"One minute left!"
It sounds small and far away though the man who says it is within arm's length.
We're nineteen minutes into a twenty-minute breathing exercise referred to as "DMT Breathing," and I'm on my back, covered with a Mexican blanket. I'm mostly focused on filling my chest cavity with breaths that cause my body to convulse and undulate and shiver.
"Let's go, guys! Let's put it into sixth gear!"
I hear this more clearly, and realize my neck muscles have been frozen into steely cords for a long time. My quads cramp like I've been repping squats, and there are tingling patches of scattered paralysis all over my body.
My hands and feet shake inches off the ground, clenched tightly into awkward claws.
Now I can hear the heavy breathing and collective moaning--ecstatic and exhausted--all around me. There is a massive sense of anticipation building as each moment brings us closer to the end.
Where did the time go?
The Wim Hof Method
Surely you're familiar with the "Iceman," Wim Hof, by now? Hof has been making headlines and setting records for many years with his now-legendary feats of withstanding extreme cold, heat, and his ability to bypass his autonomic nervous system.
I'd been flirting with purchasing his course as I listened to interviews, watched the footage, and monkeyed with some of the techniques based on YouTube videos I'd found describing his methods.
Training the Wim Hof Method with direct disciples of the Iceman? I was in.
Be Jaya Seminar
About twenty of us meet under some massive eucalyptus trees at a private residence. Although everyone seems pretty relaxed, there's a unique sense of uncertainty that emanates from the group. I'm reminded of a waiting room for a job interview or audition: not quite fear, but palpable nerves.
I was poisoned three days ago by some evil strain of salmonella or e coli, and have thrown up twice this morning, so my stomach is already compromised.
I look at the deep silver tub sitting innocuously on the patio, knowing that soon it will be filled with many bags of ice and we'll all take turns getting in. That wouldn't even seem like a good idea if I felt great. And I don't.
A slight breeze blows and we're invited to circle up and take a seat. Chris Tai Melodista and Jared Tavasolian, the duo behind Be Jaya, talk about their backgrounds, training with Wim, and information about the nuances of the autonomic nervous system.
It is immediately evident that they have been fortunate to have had countless peak experiences across a multitude of disciplines. As an aspiring polymath, these are my kind of heroes. I want to hear more but it is time to begin.
Round 1 - Relaxation Breathing
We all sit or lie down and do 5 rounds of 2 minutes of intense breathing.
There are nuances to this that aren't evident from the videos I have seen, and I am very quickly propelled into a mindspace I normally approach only after 15-20 minutes of meditation: I see swaths of deep blue and purple hues in my mind's eye.
I think about how amazing this is to get to here in a such a short time frame, and what a powerful tool this is to have in the arsenal.
I notice that breathing this intensely doesn't allow my mind to wander in the same way that it does in my regular seated meditations. I also notice that I get extremely cold--I start shivering uncontrollably.
I am forced to be present and focus only on physically making my upper body "move like a wave," as Chris is fond of saying. Each round ends with a very particular breath hold for time, and on the final round during my release my mind's eye is an extraordinary bloom of yellow and white, like it's noon in my head.
I burst out laughing and feel my grin and strong sense of well-being.
We lie back and bask in the tremendous calm that washes over the group, and I barely notice the oohs and ahs of satisfaction as I bliss out on the heavy peace that engulfs my body. We relax in this state for a while, and share our experiences and impressions of the breathing.
A woman cries, a man is overcome with emotion and nearly does. Others describe feelings of connectedness or rebirth. We are told these are all normal reactions to this training. I am thoroughly impressed.
We resume our positions and I ask for a blanket, which I am not proud of, but there it is.
Round 2 - Energizing Breathing
Again we do 5 rounds of 2 minutes, but this time we must be sitting up during the breath holding. I am feeling a bit fatigued early on, but quickly jettisoned right back into the colors. On certain inhalations the colors are now lime green, which is unusual for me in any meditation.
I squeeze all my muscles during the breath holds, aware of everything from my scalp to my perenium, and on the exhale I feel powerful and have the distinct impression that I need to tell everyone about this!
By the fifth round it feels like work. I get powerful hunger pangs, even though I haven't wanted to eat anything in days. My lips and hands and feet start to strongly tingle.
I realize that for all my understanding of my own meat suit, there is still so much that I clearly haven't explored. This is eye-opening and exciting.
We arrive at the final breath hold and I squeeze my body so tight it feels like a suit of armor and when I release the air I see bands of red, orange, and yellow, from top to bottom.
There's a goddamn sunset in my mind, and I note what a strange contrast this is to the first round. I lie back shaking and alive and it's impossible to wipe the smile off my face.
We're allowed to relax in this position a bit longer this time, and then again share our experiences. Then it's time for a bathroom break before the third round.
I tell Jared about the sunset again and how impressed I am by the ability to reach these states with breathing. He looks at me with a twinkle in his eye and smiles.
"Just wait," he says.
I see people eating snacks and drinking water, and wish I had brought something. I'm feeling pretty fatigued at this point and not quite sure how I'm going to make it through the final round.
"This will be twenty minutes, guys."
I gauge my reaction to this, thinking it will be one of dread: I am already tired and hungry and food poisoned. Instead, I think, "Hm. Okay." This calmness is surprising.
