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Nature-plunging and fire-breathing

by ELLI GOLDMAN HILBERT
Staff Writer | January 7, 2022 1:06 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Brock Cannon has long been interested in fitness, but anxiety and mental health issues plagued his past.

In 2019, Cannon was visiting family in Utah and his routine run didn’t have the usual effects.

“I just couldn’t calm down. The run wasn’t seeming to work as it normally would,” said Cannon. “Despite all that, it was a really beautiful day. It was cold out, about 20 degrees. There was a river flowing next to the road I was running on and I had this thought, ‘Hey, jump into the river.’ I thought it and thought it and when I was almost back to my car, I just ran down, stripped my clothes off and jumped in the river.”

Strange looks from nearby dog walkers didn’t phase him. After his “nature plunge,” Cannon felt free from anxiety.

“All the thoughts and stuff that were swirling around in my mind were just gone. It was like a re-set,” Cannon said. “I was hooked. I went out to a different place every day and just jumped in the water. It was just feeling so good.”

At the behest of his wife, Cannon decided to seek formal training in the Wim Hof method, which he had heard of 10 years earlier. Wim Hof combines cold immersion therapy, breathing exercises and meditation. Its adherents say it produces numerous physical and mental health benefits.

Wim Hof practices have helped Cannon quell his anxious mind. Now, as a certified instructor of the Wim Hof Method, he teaches others.

Cannon, 40, can often be seen running down to Tubbs Hill shirtless. Hiking about a mile out, he jumps into the water for a two- to five-minute soak and then runs back home. If he isn’t able to do this almost daily routine, a cold shower for several minutes both morning and evening is a good replacement, he said.

Humans are physiologically designed to withstand extreme temperatures, Cannon said. Our modern ways of living in climate-controlled environments have diminished that natural ability, but it can be rebuilt.

The founder of the method, Wim Hof, is from the Netherlands. He's credited with feats like running a half-marathon above the Arctic Circle, barefoot, wearing only shorts; swimming underneath ice for 66 meters; climbing the highest mountains in the world while wearing only shorts; running a full marathon in the Namib Desert without drinking; and standing in a container while covered in ice cubes for almost two hours.

Hof owns 21 Guinness world records and teaches his methods worldwide.

During an experiment conducted at Wayne State University in Michigan in 2018, Hof demonstrated the power of his mindset. While wearing a cold-circulation suit for a prolonged time, cold water was constantly working to lower his body temperature. Hof counteracted the effects of the cold using breathing exercises and meditation techniques. Scientists monitored brain activity to see what parts of the brain were being activated. Wimhofmethod.com contains further details.

Cannon’s training to become a certified Wim Hof instructor included a long cold plunge in a reservoir in Colorado during a blizzard. The water temperature was 26 degrees, he said.

“It wasn’t the cold plunge that was hard. We had to stay in for 10 minutes,” Cannon said. “It was standing on the shore for almost an hour before we could even get in. We had to do some mental training exercises. And we couldn’t get dressed for 30 minutes after getting out of the water.”

A proper re-warming is slow, Cannon said. One method is to take the “horse stance,” a wide squat position. Slowly moving the upper body in Tai Chi-like movements, the blood begins to flow “efficiently, but not too quickly.” The breathing, sometimes called the "breath of fire," assists in recirculating the blood.

During cold water immersion, blood flow leaves the extremities, flowing to the core organs. When the blood starts to re-warm, the cold blood mixes with the warm blood and can create what is known as an “after drop,” which can be very painful, Cannon said.

“It’s counterintuitive to our bodies' desire to get warm really quickly,” Cannon said. “Unless you do it slower and even allow a little shiver, you’ll be colder for longer.”

Cannon has taught numerous people the Wim Hof method but particularly enjoys helping those dealing with trauma.

One client was a high school student who was getting bullied and suffering debilitating anxiety. Cannon taught her how to breathe through the anxiety.

Some clients only do breathwork, but doing all three components “in tandem can be very powerful,” Cannon said.

Another client he worked with had suffered from a 10-year heroin addiction. Using Wim Hof techniques, he now has one year of sobriety and is teaching the methods to others.

“You just feel empowered because you just did something hard,” Cannon said. “I think that’s really some of the brilliance of it. If you can do a cold shower, or jump in the icy lake, even if it’s a short period, you feel like you can handle the other stressors of life better.”

Cold immersion therapy can be dangerous if not properly practiced and Cannon advises receiving training before attempting.

On Saturday, a four-hour workshop will take place at Coeur d’Alene Crossfit at 301 N. Fourth St. from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. The course covers basic breathwork, mindset principles and will end with either an ice bath or a dip in the lake. The cost is $100. Participants can text “ice man” to (208) 916-4346 for a registration link.

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ELLI GOLDMAN HILBERT/Press

Brock Cannon, a local Wim Hof instructor demonstrates part of his daily routine. Cannon practices cold immersion daily and can frequently be seen running to Tubbs Hill shirtless, where he hikes out about a mile and then spends two or three minutes submerged in the lake before running back home. The Wim Hof practices have helped Cannon manage his anxiety and he instructs others in the method that originated in the Netherlands.

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ELLI GOLDMAN HILBERT/Press

Wim Hof instructor Brock Cannon after a "nature plunge" in the icy water of Lake Coeur d'Alene on Monday. Following the dip, Cannon's skin was flushed and he felt great, he said. "Two to three minutes gives you all the physiological benefits," Cannon said. "Nature plunging" requires special preparation and is part of practicing the Wim Hof method, which combines cold immersion, breathing techniques and meditation.

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