do is "exist", i.e. nothing, really. So if I want to or have to have a cold shower (e.g. when hot water was out once) I just turn on the cold water and get in and accept that it's uncomfortable, especially at the very beginning. Nothing I can do about it - and, more importantly, since I know it's only uncomfortable but not threatening, nothing I have to do. All I have to do is stand there and do nothing and feel whatever there is to feel. At that point I'm just an observer of my own body, with no active role to play. The conscious part does nothing, the forces at play are all controlled by lower level brain functions.


I think I could do cold exposure if I was active. Maybe swimming in cold water. Or even sitting in a bathtub where I don't get hit by cold water drops.


I've been doing it for years without being aware of wh, i come from a tropical country (and used to dread cold very much since childhood), moved to a northern country and eventually decided i didn't want to let the cold control my life so i started developing some strategies. one of them is cold showers - i got used to them after a couple months persistence and now i don't like hot ones anymore, except occasionally

it's done a lot of great stuff to me. winter depressions are a thing of the past to me now, and I'm almost as outgoing in the cold seasons as in summer.


Do you find you get as clean? That's been my only hesitation, I wasn't sure that cold water gets shampoo out as well or cleans odours as well.


I've spent a few weeks in a place with no hot running water before (only a "shower" filled with water from a meltwater river and the river itself), so I can comfortably say that you can indeed get perfectly clean with one of those. It's mostly a function of the amount of time you're willing to spend in there.


i get clean enough for my needs, which might be different than yours. I find that hot water is only really necessary to get rid of stuff that's stuck which is not a very frequent thing, but if you don't agree you can always combine hot and cold


Absolutely fascinating.

I have been practicing cold immersion for several years as part of sauna hot/cold cycles since I first discovered experimentally that it measurably improved my symptoms of acute and complex PTSD. Extremely heartened to see some initial scientific results in line with my anecdata.

“Our results provide compelling evidence for the primacy of the brain (CNS) rather than the body (peripheral mechanisms) in mediating the Iceman's responses to cold exposure. They also suggest the compelling possibility that the WHM might allow practitioners to develop higher level of control over key components of the autonomous system, with implications for lifestyle interventions that might ameliorate multiple clinical syndromes.”


Do you you have any thoughts or speculation on whether cold immersion might offer more potential to mitigate ptsd symptoms than various intensive meditation practices alone?

(for those that didn’t get to the abstract it describes both being used together, as part of of a routine that seems to enable atypical nervous system control but I did not notice specific mention of ptsd)


In my experience, both cold immersion and meditation practices have helped. Cold immersion helps more quickly and viscerally. Short of paying someone to hold a loaded gun to my head or jumping in to an MMA cage match, the cold is by far the quickest and safest way I have found to trigger my lizard brain into panic mode. Going to that place and then training myself to breathe through it is my form of exposure therapy for PTSD.

Re meditation specifically, 1) breath awareness helps me with general relaxation + increased awareness of triggers, 2) metta meditation helps to shift towards compassionate mindset to self and others, and 3) advanced tibetan insight practices (emptiness of self) as taught by Dr. Daniel Brown of https://pointingoutway.org/ helps me shift from my normal sense of ego-centric self to an outside Observer perspective, which is impervious to triggers. I cannot recommend Daniel Brown's programs enough for any serious student of meditation. I took a Level 1 retreat at Esalen about 10 years ago and it proved to me that meditation isn't totally BS.

My strong recommendation based on what I learned there is to not engage in any deep form of meditative practice without first strengthening the physical body. This is what yoga was designed to do originally, to prepare the body and mind so that you could go to advanced meditative states with a strong enough structure to handle whatever psychic energy was released.


Part of me always thinks it is odd that as someone who is prone to anxiety/stress my main coping mechanism is to put myself into potentially tricky situations in mountains where you would expect anyone sensible would be anxious and stressed but rather the trickier the situation (bad weather, navigation) the calmer I feel.


