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Chilling out to counter stressing out: Does the Wim Hof Method actually work?

There are two things in this world that I have a strong dislike for: waking up early and being cold voluntarily. So, when Samsung invited us to participate in a morning cold-water immersion workshop to experience the new Samsung Galaxy watch, I wasn’t overly sure why I agreed to it.

I had heard previously that cold water immersion was used mostly for stress control and mental health support. The theory goes that putting your body under a controlled stress where you can sit and breathe through it, will help you better regulate stress in your day to day life. Now, arriving after being stuck in Auckland traffic for half an hour with only four hours of sleep under my belt, I was ready and willing to throw myself into any de-stressing method I was offered.

Upon arrival, slightly late and panting from power walking, I was presented with the new Samsung Galaxy smartwatch and phone. A quick run through of how the gadget worked showed that it truly was simple to use, and for a fitness nut like me the sensor which could detect both heart rate and oxygen levels was enough to keep me entertained for a while.

The reason behind the watches became clearer with the presentation from Nigel Beach, a physiotherapist and certified Wim Hof Method instructor. In layman’s terms, the Wim Hof method comes from its namesake, a dutchman named Wim Hof, who places himself in extreme cold situations attributing his ability to do so on his now famed breathing techniques.

Controlled hyperventilation, exhalation and breath retention is the basic version of the method, wherein by repeating these steps three times your body becomes natural simulated to its surroundings, including freezing temperatures, and you can release the ‘tremendous potential’ of breathing.

Beach explained that he does this method of breathing pretty much daily. And quipped that, “following an ice bath you’ll sleep like a baby.” I was pretty keen to stick with melatonin.

Moving forward, with the room filled with journalists, a few influencers and some lucky (unlucky?) chosen individuals, the room started its first experience with the Wim Hof method. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of breathing and do it quite often, but in our first round, I struggled to get over the 10 or so people lying on yoga mats, sounding like were all going into a collective labour.

After getting over the mental barrier of sounding like an idiot, I closed my eyes I gave in and threw myself into what I’m sure would rival any antenatal class.

Checking the Samsung Galaxy watch after the first round showed me my heart rate had gone from 70BPM to 46BPM, which is usually only achieved in athletes (which I am not) and people who are asleep (which I’m pretty sure I wasn’t). I was however impressed with the watches ability to track my heartbeat and report back, telling me to ‘get moving!’ when my heart rate dipped. The sensor can monitor also your sleep cycles and stress levels, which then can create reports for you to track your wellbeing.

The second and third round of breathing went about the same, with Nigel Beach encouraging us to go deep and breathe heavy. By this point I had lost all feeling in my lips and hands, and felt like I was going to vomit, which I took as a sign of it working. The watch can track your breathing and send you alerts when your stress levels rise, which I didn’t notice as I was too busy trying not to faint.

Once the light-headedness passed, we moved outside. It was a beautiful sunny morning and sitting right in the middle of the sunshine were two ominous looking bright green tubs filled to the top with ice. My foremost thought was understandably, ‘why did I agree to this’. I am definitely an advocate for de-stressing, but perhaps a nice coffee or a walk outside would be enough. Chilling in a barrel of ice water for two minutes seemed counterproductive to the cause.

Courtney (far left) and Natalie Cyra (second left) from Good Magazine snuggle for warmth in an ice bath

Volunteering to go first were ice bath enthusiasts and influencers, Logan Dodds and his partner, Dani Robinson. Beach explained to us, while the two sat in their icy graves, that the point was to put your body under controlled stress and use the Wim Hof method to breathe through it, allowing your body to calm to the conditions. So, I was putting my body into ice to purposefully stress myself out, to learn how to deal with stress, makes sense. The Samsung Galaxy watch had my back, altering me that my heart rate has climbed to just under 90BPM and perhaps I should do some breathing.

My turn arrived, and in one fell swoop from foot to neck I found myself, again voluntarily, sitting in a barrel of ice water. The instant I was submerged my entire body locked up, refusing to move in the ice. If I had balls, I’m sure they would have been far inside me. I couldn’t help but think that if I wanted a cost-effective way of freezing my eggs, this would be it.

Feeling slightly like Jack from Titanic, the two minutes dragged by. Stuck in position my core started to heart up and my arms and hands begun to sting as blood rushed to protect my precious organs. Slowing my breathing down felt oddly natural and really did make sitting in it bearable, if only a little. By the time the two minutes was up, my heart rate had plummeted according to the watch; not that I was about to move my arm to look at it.

On exit, apart from being extremely glad my bikini top was padded, my entire arms and sides began to heat up to what felt like a very bad stint of sunburn. Feeling hot when something is cold is your bodies enzymes deactivating as blood circulation around that area slows down or even stops. The local nerves therefore get irritated and produce a sensation of heat.

I was promised I would feel euphoric upon exiting what I assume a mortician’s office feels like, and although my adrenalin was heightened all I really felt was cold, wet, and slightly vulnerable. Lowering your walls to sit and breathe calmly while in a barrel of ice surrounded by strangers in what is basically underwear was a raw experience. I will admit I struggled to fully mentally check out of the situation to asses my stress levels, all I could do was breathe deep and hope the time ended soon.

I asked Logan Dodds if he ever has filled his home bath with ice to achieve the same effect, to which he replied. “Not yet, but I’m definitely going to.” Clearly mad.

I get the point behind doing this, that adding controlled stress into your life should help you to manage real stress when the time comes. The Wim Hof methods of breathing is a great way to regulate your heart rate when you’re panicked or stressed past the point of reason. We all have stress within our lives, and the method does show that for somethings that can’t be controlled the best thing is to breathe through them and move forward with a clear mindset.

However, a counter point could be removing the stress before dunking yourself into a bucket of ice seems like a reasonable option.

Now you’ll be surprised because this hardly ever happens, but I was wrong – about the breathing, the ice still sucked. The Wim Hof method is a simple yet effective way to control your heartbeat and decrease stress and using the Samsung Galaxy Watch I was able to track easily how my body was reacting to it, and subsequently how that affected me mentally. For people whose stress is mostly mentality based then I would recommend giving it a go, things like anxiety and mood swings are often regulated by stress levels. Yet for people whose stress comes from outside forces, such as work and relationships, although the method may help you manage that stress, it will not erase it.

The point of the workshop, the Samsung Galaxy watch, was impressive. The technology definitely is a rival towards Apple’s Smartwatch and for fitness fanatics, and those interested in keeping track of their wellbeing, it is a clever gadget to have handy.

Would I suggest getting involved with the cold-water immersion experience? Absolutely. Will I be doing it again? Over my dead frozen body.

Review overview