Last week we started with 5 morning hacks, did you try one? This week we’ll lay a couple more key opportunities on the table, choose amongst them or try them all. Don’t forget, we’ll see you on the other side feeling healthier and feeling more like an optimized individual.
The 30-day Challenge: Going into the Second Week
This year at the Integrative Mental Health Conference, we had the chance to meet Wim Hof and ask, ”What’s the single most important thing you do to prepare for the extreme cold?” The two words that followed, “Breath Motherfu****,” are not only impossible to forget, but through his context as a world-renowned pioneer of health optimization. This week we’ll glean some key tactics inspired by the same simplicity and surprising effectiveness — even if they are a bit extreme.
This week we’ll combat psychophysiological stress instead with intentional, acute stress. As a preface, if you don’t know Wim Hof, ‘breath’ and ‘cold’ are likely two friends you’ve been ignoring, maybe even never met.
Quick pointers before we take the plunge
It’s well established that by exposing yourself to nature's extremes, even a few minutes, can help improve the body’s regulation of inflammation and building a greater internal willpower. That said, the luxuries of modern life habitually shun us from harsh exposures, example this week being the freezing cold. We overwhelmingly choose cozy over short discomforts, automatic over intentional; with nothing to harden us, we get soft.
In fact, our culture is built on the elimination of the difficult and the pursuit of constant comforts. We’re spoiled by cars with climate control, specialized clothing which spans the polar opposites of sweat and freeze, and many of us spend a majority of each day inside. So, how do intentional stressors change any of this?
Without resilience training your body simply can’t distinguish between physical threats and psychological threats — threats to our job security, bank account, or social status. These common psychophysiological stressors often have no concrete basis, yet without guidance our stress hormones (e.g. Fight or Flight) are left to indiscriminately ravage the psyche. In response the body becomes tense, and chronic stress and inflammation develops. It’s a nasty cycle,
Robert Sapolsky summed it up best, “If you plan to get stressed like a normal mammal, you had better turn on your stress response or else you're dead.”
Three practices this week
On a most fundamental level, we don't confront ourselves with acute stress because, yes — chronic stress has eaten away our willpower. Let’s change that:
1) BREATH — There are literally hundreds of traditional breathing techniques from all over the world to choose from, but that’s a paralyzing position. Be like Wim Hof and cut through the B.S. He simply says get the breath in.
Inhale through the nose or mouth into the belly with a deep, powerful breath. Exhale without additional effort. After about 30-50 breaths, or once you start to feel tingling, draw the breath in one more time and fill the lungs to capacity. Then, calmly let the air out and hold for as long as you can at the bottom of that breath. Hold until you feel the gasp reflex, or until you want to breath again. You’ll have just completed one full breath cycle by the Wind Hof Method.
If that’s too extreme, consider starting with a more modest technique known as 4-7-8 breathing. Developed Dr. Weil, it's very simple yet incredibly potent for healthy stress levels. Inhale to 4, hold the breath for 7, and exhale for a count of 8. Do that 4 times and you'll feel amazing. See Dr. Weil demonstrate this breath.
Breathing is the most simple and powerful arsenal we can use to combat chronic stress. Furthermore, as something we can control voluntary and unconsciously, it’s considered key in the balance of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
Like the Wim Hof Method, it also pairs naturally with cold exposure for added health benefits. Dr. Rhonda Patrick, a top investigative researcher in the field of hormetic stressors, compiled a 22 page document highlighting the many research-based advantages to cold exposure. These include benefits to brain health, pain management, longevity, fat loss, athletic performance, immune health, and mood.
2) Take the plunge — One specific example is people that swam in cold water during the winter had 40% fewer respiratory tract infections. Dr. Rhonda Patrick emphasizes cold training for not only it’s regulatory effect on hormonal stress response, but also as a means of mental toughness. Most of us can at least join in this healthy practice through the ‘Power Shower.’
Some brutes hop right-in and crank the setting to ‘artic cold.’ For us mere mortals, this may not be the most effective strategy, especially in the long-term as a healthy start to your day. Instead, take your usual shower, get washed up, and then start practicing your breathing technique as you gradually turn the shower from hot to cold. Adding this to your daily routine has even been suggested as a potential treatment for depression, suspected in connection to the cold’s anti-inflammatory properties.
3) Breakfast — Long touted as the most important meal of the day, this won’t hold true if you're choosing the wrong fuel (i.e. sugary foods, typical breakfast cereal). By resorting to refined carbohydrates you're sabotaging your chance for consistent energy levels and a balanced metabolism. Most implicated is the idea of ‘breakfast foods,’ a norm which has broken away from the original philosophy of ‘break-fast.’ The latter instead being a foundation of healthy nutritional habits. If you don’t already, this week choose breakfast as an act of self-love. It was the Buddha who wisely said, "To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear."
As for macronutrient balance, simply focus on substituting sugars and simple carbs with good fats. Eat whatever protein and fiber you like, as long as you add healthy fat to cut the sugar. For a quick, yet balanced and nutritious breakfast, try eating 2 hard boiled eggs, an avocado, and a piece of sprouted whole-grain bread. That's our go to. If you need a bit of spice, add some tabasco.
The bottom line
Don’t ignore inflammation, and especially keep in mind these (and other) ways to reduce it. Low-grade or ‘silent’ inflammation is the root of most all disease, so while you may not be able to put a finger on its daily impacts, given enough time it will put you at odds with your health. One of the best ways to combat chronic stress and it’s associated inflammation, is to expose ourselves to controlled acute stress. Cold exposure and breathing is cheap if not free, and readily available virtually everyone. Use it.
By living life with chronic stress, as most Westernized individuals, you’re gambling with leading causes of death. Bearing this in mind, as long as you strive to engage healthy habits in a sustainable way that works with YOUR needs, you’ll be living healthier and happier in no time! If that means a matcha pick-me-up before you hop in the shower, do it! You’ll feel the difference.
Are you jumping in this week?