That thought came to me a lot in the past eight weeks while looking after my mum overseas, who is suffering dementia. Needless to say it was a stressful period with little time to myself. I managed to occasionally get out for an early morning walk, as you could read in my previous post, which felt great and enabled me to focus on my own needs briefly. I focussed on my posture and breath while walking and came home feeling ready to face the day ahead. On the wetter days I resorted to some morning yoga on my mat, that always comes along for any trip.
I bought some yarn and crocheted a vest in a few weeks, while mum was pretending to read the newspaper in front of the tv and drank lots of rooibos tea. This all comforted me and kept me sane and patient in dealing with her varying moods, worries, repetitive stories and questions. Still, I felt tired a lot and in need of an extra boost.
I was not specifically looking for anything, but a visit to a sauna did cross my mind a few times. While mum was resting after lunch, I spend time watching some interviews about longevity, a subject I am always trying to learn more about. In one of the episodes of this American based series, a dutch guy explained how he learned to cope better with stress and affected his immune system, by following some simple breathing techniques, as well as creating an extraordinary resilience in extreme environmental conditions such as heat and cold. To prove his claims he proceeded to set 20+ world records, like running marathons in the arctic circle and Kalahari desert in shorts only, as well as climbing the Kilimanjaro in record time, also just wearing shorts and sneakers. He swam under the polar icecap without a wetsuit! He was able to control his autonomic nervous and immune system, which was previously thought to be outside of our conscious power and his claims were backed up by extensive professional medical research in various universities in the Netherlands and United States. He also proved with medical tests that anyone can learn to do this with a group of volunteers in 4 days. He got my attention!
This was the second time his name cropped up. While I was visiting mum a year and a half earlier, I watched a documentary about the dutch astronaut legend Wubbo Ockels, who was fighting a losing battle with cancer. He was using Wim Hof’s breathing and cold exposure method to alleviate his suffering successfully, likely extending his prognosis. This documentary did not expand into the method nor Wim Hof much, but it did stay in my mind as fascinating.
It took a third stumble on his method, before it dawned on me that this might be just what I needed to research more thoroughly. I looked up the website http://www.wimhofmethod.com , watched a few video’s and warmed (pun intended) more and more to the idea of trying this, especially after watching the video of Laird Hamilton, a well know legend of big wave surfing endorsing the ‘Wim Hof Method’, or WHM for short. I checked out the events calender and found that Anne Eijssink http://www.eijscoach.nl , one of the qualified instructors was holding a workshop not too far from where I was staying. I signed up…
Her workshop was divided in two sessions 2 weeks apart. The second one was sceduled later than my flight back home and after an email exchange she offered me a private session for the second part at her home in Zutphen a few days before my departure.
The 2 1/2 hour group session was held at an interesting location in Wichmond, in her sister’s farm office/fitness studio, build inside the stable, high above the mozying cows, which surprizingly had a calming effect watching them going about their business underneath. After a coffee and introduction we learned how the way we breathe affects our emotions and energy levels, how it all works in the body and how to have more control over our emotions using our breath. We did some relaxation breathing, pushups and slowly proceeded to the WHM of breathing to feel the differences. Our homework was to use the breathing method daily for the next 30 days and aim to at least finish in the shower with cold water to improve circulation. This benefits the effects from the breathing, by ensuring the energising oxygen gets into every nook and cranny of our body.
In the second private session in Zutphen I learned more about mindset, focus, motivation and the effect on our reality and quality of life, followed by another breathing session. She made me practice a horse stance punching air and breathing, which was to be done before and after the bath in cold water topped up with a few buckets of ice…
Slowly I stepped into the icy bath and made sure to keep going steadily deeper into the water untill I sat in it submerged up to my chest. My body was protesting by painfully constricting the smaller bloodvessels, in my legs especially. Not unlike the opposite effect, when your hands and feet get really cold and you warm them under the warm water tap or in front of a fire. I hung in there untill my breath became slow and steady. The pain eased. I am unsure how long I sat there, but probably not much more than a couple of minutes before I felt the need to get out. My legs were a bit numb now and I looked down to see if they were still attached and holding me up.
Anne was really supportive, talking me through the experience. As soon as I stood there punching air in the late Autumn Sun that peeked out from behind the clouds smiling down on me, I felt a warm wave pulsing through my body. It felt invigorating! After the airpunches she suggested I try get back in the bath again, which I did. After all she spend a fair bit of time and effort preparing this bath, hacking the bucketsize iceblocks into smaller bits with an axe, which I did not want to go to waste. The pain was a lot less this time around and I even managed to smile for the pictures she offered to take for proof.
Driving home I still felt the ‘high’ it had had given me, despite the occasional shiver of my body slowly getting back to its usual state. I am so GLAD I gave into the urge to do something beneficial for myself too while there, listening to the suble messages and going with my urge to satisfy my curiosity, despite it being a tat crazy.
I still do the breathing method every day with the help of the WHM app and finish my shower with cold water. I love the feeling of peace, of giving my body complete rest for a minute or so while doing the breath hold. I even had a shower outside under the hose after I mowed the lawns and got covered in dust a day after I returned. Even though the weather here in Australia is heading into Summer and a far cry from chilly ‘Holland’ at the end of Autumn, it still invigorates me and gives me a lot more energy throughout the day. The more subtle effects are that my lungs and sinuses clear out more muck. It does seem to affect my motivation to take action on my thoughts and ideas and decrease my normally present procrastination on decisions. Also am I able to walk around barefoot more now without getting them cold all the time.
At one point, not long before the workshop, I went to bed with a heavy head and woke with an increasingly unpleasant headache. After my early morning breathing session and recommended inversion exercise on the app, it cleared up completely! I am curious to find out where this can take me and what the long term benefits will be, but even if it is only to be more resilient in the cold, it is already worth it!
What do you think?
Am I going mad?