Last time, I mentioned turning to youtube for inspiration for teaching breathwork on zoom last winter. First, James Nestor’s Breath: The Science of a New Lost Art popped up, which I listened to on audiobook. (I have too much research reading on my plate now for leisure reads). It’s quite interesting, though like most journalistic endeavors, has its share of historical inaccuracies (e.g. ancient westerners did, in fact, place value on breathing). I nitpick though.
As eye-opening as the book itself was the long line of podcast interviews James Nestor appeared on: Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, Joe Rogan, Lewis Howes, and so on. These pods brought me to Patrick McKeown and the Buteyko Method (mentioned in Nestor’s book), who’s also done the podcast circuit of which I was so blissfully unaware. While Joe Rogan I knew as a generalist talk show host, the others were new to me. They traverse that great American tradition of straight-up self-help (though not all are American).
You will not get far in the youtube breathwork world without coming across Wim Hof. Of course I’d heard of Wim Hof, but I’d written him off as the kind of guy who appears on the sidewalk signs of Bushwick coffee houses and attracts masculinity movement followers. But again and again his name came up on the podcasts mentioned above, as well as those of Russell Brand, Andrew Huberman, Dr. Steven Gundry, Tom Bilyeu, and Jordan Peterson.
If you spend any time listening to these, you might be struck by the sheer maleness and, with the exception of Chatterjee, whiteness of the crew. While their credentials range from M.D. to comedian to former pro athlete, they again and again circle back to one another, even hosting each other on their respective pods. While some, like Rogan and Peterson, are known for their 1950s take on gender, Chatterjee, Huberman, Hof, and Brand also serve up a traditional bi-gendered framework of the world–if not offered themselves, like Brand’s announcement that “wellness is for women” (“wellness” ascended in the mid-1970s US, when corporations sought relief from the vertical spike in health care costs, and its first subjects, as with most medical experimentation, were white men), than by their guests. There is little interrogation of guests’ sometimes fantastic statements, though such questioning would make the pods infinitely more informative and interesting, not to mention “authentic” and “deep,” as generally branded.
With the exception of Peterson, whose status as an intellectual or great thinker strikes me as depressing evidence of just how little North Americans like to think (though censoring him is even more absurd. Any honors high school student could critique his sloppy interpretations of Dostoyevsky and Jung, much less his muddled understanding of postmodernism), I actually quite enjoy these pods. I’m just shocked by how male they are. Women seem to be relegated to the candles, makeup and mommy corners of the interwebs, where playing a little dumb is highly rewarded. If that’s your thing, fantastic. If you want a, or want to be a, stay-at-home wife, that’s great. Just don’t ask me to do it.
And I suppose that’s the crux of it. Born in the early 70s, when the promise of equality for all had not quite yet met the backlash of neoliberalism, (no, not just conservatism, neoliberalism), I am always just a little bit shocked that people in the US aren’t allowed to just be, and be with, who they want. Why is that so threatening? If youtube and podcasting are the channels for startup info-tainment self-expression, why are they still dominated by white men? Are my interests–in this case, breathing–more masculine than feminine? More manly?
They are not. In fact, my research and interests tend to fall into what Americans like to deem “female” interests. My request that we sometimes be, rather than incessantly do, could be seen as a “feminine” endeavor.
When I heard about the studies done on Wim Hof’s method, I looked further. It turns out to be tummo breathing (Tibetan kundalini), cold showers or baths, and yoga, all of which I already do anyway, though my cold showers were previously isolated to sauna/banya. As I desperately miss my hot-cold bathing routine under Covid19 and I’ve long sought out others as passionate about it as I am, I got Wim’s book, The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential.
I read the book before watching him on video, and I recommend that for those who aren’t into the we’re-so-manly, high performance, HACK YOURSELF schtick. The book, which I’ve now given to a few people, comes across as very human and very practical. I have not taken a warm shower since I read it. Of northern European stock, this is not so difficult for me. In fact, I enjoy it.
What I find most impressive about Wim Hof’s method is that he came to it through exploring himself, his body, and perhaps his trauma. He talks about the ecstasy of extreme temperatures (well, cold) that I know and adore from swimming in the winter ocean but also melting in the banya. (In fact, I was recently thinking about organizing a public banya in Brighton so that we can swim and easily warm up after in the not-summer seasons.) While he somewhat annoyingly and inaccurately waxes on about its scientific validity, it is clear that he came to this through his own personal and intense exploration and then systematized it for others. Experiencing my body and learning from it rather than applying “protocols” because science told me so is precisely what I find most valuable, and it is impressively on display in his book. I’m not sure I’ve come across anything or anyone like it.
After reading, watch him in the above videos if you like, but prepare for some yelling and repetition. His method does attract mostly men, from what I can see from the documentaries and teachers, but his method is awesome and I see no reason it’s better for men than women or non-binary people. He even has an app–that used to be free but is no longer–to help you learn the breathing or simply to hold you consistent and accountable.
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When traveling abroad way back in the 90s, my then-partner and I talked about how one day we’d have squat toilets in our homes because they are vastly superior to the porcelain gods. But of course, in our post-modern 21st Century, instead we buy some wood so that we can squat in our chairs. This model is bamboo and comes with a fabulous foot massager, though this one is a bit better made. They also come in white plastic, which does blend better with most decors. I have and love the foot massager model, you might guess.