The Iceman, shallow breathing, and the freeze response

I’ve started experimenting with “The Iceman” Wim Hof’s breathing method because of the evidence that it can reduce inflammatory agents in the body.

But the deep breathing proved increasingly difficult for me to sustain. Breath holds? No problem. It’s the quick, repeated breaths that left me tense and unable to continue.

Which is great, because I’ve struggled with different forms of exercise and physical exertion all my life, but hadn’t considered the root cause might be in my breathing.

It turns out that stress, trauma, and anxiety cause shallow breathing. The fight-or-flight (or freeze) response sometimes calls for complete stillness and silence, with the possibility of frantic action if the situation calls for it.

You see a bear in the woods (or in Australia a snake) and our first reaction is to freeze and hope the dangerous animal doesn’t notice us. The backup plan is to get the hell out of there, requiring the use of auxiliary breathing muscles in the chest and neck.

This article describes the process in detail, rethinking the stock advice to “take a deep breath” in the context of strength training, yoga, and other forms of exercise.

When you freeze, your breathing becomes almost imperceptible. Many people go through life breathing like this, compensating with occasional deep inhalations and periodic sighing to balance out the shallowness.

The article linked above offers some suggestions for grounding oneself in the absence of deep breathing. For me these experiments with the Wim Hof method have brought to light a core component of health and vitality that was inhibited due to prolonged stress and trauma.

As I observe my breathing I now recognise that familiar feeling as the freeze response in action, attempting to still and reduce all movement and activity, out of a primal instinct for self-preservation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s