Deep Breathing for Depression, Anxiety, and the Vim Hof method

I always had an outside awareness of the importance of breath and knew that breathing exercises existed but it wasn’t until this week that I started to look into breathing techniques as a way to combat depression, anxiety, and the rest of it.

I eventually came to find the Vim Hof method of breathing. Vim Hof has quite the reputation and has been studied and tested by scientists all over the world to discover the secret behind his apparent ‘super-human’ ability to brave and withstand cold temperatures. This is why he has the nickname of the “Ice Man”.

Vim has quite the backstory, a father of 4 and a wife lost to suicide, Vim began seeking early in his life, looking for a way to get in touch with the deeper parts of himself.

That’s how I interpret it, at least. Through his exploration with nature and the cold temperatures, he developed a deep relationship with his body and his primal nature, and I believe his signature breathing technique evolved from plunging into freezing cold lakes and rivers.

What’s the first thing you do when you’re hit with a blast of cold water? You breathe like a maniac! – taking in deep, full breaths. Exhaling fully. In. Out. In. Out.

After you do this, something happens in the body. You expel a lot of CO2 and become highly oxygenated in the body. Your body starts to tingle a bit, or you’ll experience other sensations, like temperature.

What’s more, though, is that it starts to help you to connect with your body more deeply – and you depart from the mind. It’s pretty magical.

Why is deep breathing (or specifically, the Vim Hof method) good for depression

As someone who struggles with “depression”, I’m pretty familiar with my mind and body. I know where I hold tension. I have a good sense of what makes me anxious. I’m pretty self-aware after years of trying to “fix myself”.

What I didn’t realize until I started working on deep breathing was just inefficiently I have been breathing. In other words, I noticed just how bad my breathing was.

Typically, when I’m stuck in an anxious mind-pattern, my body tends to be tight and holding – there is no looseness, no movement. I can hardly breathe into my stomach to save my life.

So when I started working on deep breathing, I realized how much deeply I could breathe, and I soon discovered the amazing power that can be found in breathing fuller, deeper into the body.

When you start to breathe deeply, into the belly, fully into the chest, you start to move energy around in the body. This begins to unlock memories and emotions that have been stored in the body for a long time.

For a depressed or anxious person, we can stay so stuck in our limited way of being and thinking that this expansion can be really beneficial for us to help move energy around!

Deep breathing can also help us to “let go” of control from the mind. Usually, the mind is always on alert, always protecting in some way. Deep breathing can almost short-circuit this alert system and allow us to slip into our bodies own experience without judgment.

In the Vim Hof method, at the end of a round of breathing (30 deep full breathes, at a regular tempo), you exhale fully and hold your breath for a minute or so. In this minute of breath-holding, I found that my attention is drawn deeply into my body, into those places that I hold tension, and I enter into a place of complete focus, and inner silence where I can just experience and witness my body.

The results are remarkable.

I noticed tension shifting and moving, and my body starts to lengthen and unwind. I experience euphoria and moments of peace and joy. I can just be in my body and it feels so good! All my fears relinquish and I find power and strength.

This is so key because so much of our anxiety and fear lives in our bodies. This is where we store all our past emotions and negative memories. So by deep breathing, we are finding a way to drive our consciousness into our bodies as we push further movement and expansion there.

It sounds crazy but it’s really not. We’re just creating “unusual” energy movement in our bodies through active breath and the effect it has on our mind is to help us to let go of our mind-control and let go into the body where we can experience our inner-reality much clearer.

Some tips on practicing deep breathing

Believe it or not, it can be challenging to practice deep breathing techniques because if you’re not careful (or focused enough) your mind will wander and you’ll lose the rhythm.

It’s important for the Vim Hof method in particular that you retain the rhythm of breath for the full round. I tend to think of it as priming the body with breath, so you take 30 active cycles of full breaths, and then when you get to the breath-hold (a key part of the technique) you have built up a great deal of oxygen and sensation in the body (you might feel a little lightheaded – that’s okay)

This enables you to get the full benefit of the technique because you’re fully primed and can hold your breath for longer. So it’s key that you retain a good rhythm of breath and not to get distracted.

Here are some other tips I’ve found while practicing the technique:

  • Sometimes it helps to take your inhale as if you were inhaling through a straw. The inhale needs to be active while the inhale should just be released without effort.
  • Breathe as low as you can into the pelvis and lower bowl of the hips. We tend to hold a lot of tension in our bodies, so work on directing breath low and then filling up the chest, then let it go. Repeat.
  • It can help to place hands on your lower belly and heart, whether you’re lying down or sitting up. This can help bring your awareness back to your body if your mind is drifting.
  • Tingling in the body is okay, you might feel a little light-headed. You don’t want to hyperventilate, as many people think they might. Just listen to your body and retain the rhythm.
  • Work with vibration. Vibration is a powerful method of moving energy in the body, too! So you may want to experiment with some Om sounds and letting the vibration move through you. Be aware of what you feel.
  • “Breathing to extremes” as I call it is actively breathing in – and out – a little more deeply, in a conscious way. So that means when you breathe in, can you breathe in a little more? When you breathe out, can you exhale a little more deeply? I find that sometimes breathing past where we think is our max can open up a little window of presence and our attention can be pulled into the moment as we “breathe to extremes”.
  • Tapping gently or vigorously with soft fists or finger-tips on places on the body can create energetic stimulation that can further expand and shift your experience while doing the breathing technique.

None of this is medical advice. Just one guy’s experience and perspective on the impacts and benefits of trying out a deep breathing technique.

Another technique I discovered was from Michelle D’Avella. The technique she coaches is similar to the Vim Hof method in that it’s rhythmic and breath is inhaled into the belly and chest, but there isn’t a breath-hold aspect nor is the tempo as fast.

I find the breath holding piece to be extremely useful (it’s my favorite part) because that’s where so much of the magic happens.

Conclusion

For years, I never tried breathing exercises but lately I’ve been using them as a tool to help me get into my body. The experience has been very eye-opening and I’m noticing changes in my body (musculoskeletal) and mind, and finding it easier to be grounded in the moment after having experience true peace through practicing the Vim Hof breathing technique.

Once I understood how to be in my body, and feel good there, it’s now becoming easier for me to transfer that experience into my daily life and this seems to be helping with my confidence and the anxiety that I generally feel from day-to-day.

I encourage you to try it out yourself – you might be surprised!

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