My day experiencing the Be Well Workshop based on the Wim Hof Method at Maple Grove Hot Springs
Simple instructions that sparked life-changing healing over the course of one beautiful summer’s day.
As with any stay at Maple Grove Hot Springs, the day started by waking to Mother Nature’s alarm clock—birds singing, creek babbling, the sun warming my tent. After a quick breakfast, I wandered down to the gathering pools, where our journey began.
The Best Way to Start a Be Well Day
As participants gathered in the hot spring pool, we began chatting and getting to know each other. Little did we know we would be deeply bonded by the end of the day. Joined by instructors Shelley and Billy, we went through orientation and gained an understanding of what we could expect throughout the day.
It was then on to the lawn to get our bodies moving with intentional and methodical exercises. Shelley and Billy guided the group through several breathing, stretching, and movement techniques, teaching us how to warm
our bodies after exposure to the cold. We learned where and how our bodies store heat and how to activate it when needed. As someone who likes to know the hows, whats, and whys of the way I treat my body, getting a comprehensive education on the science behind the methods used throughout the day was priceless and so very appreciated.
Once our warm-up circle was complete, we made our way down to the gorgeous Bear River, where we joined hands and internally set our intentions for the day. As a group, we focused on our aliveness and what made us feel like we were truly living. Individually, we could all decide what that meant for us. How to incorporate the day and the lessons into our lives—into our own story, our own complexity, and our own journey. That’s what I love about moments like this: it reminds me that while we’re all on our own journey, we’re always sharing the road with some pretty incredible humans that, if we take the time to listen with curiosity, will always have a story from which we can learn. That we’re all learning and healing together.
Before we moved on to breathwork in the Forest Yurt, Shelley treated us to an informal, formal education about how Wim Hof breathing works.
What does Wim Hof breathing do?
Power breathing—often described as “controlled hyperventilation”—is followed by a “retention time,” where you hold your breath for a certain amount of time. These breathing exercises allow you to release more energy, “influencing your nervous system and changing various physiological responses.” This practice induces a short, intense stress (or eustress) response that helps your mind and body build resilience toward everyday stress. It helps to heal your nervous systems, which leads to more mental and physiological control.
According to wimhofmethod.com, “These breathing exercises are only one of three pillars that form the Wim Hof Method. The other two pillars are cold therapy and training your mindset. When combined, the three pillars will help you to become stronger and gaining better health. Known benefits of the Wim Hof Method include:
Faster recovery from physical exertion
Improved sports performance
More focus and mental clarity
“The Wim Hof Method is also linked to reducing symptoms of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, asthma, sarcoidosis, vasculitis, and several autoimmune diseases.”
Now, back to Maple Grove Hot Springs
After a stop at Education Station with Shelley and a quick dry-off, we made our way to the Maple Grove Hot Springs group event space called the Forest Yurt, where we warmed up our lungs with humming and—believe it or not—kazoos. Billy improvised on his guitar while we all tuned in and harmonized along. And honestly, it was beautiful. I don’t know if we just lucked out with an exceptionally musically talented group with great pitch or if it was simply the beauty of a group of Humans in sync with each other humming like nobody was watching. Either way, it was inspiring.
After Shelley and Billy demonstrated the Wim Hof breathing techniques for us, inviting openness and any experience that may come, we whipped out the yoga mats and went to work.
Shelley and Billy guided us through the breathwork with a gorgeous sound bath as we lay on our backs. The effects of breathwork can be different for everyone. Some have a spiritual experience, some visceral, and some nothing but relaxation and physical healing. As Shelley mentioned, “Whatever you experience is what you were meant to experience.” There’s no right or wrong way to benefit.
For me, it was simply a relaxing, restorative experience. Others in the group saw things. Some heard. Some slept. Everyone experienced. Everyone healed.
That shared experience got everyone in the group talking to each other more than ever, which was perfect for what came next: lunch. We all heaped our plates with a bounty of deliciousness and paired off. We spent the next 30 minutes or so getting to know our partners—organically and with some guided questions provided if we chose. My buddy was Brett, who is a brand new fourth-time dad, and he was pretty awesome all around. At the end of the getting-to-know-you period, we all introduced our new friends to the group, welcoming them into our new-found community.
After great conversations comes a beautiful quiet.
A Silent Hike With an Unexpected Lesson
After another learning session with Shelley and a quick dip in the river with storytime by Billy, we headed to one of Maple Grove’s many beautiful hiking trails. We spaced out so we had about 50 feet between each person and followed our leader in reflective silence. Our goal was to be completely present in our bodies—to feel the sensations of the air, to hear the sounds of the earth, and to listen to our bodies with curiosity.
The ample space between participants meant we didn't always see where the person in front of us turned. And a small handful of us found ourselves hiking a beautiful but unintended trail that followed a much steeper part of the mountain. Looking ahead, I could see my predecessors looking around, confused, and I quickly realized we had gotten ourselves into a lost-leading-the-lost situation.
Normally in a moment like this, my ever-present anxiety would quickly rise. But as I did a quick internal inventory, I realized it wasn’t there at all. I looked out to the valley below us and saw the most stunning view. The hot springs, the river, the mountains, the forest—all of it felt like a scene, oil painted specially for anyone who braved the path less traveled. And instead of anxiety, I only felt peace with a delightful smattering of amusement at the predicament we had gotten ourselves into.
I realized that even when things don’t go according to plan, there is beauty to behold if we just look up. I’m a big believer that there’s no such thing as “should,” especially when it comes to where you “should” be at any given point in your life. You’ll always be where you need to be, and I needed to be on top of that mountain. Especially because of what came next.
The lowest on the trail, I was broken from my reverie by the sound of Shelly’s voice shouting for me so I could get everyone else’s attention and she could lead us back to the main group.
As we began our descent, I fully braced myself for a panic attack—an ailment I’ve suffered most of my life, especially when going down steep slopes with loose dirt and rocks. Not to belabor a metaphor, but I panic when the ground beneath my feet feels like it could fall away at any moment. And nothing came.
I breathed in.
I breathed out.
I controlled the reaction my nervous system would usually have to the situation.
I realized that everything we had been doing and learning that day prepared me for that very moment and that it could only get better from there. For all the profound experience I felt I missed during the breathwork, I experienced my awakening on the mountain.
We all made it back to the group and had a few good laughs about the whole thing, Billy led a good ol’ call-and-response camp ditty, and we headed back down to Maple Grove proper.
Finally, it was time to dive into the activity we were all there for:
The Ice Plunge at Maple Grove Hot Springs
Spoiler alert: it was cold. And so enlivening.
We stood in (surprise) a circle around the ice baths and continued our warming breathing and movement exercises as a form of moral support for those in the water. Any passersby would witness a steady chanting of “hoo..ha..hoo..ha” while we activated our body’s heat with oblique-defining core movements as we stood in horse stance.
Two by two, our new friends braved the cold water. Faces were made, screams were emitted, rubber duckies were there, and encouragement was cheered. And, of course, a cathartic victory scream rang out from the group at the end of every ice bath.
What are the benefits of cold therapy? Like breathwork, it puts your body into a state of heightened stress for a short time, resetting your autonomic nervous system.
And afterward, dinner, conversation, and community were enjoyed. Over the next few hours, a few of us went into the river again, some spent another few minutes in the ice baths, and we all soaked in the hot springs—the perfect ending to an incredible day.