Matthijs Kox, Lucas T. van Eijk, Jelle Zwaag, Joanne van den Wildenberg, Fred C.G.J. Sweep, Johannes G. Van der Hoeven, and Peter Pickkers. “Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans.” PNAS, vol. 111, no. 20, 2014, pp. 7379-7384.
THE BIG DEAL
In certain circles, a study featuring Wim Hof being injected with E. coli yet displaying none of the standard flu-like symptoms has become well known. The big deal is actually not that he fended off an invading pathogen with his breathing and ice exposure techniques. Experimental endotoxemia simulates a pathogenic situation and studies inflammatory responses that the body is “tricked” into producing. From a simplistic perspective, what he and the group successfully did was put themselves in a state of immune response repression by elevating levels of cortisol through intermittent respiratory alkalosis and hypoxia (making his blood pH and CO2 levels rise while reducing the level of Oxygen - hyperventilating and then holding the breath). This results in a cascade of an adrenal chemical cocktail which saturates the bloodstream and includes the antiinflammatory cytokine IL-10.
The paper provides detailed analysis of how these catecholamines (neurotransmitters associated with the sympathetic nervous system) activated various agents involved in attenuating inflammation.
In short, Wim Hof was able to induce what expensive prescription medication achieves pharmaceutically (not to mention expensively and with many known serious side effects) in a thoroughly natural and self-regulated manner.
WHY IT MATTERS
Autoimmune disease is increasingly prevalent. In America alone, there are now as many as 23.5 million people affected. That’s more than 7 percent of the nation. It's on the rise due to increased stress, diet, lack of exercise and insufficient sleep.
A single breathwork protocol was able to antagonize the proinflammatory cytokines (proteins in the blood) responsible for this condition.
According to Health.harvard.edu “Science has proven that chronic, low-grade inflammation can turn into a silent killer that contributes to cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and other conditions. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-acute-and-chronic-inflammation
Breathwork can be Mother Nature’s anti-inflammatory remedy. We no longer have to be held hostage to the chronic inflammation that is a sure precursor to more serious disease.
From the perspective of any kind of high performance, inflammation is, of course, a major debilitating factor in the Activate, Perform, Reset cycle. This is as true for athletes as it is for musicians (with the tendinitis that instrumentalists often experience) as well as the everyday fitness buff who experiences full body inflammation that can follow intense workouts.
The right kind of breathwork routine can work wonders here. It is crucial to know how to structure it. Breathwork practitioners, i.e. anyone with a breath practice, need to know how to design breathwork routines, the effects they have and why they work on us the way they do.
“Deliberately Variable Breathwork”
Dr Andrew Huberman mentions the value of such an approach to “Deliberately Variable Breathwork” in his conversation with Dr Jack Feldman here. 2:03:25 https://youtu.be/GLgKkG44MGo. He stated that he is not aware of anyone doing that. Clearly he is not aware of XPT! I wrote to him on the topic and, not surprisingly, have not heard back yet.
In XPT terms, we call this approach Exploratory Breathwork. The XPT Life app, for example, has a 47 min session led by Laird that goes through a variety of adaptation-stimulating protocols. There are also Post-Workout Recovery Protocols that work on these same principles.
With Breathwork, the question is no longer “are you doing it” - it’s “how are you doing it.”
Happy training, and always remember, you only get out of it what you put into it.
Breathwork is a powerful modality for tapping deeply into our innate human potential for adaptation, as explored and proven by some of the most exciting, recent scientific research. The science behind high performance breathing can play a vital role in enriching the art and expression of this ability to adapt.
That is the central thesis of this blog, which is devoted to looking at the science behind breathwork through the lens of helping people become the most resilient and versatile human beings possible, leveraging breathwork - respiratory science - to activate natural, though perhaps dormant, adaptive power and activate high performance in their lives.
The format is designed to be as simple, bare-bones, quick and useful as possible. The purpose is to stimulate creative applications of findings from the top-tier scientific literature, exploring ways to participate in the evolution of the art of breathwork.
Each weekly post will focus on a significant article from the scientific literature, with three sections highlighting:
The Big Deal
Why it Matters
First in the line-up to appear next week:
Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans
by Matthijs Kox, Lucas T. van Eijk, Jelle Zwaag, Joanne van den Wildenberg, Fred C.G.J. Sweep, Johannes G. Van der Hoeven, and Peter Pickkers.
From vol. 111, no. 20 of PNAS, the article explores the extended implications of the experiments in which XPT Performance Breathing ambassador Wim Hof controlled his immune response with breathing techniques when injected with the pathogenic endotoxin E. coli.
Until then, I wish you good training and remember, as always,
”you only get out of it what you put into it.”