This post is a bit different from what exists on this blog so far, since it introduces a new category ; personal development.
To some extent, martial arts itself represents a form of personal development. It all depends on the style practiced and what you are looking for, but it is undeniable that a martial art transforms a person both physically and psychologically. These changes push some practitioners to explore other horizons (body work, work on the psyche, dietetics, well-being…) to complete their martial practice.
“Martial art has had a very, very deep meaning as far as my life is concerned because, as an actor, as a martial artist, as a human being, all these I have learned from martial art.” Bruce Lee (Pierre Berton’s interview, 1971)
For my part, I started to take an interest in this area only later. When I started martial arts at 16, this was by far my main concern. All I wanted was to learn how to defend myself. Then, as time passed, I became more and more interested in what can be defined as personal development. In the 2000s, I was introduced to Qi Gong and learned Ba Duan Jin 八段錦, the 8 pieces of Brocade, a great classic of Qi Gong. I have always kept this Qi Gong for myself, what I particularly appreciated is the work on breathing and intent. Subsequently, I wanted to deepen this area but unfortunately I did not find a Qi Gong teacher who suited me.
As a martial artist, I have also had the opportunity to meet many people from various fields such as Qi Gong which I have already mentioned, but also Yoga, Pilate, osteopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine …. and in recent years, some who had tested the Wim Hof Method.
I met two people in particular who had health problems and who had failed to recover properly using conventional medicine and other concurrent therapeutic practices. Both had nevertheless felt improvements in their state of health after practicing the Wim Hof Method. In 2021, I finally decided to take a close interest in this method.
The Wim Hof Method
This part aims to make a brief presentation of the method. For more details on the method or on Wim Hof himself, I highly recommend the book The Wim Hof Method, written by Wim Hof himself , as well as the Wim Hof Method® application available on the apps platforms.
Wim Hof, aka “The Iceman”, is a Dutchman with an extraordinary life course. He practiced Yoga for a long time before creating his own method. From the 2000s, it gained international fame by winning numerous world records for extreme cold exposure. It is also by confronting the cold that Wim Hof developed his method. As he says himself :
“The cold is your teacher.”
The daily practice of the Wim Hof Method (WHM) brings many benefits such as increased energy, better sleep, less stress, increased concentration and willpower and a strengthened immune system . Many scientific studies have given good fame to the WHM  even if there is no consensus of the scientific community. In recent years the WHM has grown a lot and gained in popularity.
“Be happy, strong and healthy. The rest is bullsh*t.”
The Wim Hof Method is based on 3 pillars which are breathing, cold exposure and commitment :
Regulated by the autonomic nervous system, inhaling oxygen is an unconscious process. The amount of oxygen that we inhale through our breathing, influences the amount of energy that is released into our body cells. On a molecular level, this progresses via various chemical and physiological processes. Breathing is the easiest and most instrumental part of the autonomic nervous system to control and navigate. In fact, the way you breathe strongly affects the chemical and physiological activities in your body. Throughout the years, Wim Hof has developed special breathing exertions that keep his body in optimal condition and in complete control in the most extreme conditions. 
“Juste breathe, Motherf*cker !”
The WHM offers different breathing exercises depending on the purpose (see the book for more details). However, the basic breathing of the WHM , to be done daily, breaks down into 3 phases :
- phase 1 – breathing : do a series of 30 to 40 breaths ; inspiration is done by filling the lungs to their maximum and expiration is done by relaxing.
- phase 2 – retention with empty lungs : after the last expiration of phase 1, hold empty lungs for as long as possible.
- phase 3 – recovery breathing : during phase 2, when the need to breathe is felt, take a deep breath and hold full lungs for 15 seconds.
These 3 phases of WHM breathing represent 1 cycle. You have to do 3 to 4 cycles in a row to do a “WHM breathing session”. Do it daily on an empty stomach.
In recent years, cold body therapy has gained serious popularity, because it is linked to numerous health benefits. Some people, including professional athletes, bodybuilders, and celebrities even swear by whole body cryo therapy. The WHM is an alternative within everyone’s reach. By taking a cold shower daily, one can already begin to reap the benefits of body cold therapy. 
