Wim Hof Method

Women’s Empowerment

HOW WOMEN SHOULD PRACTICE THE WIM HOF METHOD WITH DR. MIRJA EFFING

Dr. Mirjia Effing is an exceptional woman who  studied medicine in Germany with a focus on Tibetan medicine. During her studies she spent time in Nepal and India, learning about alternative forms of therapy. After becoming a specialist in General medicine in the beautiful Alps of Germany, influenced by her time in Asia, she became more interested in alternative forms of healing. 

She therefore focused her attention on functional medicine, which involves finding the direct cause of a disease and treating it accordingly. She has now opened a Health Center in the Allgau focusing on functional medicine. Some services provided include fasting, burnout prevention, pain therapy, treatment for long covid and so much more.

She came to a Wim Hof Course with her son in the Allgau where we met and the conversation kept going. Today we focus on the Wim Hof Method & Women’s Health.

https://www.dr-mirja-effing.de/dr-mirja-effing

Previously, on the Tranforming Matters podcast, Dr. Mirija and I spoke about the many physiological benefits of the Wim Hof Method, including mitochondrial health.Today we will focus primarily on the Wim Hof Method and Women’s Health.

Why is it that Women’s Health research is so far behind men’s?

The majority of science is primarily focused on men, and therefore although useful, it is also biased in terms of how we as Women can utilise the Wim Hof Method to help us feel Strong, Healthy & Happy.

In order to bring more awareness and conversation around the Wim Hof Method specifically for women, I had the honour to sit down once again with Dr. Mirja Effing.

It is important to remember that although Dr. Effing gives her very professional opinions, the most important thing is to begin individually to understand how one’s body works and listen. There is never a one size fits all answer, and so I ask all of you reading this, to remember that the ultimate goal of the Wim Hof Method is to feel Healthy, Strong and Happy. 

Therefore, ask yourself:

How is this serving me? 

What is the purpose? 

How do I feel?

 In this podcast, Dr. Mirja Effing begins the menstruation cycle, as it lays a foundation for a deeper understanding of our bodies, hormones, and practice: 

There are 4 main phases to the Women’s cycle:

  1. Menstruation
  2. The Follicular phase
  3. Ovulatory Phase (Ovulation)
  4. Luteal Phase

What does this mean?

The Follicular Phase

  • This stage of our cycle begins on the first day of our menstruation and ends at ovulation.
  • Dr Mirja explains that this phase is to ‘’basically prepare one’s body to get pregnant’’. 
  • It is the phase for the egg to prepare to receive the sperm.
  • In this phase the Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), is released and increases.
  • One follicle will become dominant, grow in size, and begin to produce estrogen.
  • Once the Estrogen levels become very high, we begin the 2. Ovulatory Phase with an increase in the luteal hormone.
    • In this phase, the temperature of the body drops and therefore some women report feeling more sensitive to the cold.

Ovulatory Phase (shortest phase)

  • This phase is the shortest phase, between 10 – 12 hours. Women who are very sensitive have reported feeling pain in either the right or left side of their lower abdomen. There is an increase in Progesterone in this phase. 
  • This is the best time to receive sperm if one wants to get pregnant. On the contrary, this would be a time to be careful when having sex if you don’t want to get pregnant. 

 Luteal Phase

  • In the Luteal phase there is an increase in Progesterone, and a decrease in other hormones including estrogen. 
  • If the egg does not receive sperm, then Progesterone peaks and finally crashes. Once it is reaching its lowest level, we begin to bleed.
  • Some women check their temperature to avoid getting pregnant. In the Luteal phase, the temperature of the whole body is higher. 

In the Follicular phase, on the other hand, the temperature of the body drops, and a sign for some women that they can more safely have sex without getting pregnant.

 PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome, is when ALL hormones begin to drop before bleeding. As women, we depend completely on our hormones, so Dr. Mirija Effing explains that when this crash of hormones occurs, we can experience mood changes, a hard time sleeping and irritation. This drop in hormones is similar to what occurs when we go through Menopause, which for some women can be extremely challenging, due to a lack of hormones.  This drop in hormones can cause women to feel sensitive or even depressed.

On the contrary, when Estrogen rises close to the ovulatory phase, it can also create a much higher sensitivity as well as an increase in libido.