Since the fasting experiment, I am psychologically stronger in general, but I feel more relaxed about this final round than I think I ought to.
There's a pep talk about what to expect, how people may fall asleep, parts will go numb, etc, but I only catch pieces of it.
I'm looking around at the group and considering the hours of training we've already experienced together, how everyone has had slightly different reactions to the subtleties of the programming, and how lucky I am to have experienced this with complete strangers.
As someone mentioned earlier, it is like a collective psychedelic experience in many ways, and we are all connected as we head into the final round. The breathing begins, and I am quickly lost in it.
My stomach cramps intensely, like wringing out a towel. I feel all the energy go directly into it, and I briefly consider that my body is working to heal the digestive malady with an all out, hyper-focused attempt.
Then I realize I have no way to verify whether this is true, but it sure sounds good.
At some point, time begins to speed up. Even as body parts cramp and shake in the midst of a hyper-oxygenated state, I get into what can only be described as a flow state.
I keep my eyes closed the whole time, because this is what is most comfortable to me, and I'm acutely aware that if I just relax and slow the intensity and frequency of my breath I will instantly fall asleep.
I get the distinct impression that in this moment I am pure energy interacting with the fabric of other energy. I don't feel like a body that's working toward a front lever, a discerning palate interested in the tasting menu at N/Naka, a trained ear that delights in 23/16 time signatures, or eyes that perceive just a sliver of what we call reality.
My form seems to have fallen away, paralyzed as it is, and I am merely a consciousness delighting in being conscious. It feels like an ascension, and it's extraordinary.
As we hit the twenty-minute mark and go through the squeezing portion I don't get the explosion of colors that I got from the first two rounds. Now it seems there is a sandstorm blowing past my mind's eye, and as I lie back to soak in the vitality of the moment my whole physiology comes back into my field of awareness.
Everything relaxes so deeply that I may melt into the ground, like the world's best massage therapist has been giving me the business for the past hour, in every muscle in my body.
The breeze blows across my face and I assume it's creating ripples on the surface.
The Ice Bath
This is the final component of the seminar. When it's my turn I am coached to create the armor across my back by taking five deep breaths and holding before I get it. It's no big deal until you put your shoulders under. This causes an involuntary convulsion in your chest cavity and you must regain control of your breathing.
I do, and then I'm able to relax.
I feel like I could have gone much, much longer in the tub but there were others waiting to get in. This part of the process was the least challenging for me, as I have been working with cold showers for the better part of a year.
I think with guidance from Chris and Jared I could work my way up to a substantial amount of time in the cold water, but time will tell if I'm disciplined enough to hump the ice to my house and get in.
I have since started my day with three rounds of the energetic breathing prior to a cold shower and coffee, and feel ready to attack the day. Before I go to sleep, I do three rounds of the relaxation breathing and feel ready to close my eyes. This seems extremely sustainable.
I don't know how often to include the full, twenty-minute DMT Breathing round, but I will get in touch with Chris and Jared to clarify.
Following are my observations based on my experiences thus far with the Wim Hof Method, from blogs to in-person coaching, in no particular order:
1. Preferable to do the breathing outside. I'm not saying that you need to be in Malibu, but drawing big deep breaths of fresh air is preferable to doing it inside, no matter how gangster your air filter is.
That being said, I have done the relaxation breathing in my bedroom each night before sleep, and it's all I can do to crawl into bed after. More enjoyable outside, but effective either way.
2. Preferable to have direct coaching. Chris and Jared were tremendous coaches and direct students of Wim. You can read blogs and watch videos, but there is no substitute for having a proper coach correct you when you err and answer questions in real time.
I highly encourage you to participate when they make it to your neck of the woods. I think the next best thing is probably Wim's 10-week course.
3. The group atmosphere really brings psychedelic or connected energy to the experience. There is something very palpably energetic about doing this process with a group. If you've ever participated in a group meditation, you know what I'm talking about.
The flow of energy is real, and the emotions get stirred up pretty quickly.
4. The breathing techniques allowed for deeply meditative moments like I haven't experienced outside of sensory deprivation tanks and lengthy meditations. I'm still interested in the chakra colors I experienced throughout the process, if that is indeed what that was. I'm looking forward to further exploration of the association of different colors with slight changes to time, breath holding, etc.
5. The ice bath doesn't seem impossible to conquer, at least for short periods. As I mentioned, I've been doing cold showers for a while now, but even so, it's just... cold water. I'm sure that everyone reading this has done far more challenging things than feeling momentarily cold.
It's normal to fear the discomfort, but giving it the middle finger and forcing your body to control the breath and slow the heart beat while sitting in icy water is very satisfying. Start today!
6. Snacks and WATER between rounds. I'm going to pass this on to the Be Jaya gents. If you've never breathed this intensely before, it will dry out your throat and burn a bunch of calories!
Take a thermos of water to sip on, and something easy to eat like seasonal fruit or some hard boiled, pastured eggs.
Have you worked with the Wim Hof Method, either with the Be Jaya guys or with Wim himself? I would love to hear about it. Any tips or anecdotes you can offer would be much appreciated in the comments sections.
Until next time, "Breathe, motherfucker!"
PS--Thanks so much for reading! It takes a lot of effort to write posts like this, so if you enjoyed it would you mind sharing?