Gwyneth Paltrow sent her staff to jump in a near-freezing Lake Tahoe and perform yoga in the snow with 'The Iceman'

hbrueck@businessinsider.com (Hilary Brueck)
wim hof snowga netflix

Netflix

Take six staffers from the sunny hills of Los Angeles, and throw them in the snowy banks of Lake Tahoe, in nothing but their bathing suits and bare feet. 

In the second episode of her new Netflix show "The Goop Lab," Gwyneth Paltrow does exactly that. Her Goop staffers learn, firsthand, about deep breathing, cold exposure, and meditation in sub-zero temperatures, as well as the benefits they may provide for both the body and the mind.

(Paltrow stays in LA, practices some breath work, and does 30 push-ups.)

The 35-minute episode, called Cold Comfort, explores the three-pronged technique of world-famous "Iceman" Wim Hof, a 60-year-old from the Netherlands who's broken a slew of world-records and impressive feats in freezing cold temperatures (running through frigid air, swimming in near-freezing waters, and sitting in ice). Hof has become something of a wellness celebrity for his techniques, which he teaches around the world.

The episode pits the Iceman's techniques against modern medicine

The Goop Lab episode pits Hof's breathing technique and cold exposure practices against doctors, mental health experts, and prescription medicine.

"I think what you're trying to prove, or what you're in the process of proving, is that this prevailing belief that we cannot control our autonomic nervous system is a fallacy," Goop Chief Content Officer Elise Loehnen says to Hof in the opening minutes of the episode. "We can directly impact and effect our immune system, our mood, the way that we respond to life." 

Hof's techniques aren't actually controversial, or even new. No serious scientist would dispute that breathing and meditation techniques, which have been popular in various forms around the world for centuries, can help people regulate their emotions, decrease stress, potentially help with depression, and even help reduce harmful inflammation in the body. All this can not only make people feel better, it can make disease less likely to sprout up in the body.

However, some of Hof's claims, that his regimen may "beat cancer," or cure disease, and that the "cortex is the enemy" are oversimplifications that could dismiss life-saving treatments.

Goop staffers jumped into Lake Tahoe to test Hof's techniques

In the Goop episode, six of Paltrow's staffers jump into near-ice, 38-degree Fahrenheit (3.3 Celsius) bright-blue waters of Lake Tahoe, to experience Hof's technique firsthand. Paltrow even says her own 13-year-old son does a two-minute version of the ice-cold technique at home.

But, don't try this on your own just yet, Hof cautions in the episode.  

"You cannot just jump in, this is dangerous," he said. At least a few men have died in cold waters while practicing Hof's techniques.

First, you have to learn to breathe.

"Breathing makes the body alkaline," Hof said in the episode.

What he means is that very quick, hyperventilation-like breathing can increase the body's pH level, making practitioners feel light-headed, or even confused. Extending one's out-breath can help a person feel calm and relaxed, by increasing activation of the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system. 

iceman wim hof meditation

AP Photo/ Evert Elzinga

Exposure to cold can activate the nervous system and help us respond to stress

Hof has been teaching his trademark technique to people around the world since 2013, he says, but his relationship with cold exposure and breathing techniques goes back more than four decades, to when he was a 17 year-old growing up in the Netherlands.

"When you go for the first time into cold water, what happens automatically, or naturally, you just take a deep breath," Hof told Insider over the phone on Thursday, gasping to demonstrate the effect.

Science shows us that cold exposure activates the body's nervous system, and triggers a release of noradrenaline in the brain, which helps us respond to stress. 

Regular ice baths may also increase beneficial brown fat stores, which help keep us warm and convert stored-up fat into heat, but more research is needed to know that for sure.

There is still a lot of debate about how brown fat works, and most of the studies to date have been small, and performed on men. Even in study of Hof's own family, researchers found that the Iceman has the same amount of brown fat as his identical twin brother. 

Gwenyth Paltrow Goop Lab

Rachel Murray/Getty Images

There are plenty of mindfulness and breath work techniques outside of Hof's method

Hof's breath work, like the cold exposure, merits a disclaimer, because not everyone who tries it may have a positive experience. For some people, especially those with trauma, chronic stress, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), manipulating the breath can provoke anxiety and trigger a flood of emotions. 

Doctor and psychiatrist Dan Siegel, executive director of the Mindsight Institute in California, who is himself a practitioner of Hof's method (he does it every morning when he wakes up) suggests for this reason that some people may want to start their own breathing program simply by observing the breath, without trying to change it. 

"The idea of being aware of your breath, or controlling it a little bit, that's great," Siegel previously told Business Insider. "Studies have shown that the more a [person] is aware of their interior life — the feelings, sensations of their body as well as their mind — the more they're able to actually regulate those things."

If you want to learn more about the Wim Hof method or the benefits of deep breathing, Hof's website provides a breakdown of his technique (he also has a new app that he says he hopes people will use to "learn about healing themselves.") There are also plenty of other non-Hof-related free resources available online to learn more about how to start your own mindfulness practice or breath work.

Read the original article on Insider