Today I want to address a question that was recently sent to me. I get a lot of questions that are in the same neighborhood to this question too.
The question comes from Tom, and it goes as follows:
Again, I get a lot of questions about losing control and difficulty in letting go. This is something that I did not have problems with myself, but my wife and many of my clients have expressed a feeling of anxiety that comes with “going deep.” In fact, one of my fellow WHM instructors had expressed to me that this was something that he dealt with at one time during his early practice.
So, what is going on here, and how can we get around this issue?
Everyone I have ever met who has had this issue has had a fear of losing control. It manifests itself in the breathing exercises, but it in most cases, it is something that is found in nearly every other part of life.
When we “go deep” we leave ourselves physically and mentally vulnerable. During these brief moments of euphoria, we are leaving behind the worries of the day and the responsiveness of our physical faculties. We are quite literally taking our conscious mind inward to a place where we do not often go, the Limbic System.
The Limbic System
The Limbic System is the portion of our brain dedicated to processing emotions. And for many of us, this means that it is a place we have either consciously or subconsciously avoided. Emotions are powerful. They aren’t always pleasant to experience. And they are impossible to completely articulate in a rational way.
For many of us, we consider emotions to be something that we cannot control. This makes them seem scary, so we get frightened. We try to use our neocortex to try to rationalize why we feel fear when we go so deep, but since this is a very fleeting and profoundly emotional experience that is usually not attached to any specific memory or obvious stimuli, our thoughts often go to the most rational fear that we can come up with. In many cases, we distill that we must be afraid of hurting ourselves in some physical way. Many people express the fear of passing out or the fear of depriving their brains of oxygen.
Now, before I go any further, please let me say that everyone is different, and there is no way for me to know exactly what is happening for you, Tom, or for anyone else. However, what is likely happening is that the Wim Hof Method breathing exercise is working perfectly. It is allowing you to “go deep” into your Limbic System, bypassing the Neocortex, which is responsible for rational thought and problem solving. For many of us, this means that we are leaving our comfort zone, the thinking rational mind. Many of us are uncomfortable leaving this space and going deep into our limbic system, the emotional mind.
The fact that we can do this so quickly is also somewhat jarring for some early practitioners. Outside of the method, quieting our rational thinking mind is very difficult to achieve; it is usually only accomplished by very skilled meditators who have practiced meditation for years. With the Wim Hof Method, we are able to achieve this feat on the first day. Wow? Yes, wow!
So, what does this mean for me?
For some, it is simply a matter of losing control that causes us discomfort. We are used to staying in the part of our brain that “makes sense.” The language and problem-solving part, for many of us, is our comfort zone.
Many people also stay in the rational thinking part of the brain to avoid dealing with emotions. It is likely that the way you controlled these emotions was to use the Neocortex to rationalize your feelings or to simply avoid them by thinking of other things. When we “go deep,” you shut down your usual method for controlling your emotions, and that means you may now be experiencing them. What makes the experience strange is that you may no longer remember the reason for the emotion that might come bubbling up! So, it can be a little discombobulating!
Again, this means that Wim Hof Method is working for you, and it might be allowing you to process something or some things that have been emotionally bothering you for some time. By using the WHM, you are allowing your brain to process these emotions in a safe and effective way. But, yes, at first this can seem a little strange.
I didn’t realize just how much anxiety I was walking around with every day until I became a regular practitioner of the Wim Hof Method.
So, how should I proceed?
The best way to go forward from here is with control and at your own pace.
The first thing to remember is that this isn’t a race. If 30 breaths take you deeper than you want to go, back it off to 20 breaths, and go from there. By doing this, it is like leaving a night light on when we go deep into our dark and scary Limbic System. Don’t worry, even though this may take a little while, you will see that over time, you become more and more comfortable, and you’ll not feel as afraid. You can slowly adapt to the sensation of the quieted neocortex. You are allowing your mind to process your trapped emotions at your own pace. Again, you are in control. And now, you are taking full control over your mind and body!
The second thing to remember is that this will pass. Yes, it’s true. After training hundreds of people in the method, and hearing about this issue from dozens of them, I can tell you that all of them got through it. All of them. They just needed to throttle back their breathing a little while listening to the body and mind for signals.
You already know the signals. The feeling of safety. The feeling of danger. These are signals that we simply will feel. They are not mathematical. They are not rational. They are from the Limbic System. So, you should continue to go as deep as you feel comfortable until going deep is comfortable.
The best news is that you can most likely expect to have a major reduction in your overall anxiety levels in the next month or two in general. I’m talking about when you are just sitting on the bus or sitting at your desk at work. If your case is like those whom I have coached, your anxiety over going deep is rooted in some emotional baggage that you are carrying.
And it doesn’t have to be something that would make a good movie plot either. It can simply be just good old fashioned “life baggage.” The kind that you just have because you lived through puberty! The kind you had from a break-up or from a rough day that you never fully processed.
Then again, it’s possible that you have lived through some seriously damaging things that your subconscious mind is still trying to recover from. Either way, by slowly tapping into the Limbic System daily, you’ll slowly release and process bits of this baggage until all that is left is the happiness that you are replacing it with. Good days are in store for you. Just go at your own pace, and always remember that you are in control.
Breathing tip for this issue- slow your breathing down when you practice the exercise and lengthen your exhales. For more, contact me for one-on-one coaching or for information about my next workshop.