Some benefits of the cold exposure begin at 60° fahrenheit (15° celsus), so most tap water is cold enough to make difference (in winter) . A two-minute exposure under cold water is necessary and sufficient to enjoy the benefits of cold .
“The cold is merciless but righteous. It will show you the way.”
Cold exposure must be done gradually to accustom the body to welcoming the cold for longer and colder.
The WHM protocol for cold exposure  recommends taking cold showers daily as follows :
- 1st week : 30 seconds of cold water at the end of a warm shower.
- 2nd week : 1 minute of cold water at the end of a warm shower.
- 3rd week : a minute and half of cold water at the end of a warm shower.
- 4th week : 2 minutes of cold water at the end of a warm shower.
The third pillar of the Wim Hof Method is the foundation of the other two : both cold exposure and conscious breathing require patience and dedication in order to be fully mastered. 
There are three pilars to the Wim Hof Method. The first two are the cold and the breath. The third pillar of the method is mindset. This pillar is called “commitment” because you must have the right mindset to make the commitment to go agaisnt your ego and take the damn shower, to juste breathe. You could also call this pillar the power of the mind. It includes the idea of will and the power to imagine, to meditate, to visualize – the power to send your attention to any part of your body, to observe any bodily process. 
“Your mind has the ability to change your experience.”
“Going deep and developing the willpower is the only way to confront your fear and control it.”
One way to train this aspect of the method is to practice Yoga stances, holding them for several seconds. Mental work is necessary to achieve stances that require strength, flexibility and balance. The Wim Hof Method® app offers various exercises of this type.
My daily practice of the Wim Hof Method
If you do not practice the Wim Hof Method, this part should not interest you so much and you may not fully understand what it is about. Unless you plan to learn WHM, if not, I invite you to read the conclusion directly. For others, read 😉 The feedback on experience is always interesting to take. I exchange on my practice very regularly with 3 other frosty people (practitioners of the WHM), it is very enriching to tell our experiences.
I started the WHM in July 2021. For getting used to the cold, it’s ideal, since in the middle of summer it’s very easy to take cold showers. You just have to not stop and gradually return to the fall, then the winter, keeping this habit of taking cold showers daily.
Most of the time, I practice the WHM in the morning when I wake up, on an empty stomach. After drinking a glass of water, I do a stretching and muscle strengthening routine, based on Yoga postures, among others, which varies according to my mood at the time. Then I do 3 Wim Hof breathing cycles and finish with a 2-minute cold shower.
For breathing, in the beginning, I used the tutorial video available on youtube (see below), to acquire the right rhythm and familiarize myself with the breathing technique.
I find that the video, or rather the sound of the video, is a very good help to learn about the breathing technique. The musical background is catchy when it is necessary to do the breathing and soothing when it is necessary to do the retention. The voice of Wim Hof that gives advice and encouragement can also be a good guide.
Subsequently, I no longer used the video because, on the one hand, I now have my own rhythm, during the breaths I start the first 10 slowly, the next 10 at a moderate pace and I accelerate on the last 10. I sometimes do less or more than 30 breaths, depending on my desire and the absence or presence of symptoms (tingling, dizziness, tinnitus…). On the other hand, my retention times have increased and the video timer is no longer suited to my retention capacity.
Generally, I practice it lying down. I have a trick for counting the 30 breaths because I have trouble doing it in my head. Lying on my back, legs bent with feet flat on the floor, I position one hand on my stomach and the other on my chest. I count my breaths using the pads of my fingers. When I have taken my first 10 breaths, I straighten my right leg. I then start counting on the pads of my fingers again, when I have taken my 10 additional breaths, I straighten my left leg. And I finish by counting another 10 breaths with the help of my fingers, the legs therefore completely stretched out and the body ready to return to retention. Moreover, the presence of my hands on the belly and the chest allows me to become well aware of my inspiration ; by inflating my belly (ie by lowering my diaphragm) and by inflating my chest, I have an indicator that allows me to self-assess and know if my inspiration is as deep as possible.
