Updated: May 17, 2020
After 15 years of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I still used to get ferocious butterflies when it came to competing. Early on, I competed and enjoyed it. It wasn't until I had a family that training and competitions were more of a commitment and the performance anxiety grew. For anyone who has done a sport where the consequences of losing are injury and embarrassment, many people have reported that their first few contests felt like a blur or whirlwind. It doesn't matter the size of the competition, it's a state of mind, and the atmosphere is intense.
The symptoms of performance anxiety would start as soon as I signed up for a competition. The first was nausea. It would begin the moment I committed to the event, sometimes even a month away. It would surface anytime I did visualization about my matches. During the matches, I would suffer the other symptoms, dry mouth, early muscle fatigue, and poor mental acuity, or "the adrenaline dump". Nausea was by far the worse symptom and took the joy out it.
I started to do the Wim Hof Method about five years ago. It was particularly impactful for me initially for the health benefits and breathing improvements.
At one point, I realized when Wim and the original crew in 2014 avoided the symptoms of being sick, on command, that might work for competition anxiety.
They brought their adrenaline up a quarter-hour before getting injected and significantly reduced the symptoms that had been guaranteed.
(Chart A and video at the bottom)
Flu symptoms and competition anxiety nausea feel oddly similar. So, I gave it a go. I used Wim Hof style breathing anytime I anticipated anxiety related to sports. I'd bring adrenaline up, and it seemed to work.
I got an opportunity to do a professional submission grappling event. It sounded like a perfect test of anxiety and adrenaline control. The atmosphere at these events is legendary. The Fight2Wins are epic. The CEO is a wild man. He was previously a rock show promoter and uses the speakers, lights, and equipment from his shows for a star-studded night of grappling matches. We would walk to the stage on an elevated walkway through smoke and lasers to pounding music of our choice. The sitting crowd looks up to an elevated stage where no ropes or fences protect them from the contest area. A popular tactic in the fight is to try and shove your opponent off the stage where they'd go into the crowds and the concrete floor below. It is an effective tactic. My opponent was Professor Sergio Silva, a Heavy Weight World Champion with schools and students all over the area, who outweighed me by 20lbs.
The butterflies in my stomach, nervousness, and adrenaline dump were eminent in a situation like this. Or was it? Like the participants in the WHM Radboud study, I knew the timeframe for when the adrenaline needed control. It was approximately right before hitting that walkway to the stage. I set aside about 90 minutes before my fight time and found a place outside near the event where I could do the WHM. I didn't know if I would be able to remove the butterflies for sure, but I did practice beforehand in a unique way. I talk about in this interview at 4:00. Normally people plateau with their breath-hold times and get in a lovely deep meditation after around five rounds of WHM breathwork. That night, before my performance, it took 7 or 8 rounds or almost a full hour of breathwork, but I got there.
What does "getting there" mean?
It is a super relaxed, maybe even parasympathetic state of mind. It takes a few moments after the breathwork to regain your senses then you get into a place where you almost can't be bothered. You have no anxiety, no butterflies, and complete peace of mind on the task at hand. I was able to warm up for a few minutes and go on stage with absolute clarity. I could see the faces of dozens of my friends and family in the crowd. As I cleared the walkway, my heart rate was low, strength was intact, and it felt like magic!
Why does it work?
We've discovered the WHM has the power to peak adrenaline levels before your body might need it. Without it, like as the control group in the Radboud study, your body will only begin raising adrenaline once symptoms occur. Symptoms can come from an endotoxin, a competition, a speech, or even an important test. In that case, naturally, adrenaline will only go up a fraction of what it does compare to using the WHM.
In addition, breathwork can change your brainwave state. Practices like the WHM and Holotropic breathwork have shown reliable consistent activity changes. During this new state, you may be able to focus better with less of an emotional response. Wim has shown in an fMRI that, after using his method, he was able to raise activity near the brainstem during the physical duress of cold.
So I have gone on to do more Fight2Wins with similar results. I would have higher mental acuity and a complete lack of nervousness.
I have also done quite a bit of presenting for my day job. Often I'd be in foreign countries while being low on sleep, and the WHM has given me this extraordinary tool of mechanical mental control and clarity.
Now I specialize in the application of the method for performance. Breathwork improves any physically demanding endeavor where energy control and mental acuity are paramount. I've learned from some of the greatest, and it's an honor to share with others. I've witnessed the immediate performance enhancements transpire and it's extraordinary. The feedback from the breathwork for BJJ workshops has been tremendous and it will keep me doing this even though it is a small and exclusive group interested in both the WHM and BJJ.
To those of you who are, I salute you, and see you on the mats!
PS. Below is my favorite explanation, mentioned earlier, of the 2014 Radboud study, one of the first studies done on practitioners of the WHM.