The Cold & Menstruation

During menstruation, not only is there a drop in hormones, but there is also a drop in body temperature. For this reason, it is common that women feel more sensitive to the cold when they are menstruating. 

It can be more difficult for the body to warm up when the temperature is already lower.  Again, it is good to listen to your body and see what works best for you. Some women, with heavier periods, lose quite a lot of iron which is a main source of energy. Dr. Effing and I previously spoke about how the Wim Hof Method impacts mitochondrial health, meaning if someone has issues with their mitochondria, for example, in chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue or long COVID, practicing the cold could require too much energy to be actually beneficial for the body. Therefore, if there is not enough energy due to a loss of blood or iron, and the need to create more mitochondria, this can cause us to become even more tired during the first few days of menstruation. 

Once again, each woman is different, and it is important to also note that some women bleed more or less than others. Personally, I try to listen very carefully to my body and not get stuck with a certain routine. There are months when I bleed that I feel extremely sensitive and respect that my body needs more rest, and there are times when cold exposure helps me find the energy I need. 

Listen to YOUR body. Find out what works for you. Be the researcher of your own body and remember there is not one size fits all.

Dr. Effing, recommends taking care of your sensitive organs during this time. For example, she recommends to use Kniepp – a form of cold therapy that targets particular parts of the body for particular benefits. Keeping the central body warm but exposing the arms and legs to the cold is a nice alternative for those who feel sensitive during their period.

 On the contrary, some women have expressed that exposure to cold has also helped mitigate cramps during their period. Dr. Effing once again reminds us that all women are different. Some have strong bleeding during their menstruation, while others have less. Some women have intense cramps while others have none. 

One theory of why the Cold could be helping to mitigate cramps is that  vasodilation occurs after the initial vasoconstriction when we enter the cold, and this could potentially help alleviate the tension in the abdomen bringing more blood flow to the area. She stresses that it is really good to understand the changes in hormones, to have an overview of what is going on in your  body, and to not get too attached to the emotions that come up.

Breathwork & Menstruation

In terms of the breathwork, Dr. Effing recommends the breathwork in order to give the body more energy, and also help to heal and restore. In the times we live in, Dr. Effing says, ‘’no one cares if a woman is bleeding’’ and therefore things need to continue like normal. This is the unfortunate reality that we live in. 

Most women need to ignore the real needs of their body to work, and function in society. This is a very sad and real truth. Dr. Effing finds, especially during menstruation, when her body is sensitive and tired, she loves to use the breathwork after a long day in the office not only to get energy but to help her calm down.

 It is also important to remember that during the Wim Hof Breathwork we enter a state of hypoxia which causes a cascade of events including autophagy (you can read more about this in our previous podcast),  and therefore a reminder to also practice balance and not overdo it.

 Wim Hof Method & our mood?  

Dr. Effing explains that it is difficult, but possible to begin to start understanding our body more and more. You need to become an observer of the body. To notice when you are stressed and take that as an opportunity to practice the breathwork. Or for example, to use the breathwork in the morning to fuel the body with energy.

 During the luteal phase, women are in general more sexually active and the body temperature is higher and therefore it can be a really great time to practice the method and reap benefits.

 For women 40 and older,  entering the premenopausal stage, means that there is an initial drop of Progesterone. Some women in this stage are more likely to feel sensitive in particular to the cold. For these women, it could be even more beneficial to use the luteal phase of their cycle to ice bathe.

 Ice bathing & ovulation (Especially for women trying to get pregnant)

It can be useful for women who have difficulties getting pregnant to take precaution near the time of ovulation. For women who have a difficult time getting pregnant, Dr. Effing suggests to utilize cold showers or Kniepp instead of ice bathing. 

In saying that, for women trying to get pregnant, the luteal phase would be the optimal time to ice bathe, helping to create new healthy mitochondria in the body, and therefore providing the body with more strength and having positive effects for future ovulation phases.

 She believes there is no harm with practicing the breathwork for those trying to get pregnant. On the contrary, she explains it could help reduce stress and inflammation in the body.

 Pregnancy & Ice bathing?

 The first trimester is always the most sensitive period of time for the fetus, and therefore it is also important for women to take extra precaution at this time. It is always recommended that you should never do something new in pregnancy so if Ice bathing is not a part of your regular practice it is recommended to not start a practice while pregnant. 