I have wondered the same thing about myself. I came to two realizations, the first is exactly what you say about gravitating towards flow-inducing states (chess, esp bullet chess, mountain biking, motorcycling, etc) as a coping mechanism/reset button for processing difficult emotions. This is a healthy way of dealing with trauma. The second is that in some more extreme cases of obviously-in-hindsight dangerous or self-harming behavior, I realized that I was doing these things “unconsciously” as a way of echoing my original trauma, ie my psyche was still not strong enough to directly confront or even become aware of the root injury, so in my infinite wisdom I acted out these behaviors which were so stupid in hindsight that I was forced to look deeper to understand what my self was trying to tell me about my self. After processing some really heavy shit, I feel like I can get my “fix” of flow in safe(r) ways consistently. “Accident-free for [6] months”, as they say...


I’ve only read a small amount about the Wim Hof Method, but from what I gathered he basically altered the Tibetan Tummo meditation practice. [1] That practice requires quite a lot of visualizations and an understanding of Tibetan Vajrayana cosmology. WHM, at the basic level I’ve read about, are the pranayama techniques divorced of those elements.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tummo


You can achieve "inner heat" by moderate cold exposure and totally relaxing by suppressing shivers and clenched muscles. You don't need a metaphysical framework to do it.


TLDR; Win Hoff Method (WHM) has been one of the most mysterious things that has allowed people to climb snowy mountains almost naked in middle of the winter. The core interesting aspect of it has been that it can be learned (see, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaMjhwFE1Zw) and therefore the assumption that this is because of some extreme genetics has been overruled. The current research paper has following findings:

1. WHM allows to control pain center of brain at will shutting down the pain response.

2. WHM increases response in brain areas that keep sustained focus in face of adverse conditions.

3. WHM does not cause increased metabolism to keep body warm.

4. The mechanism of keeping body warm seems to be forceful respiration that increases response of fight-or-flee autonomous nervous system increasing glucose consumption in muscles around the lungs.


I don't see how point 3&4 add up, is it increasing metabolism or not?


#3 more properly put is that the body wasn't metabolizing brown fat to keep the body warm. It was a hypothesized method of warmth.

Instead, the warmth seems to come from the intercostal muscles.


3 am and I've been forced into a kind WHM because of a bad fever/flu. I've have to strip naked, open my window, and turn off the heat to be able lie on my side without overheating.

At first I could not give up my shirt and blanket as it felt too cold. It's now even colder yet I feel warm laying here. Fever hasn't increased.


I saw Wim Hof speak at a conference and did the short, group breathing exercise and was blown away by how great it made me feel. Even just the specific breathing followed by breath holding I could tell something was legitimately different/better about my physiology after. I never pursued practice of the "method" to even get to the cold exposure stuff, but maybe its time to try.


Perhaps somewhat related anecdata: I have been successfully using autogenic training ( which basically is training of conscious moderation of the fight/flight autonomous response ) to soften symptoms of my anxiety disorder. So I can confirm that such a seemingly automatic bodily response can be 'overridden' with practice.


How does the training work?


I've not been able to find anything in the past; is anyone here aware of a comprehensive guide to the WHM? Does one exist in circulation? I know the guy hosts retreats, but from a handful of YouTube videos he seems to be interested in sharing this technique, so I imagine there's a reference somewhere...


If you check out his website [0] there's a good bit of information on there ... It doesn't seem as though he's interested in providing comprehensive insight "for free", although I understand from a friend of mine that's into it, it's largely a case of just doing it. Find ways to condition your body on a regular basis, and you'll just gradually figure it out. Cold showers, ice-baths etc.

[0] https://www.wimhofmethod.com/


I've met him. I would say he is not a systematizer, and providing a clear concise description is not one of his strengths.

That said, it didn't seem that complex. My impression was just: find the coldest places you can go, do it repeatedly, breath while doing it and focus on your breath.

Eventually you will have both physical adaptation to the cold, but also new mental control.

There's a bit more to it in terms of specific techniques, but I believe that's the gist. If you watch some videos of his you can see a bit more elaboration, but you have to read in between the lines for a practical overview.

In fairness to him, to the extent he's discovered something, we don't have good ways of describing it.


I would like to know how much subcutanious fat he has


He looks pretty lean, there's clearly something else beside being well-insulated going on :)

Check out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaMjhwFE1Zw


for a gentler, less gung-ho method to achieve similar results that doesn't rely on hand wavy science (that takes as a unit if measure someone with an exceptional body to begin with!), try this YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/ReWildUniversity

you'll have to dig between all the forest navigation videos which might be a plus for some




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