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The Wim Hof effect

Dutch motivational speaker and extreme athlete Wim Hof has done wonders for bringing the beneficial effects of cold water and Breathwork to the masses. And what’s great is that he’s encouraged more men into the wellbeing space – one historically dominated by women.

But he’s not everyone’s cup of tea and some find it all a little bit macho at times, which can be off-putting for many women.

I run a community-based sea bathing society to encourage (mostly) women back into the cold water for health benefits and to improve their confidence. Cold showers are hard! Ice baths even harder! But gather a group of women together, who encourage each other to go into the sea (or river), has proven to be a magic formula.

Personally, I prefer the combination of nature and cold water, rather than a freezing shower in a small cubicle at home or an ice tub in the garden, and it seems others do, too. Gliding along in the waves, perhaps with a flowery hat and a recycled swimsuit or two, adds lightheartedness and fun to the experience - it shows we're not taking it, or ourselves too seriously. There’s no macho talk or competitiveness involved in the process of who gets in quickest, who's wearing a wetsuit or not, or who can stay in the longest. I'm pretty sure it's having the same effect, physically, and it also adds an emotional, and dare I say it, spiritual aspect to the experience. There’s a gentleness and a feeling of oneness to embracing the coldness of the sea or river, that just can't be found in quite the same way a ice tub or a shower.

The same can be said for the breathing aspect of Wim’s work. It’s brilliant, but again, it’s not necessarily right for everyone. To explain this, Breathwork can be loosely categorised into methods of control and release, or masculine and feminine energy styles. Wim Hof teaches Pranayama Breathwork, so yogic breathwork styles. These can be described as forms of breath control – so we may breathe in for 5, hold for 5 and out for 5 as an example (there are over 400 different styles of yogic breath alone), because we are controlling it. A control style is considered a masculine style/form of energy. There's nothing wrong with that, but is this controlling energy necessarily what most of us need right now?

Conscious Connected Breathing is a form of breath release. The technique guides us to release the breath and allow it to flow in a cyclical way (it’s also known as circular breathing). A release style is considered a feminine style/form of energy.

There are so many forms of control in the modern world and each of us tries hard to control our lives as much as possible to prevent them spiralling out of control, or into chaos. I've certainly lived a fair portion of my life in what you could describe as a controlling energy and there are areas that this shows up in as not so positive. Letting go is so important and so many of us struggle with that, often using alcohol as a simple way to release that tight control we have on our day-to-day living. I certainly did. For years and years and it's what many people around me were, and still are, doing. So it seemed normal, natural. That control is something that shows up in my breath pattern, too. It's in my inability at times to relax my exhale. I see many women who lead successful careers and home lives, full of control and I see it showing up in their breath patterns, too.

So, for me, being able to release my breath, rather than control it, feels good. Ironically, it takes effort to release, but it feels right. You know how good a sigh feels? A releasing form of Breathwork, like Conscious Connected Breathing, feels a little like that once you get the hang of the method. We say the exhale is like 'emptying out the trash'.

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