On “The Wedge”

In Scott Carney’s book “What Doesn’t Kill Us“, he discusses using the Wim Hof method to develop what he calls “The Wedge.” By this he is referring to obtaining a modicum of top-down control of your immune and autonomic nervous system. By using Wim Hof’s breathing and cold showers/baths, Carney was able to power hike Kilimanjaro in only shorts, and shift his metabolism from predominantly sugar to predominantly fat utilization under increasing workload. All cool things.

In my years of Superslow-influenced high intensity training, there is a HYUGE emphasis put on breathing. As a result of graduate school, I came to some of the same conclusions around CO2 expulsion and relative O2 surplus, largely as a function of impending metabolic acidosis. You’re generating so much CO2 through work, just starting with an empty tub means you can work longer before it is overflowing.

The idea of trying to improve that sink depth was been an interesting, novel experience. I’m now able to hold my breath north of 3 minutes on an out breath, and the sensory feedback of ringing ears and extra crazy visuals during the hold remind me of being deep into a meditation session. The difference? I can get there faster and work on “The Wedge” sooner.

Why call it “The Wedge”? First, let’s start with how I think about it by answering a question with a question:

Do you ever feel where you’re thinking when you’re thinking a certain way?

When I am in full blown “rationalizing/working mode”, I feel like I am thinking from RIGHT behind my forehead. A review of our favorite primary source Wikipedia indicates that this is both Brodmann Area 10 & 11 of the prefrontal cortex, which are responsible for executive function tasks like planning, reasoning, problem solving, reward processing and decision making. If my thinking is feeling exceptionally dominant from that area, I can talk myself out of anything MILDLY uncomfortable, especially things that are new and I do not know the extent to which the discomfort can grow.

However, when I’m deep in a Wim Hof session, an ice bath, or even when I was in a longer meditation session, the feeling of where I’m thinking from shifts back into the anterior cingulate cortex (Bordmann 24, 32, & 33). This area is responsible for autonomic functions like regulating heart rate and blood pressure, decision-making, and impulse control. I think the last two are of most importance, as the ability to stick “The Wedge” in between my “rationalizing brain” to settle into my “impulse control” brain is super useful. Having now experienced the shift, I feel I can make the switch faster, with a certain amount of top-down control.

Example: recently my family was returning from a trip when we stopped at a coffeeshop so the kids could use the bathroom. When we went to leave, there was a car RIGHT behind us waiting at the drive-thru. My wife was driving and proceeded to Austin Powers her way out of the spot. There were at least 3 instances when I was certain she was going to hit the guy, and then that lead to “HOW AM I GOING TO PAY FOR THE DAMAGE?! DOESN’T SHE KNOW WE JUST STARTED A BUSINESS?!” and on and on. Only before she was done getting us out of the jam, I inserted the wedge, and almost instantly came down from Mount Anxietyjaro. If I get nothing else from the method, it’s worth it.

Now, I know I just lab coated this whole thing, but that’s my best guess, based on how it feels when I’m thinking, as to what’s going on when I insert “The Wedge.” YMMV.

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