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How controlled breathing techniques can boost your immune system and help you take control of your mind

The world knows him as The Iceman who’s pushed his body’s limits far past what had been thought to be humanly possible. This Dutchman’s accomplishments and discoveries are making scientists question their understanding of how the body works.

Meet Wim Hof, the man who’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in freezing temperatures wearing only a pair of shorts. The man who’s run a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot. The man, how’s stood in a container while covered with ice for more than 112 minutes. And the man, who’s had himself and a few of his students injected with an infectious bacteria for a purpose of a study to show how the power of breathwork could control the body’s immune response causing less, if any, symptoms and speeding up recovery.

Hof’s achievements are leading to new discoveries showing that the autonomic nervous system and our innate immune response can be influenced by human will — something that was previously unseen in science.

“Brain scans have shown that where normally we have control of 16% of our brain, through the breathing exercises, you make the neural activity in the brain go up to 100%,” Wim Hof, 61, says. “This was thought to be impossible.”

Wim Hof meditates after an ice water swim in Iceland

Hof says, “breath is the carrier of life force.”

While this is an undeniable truth, so many of us go about life without giving a second thought to inhaling and exhaling. It happens with or without our conscious effort, so why would we even bother wanting to manipulate it? There are so many things in life we’re juggling to control, why would you want to add breathing to that list? Now, what if I told you that controlling your life will become a lot easier if you begin to control your breath?

“At will we’re able to change the biochemistry in the brain and the body and allow the body to repair both physical and emotional trauma,” Hof says.

The foundation of breathing is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is a biochemical process that affects our entire physiology from basic bodily functions to complex endocrine and neurological processes. We most often realize this when our actions and thoughts cause our breathing patterns to change: to speed up or become deregulated. During intensive exercise, heightened excitement or even during an anxiety or panic attack, we start to inhale faster, our heart rate increases and hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol shoot through the roof. It’s a natural response to stress, either physical or mental. The problem, however, is when such deregulated breathing patterns occur too often and linger on for extended periods of time. It can lead to chronically elevated resting heart rate, high blood pressure, autoimmune problems, thyroid problems, chronic stress, high acidity, inflammation as well as sleep disruptions.

The advice “just take a deep breath,” may sound familiar during times of stress, and it’s not without merit.

Deep breathing, meaning full inhales and full exhales, signals the body that everything is under control. Our heart rate slows down and the body begins to balance hormones as well as pH levels. It allows us to take back the wheel of our mind and hence our body. Breathwork, in sense of controlled hyperventilation, takes it a step further.

Studies have shown that controlled breathing helps lower cortisol levels and could even reduce symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression.

In addition to that, scientific research has also found that controlled, faster breaths can make the body’s pH more alkaline. If we are shallow breathers and don’t exhale fully, CO2 can build up causing an acidic environment. Therefore, getting rid of CO2 will increase alkalinity to balance pH levels.

Lowering inflammation is right up next. According to a study conducted by the Yale School of Medicine in 2014, a hyperventilation-based breathwork routine caused the immune system to increase anti-inflammatory activity. These results point to the possibility that such breathwork practices can upregulate the body’s ability to fight infections, viruses or bacteria by boosting the immune system and aiding our innate intelligence.

“Now we found a direct and very effective way to tap into our deep nervous system,” Wim Hof said, adding that he’s dealt with a lot of skeptics over the past few decades, but having the opportunity to scientifically prove the efficacy of his Wim Hof Method, he’s now on a mission to guide people to become happy, strong and healthy. “Just try it once and feel the difference,” The Iceman says.

To learn more and try the Wim Hof Method, visit wimhofmethod.com or check out his book, The Wim Hof Method that just got published.