During the retention, I lie on my back, in the Shavasana position for Yoga practitioners. When discomfort arose, an urge to move, to swallow, to cough… I sat cross-legged, the Sukhasana posture in Yoga, and managed the discomfort. I usually end up on my knees, in Vajrasana in Yoga or Seiza in Japan, and I’m ready to welcome my second phase of full lung retention and squeeze into my head.
Last point of detail, concerning the breathing, I breathe in by the nose and I breathe out by the mouth. If you read the book Breath by James Nestor , you will not be able to remain indifferent on what it exposes concerning breathing, in particular on the inspiration by the nose which brings considerable benefits on health.
The basis is cold shower every day. In winter, the water temperature drops below 15° celcus, even in Marseille ! Marseille winters are generally soft, but if there is a strong wind, called Mistral in south of France, it’s just freezing ! For my part, I first take a hot shower then I finish with a 2-minute cold shower (chrono in hand). It really is the first 30/45 seconds in cold water that is the most difficult, but it is managed with deep breaths and a relaxation of the body. With practice, the rest of the shower becomes even pleasant. In the height of winter, when the water is at its coldest, my skin is very red after 2 minutes. Feelings of warmth, calm, well-being and energy are felt instantly when you get out of the shower. I must say that there is even an addictive side.
What’s more fun is exposing yourself to the cold while reconnecting with nature. Immersion in the sea, a lake or a river is really great ! Very soothing, often colder than the shower at home, but oddly easier. To share with friends in the same delirium, it’s even better and more motivating !
Cold exposure is preparing ; before, during and after. Before, by taking a few deep breaths and moving the body to put it in motion and increase body heat. During, by being focused on his mind, his breathing and having an eye on the chrono or someone who has it for you ; safety level it is important to be accompanied and it is not necessary to stay 20 minutes in water at 9° celsus, a few minutes are enough. Afterwards, you must of course provide something to dry off (a towel poncho is ideal) and to dress in dry and warm clothes (I like thermal ski underwear), a thermos with a hot drink and do not hesitate to practice movements to warm up the body ; the WHM recommends exercises in the horse stance .
I haven’t tried the ice bath yet 🥶, I’m still waiting to gain some experience…
The commitment is already working when we practice the WHM with assiduity and regularity. For my part, it requires the willpower to get up earlier every morning, to take the time to do stretching and muscle strengthening exercises, 3 Wim Hof breathing cycles, as well as a cold shower.
When I do my breathing cycles, I measure my retention times, not really to look for performance, it doesn’t really matter, but more to control my mindset. Indeed, there is a direct correlation between my retention times and my mindset. When I have my mind disturbed, during a difficult event, stress… my retention time is less important than when my mind is calm. The same goes for cold hardiness.
The 3rd pillar of the Wim Hof Method is sometimes referred to by another name as mindset, meditation or willpower. Personally, I insist on the will and mindset on a daily basis, I have not yet undertaken meditation.
Apart from the well-being and health aspect of the WHM, I consider that this method can be a considerable asset in the mental preparation of a martial artist. Stress management is not always easy to train and during a situation of self-defense, the management of one’s self-control is a determining factor in the outcome of the confrontation.
By the way, high-level athletes practice the WHM for this aspect. Among them, we can mention combat sports practitioners such as Georgi Karakhanyan (MMA), Alistair Overeem (MMA) or Stephen Lambdin (Taekwondo).
Concretely, I see several benefits for my health. First of all, I have much less allergy, if not at all. No more taking antihistamines to stop my sneezing. In general, I am more resistant and get much less sick. If I have the beginning of something, it does not degenerate and it heals fairly quickly (1 day or 2 maximum). For stress management, it must do me good for sure, but I still have a lot of work to do in this area to manage the stress of everyday life. My training in martial arts classes has always done me a world of good at this level.
To conclude, I would say that this method needs to be practiced gradually, respecting its own limits. Not everyone is Wim Hof, you have to separate the man from his method. You don’t have to break world records, but you have to be diligent because regularity pays off. The most extreme practices of the method must be really well prepared and supervised. For this, I highly recommend going to certified WHM instructors (follow this link to learn more).
For a guided Wim Hof breathing session with Interstellar movie soundtrack, see below.