If a woman has been practicing the cold before her pregnancy, she should take more precaution in the first trimester, and with caution and medical direction could expose herself to cold in the later trimesters. 

Breathwork & Pregnancy?

One should be reminded to always practice caution with the breathwork while pregnant, as there is a spike of adrenaline which could cause harm to the fetus. (and once again there is no research on this phenomenon so no certainty) 

 Dr. Effing’s clinic has an oxygen machine which puts her clients in hypo and hyper oxia state, similar to the Wim Hof Method. She uses this to help people with chronic fatigue and other chronic issues to work on the mitochondrial level (more about this in our other podcast together).

She explains that due to the lack of research on pregnant women, she can not use this for pregnant clients, but interestingly enough, she explains that during pregnancy this mechanism is naturally occurring between the mother and the fetus. The blood which is moving from the mother to the fetus/child goes through stages of hypoxia and hyperoxia to kill the bad cells. This is an old mechanism in our body naturally through the placenta. Therefore, the fetus experiences levels of hypoxia and hyperoxia.

 Gaining or Losing your Cycle with the Wim Hof Method

 Dr. Effing suggests that it is possible that there is a change in hormones due to the Wim Hof Method. We know that stress can be influenced and mitigated by the Wim Hof Method breathwork. With Cold exposure, we know there is a release of Cortisol which also has an impact on Progesterone and estrogen in the body, and therefore there could be a potential connection between cortisol and the female hormones. As mentioned before, this is something that could be very interesting to research: to take a woman with lower Progesterone, and get her to practice the Wim Hof Method. An increase in Cortisol die to the method, could potentially also raise progesterone, bringing back one’s menstruation and regulating hormones.

On the other hand, if a woman loses her menstruation while practicing the method, this could be a sign of overdoing it with the cold. As we mentioned before the cold requires a lot of energy, and if you practice too frequently the body requires more energy than it has.

 Premenopausal Women & the Wim Hof Method

 Pre Menopause means an initial drop in Progesterone and later in Estrogen.

Dr. Effing explains that often in Germany premenopausal and menopausal women are given Progesterone and Estrogen by their doctors without initially checking their hormone levels. This is also common in North America and other countries. Dr. Effing explains every woman is unique and hormones drop differently for each individual scenario. It is important to check your hormone levels first, and then perhaps natural methods like the Wim Hof Method could be useful for those women with depleted hormones.

 Stress & Inflammation 

When men are stressed they release stress hormones such as Adrenaline and Noradrenaline. Women on the other hand, enter catechol estrogen when too much stress is present which causes inflammation like all other stress hormones. 

Dr. Straube, wrote a book called ‘Early Trauma as the Origin of Chronic Inflammation’’, and Dr. Effing mentions how incredibly important it is to remember that stress or trauma can cause inflammation. If you have inflammation, this can lead to depression and no antidepressants will help relieve this until you get to the root of the inflammation. 

In the older times stress used to be connected to physical exertion for example if you needed to run away from an animal, and the stress hormones would help you to survive. But nowadays not only are we stressed, but we are immobile meaning there is no release for the stress hormones. If you don’t have time to go for a run then spend only 10 minutes a day with breathwork to release the stress hormones of the day. Dr. Mirja swears by this, and does it at the end of a busy day. 

Chronic Fatigue

One of the themes and challenges Dr. Effing sees among her female clients is Chronic Fatigue. She explains that women have work and family including household and kids. Genetically we are meant to be able to take care of these things, she explains it as having the overview – something which was useful for our survival and the survival of our offsprings. So basically we have stress from the morning until the evening. Most women feel so responsible for everything that they do not make time for a walk and end up unable to get out of bed. 

Dr. Mirja takes time to speak to these women, provides them coaching to transform their lives, tests their hormones, provides supplements but the most important thing she says is to provide them sick leave so they can have time to recover. It is difficult but it is important for these women to try to let go more, especially those with children to not control everything but to trust more. 

Once again, a reminder to anyone practicing – STOP & LISTEN. Each day is different and it is important to tune in, and  listen deeply. There is not a one size fits all way to practice the method. Play around with it and see how you feel. Practice an ice bath 2-3 times a week and gauge how you feel. If you ever need support or have any questions feel free to reach out 🙂