The 5 peaks: Focused breathing and stress assessment technique

The following is a description of a technique that is used to focus your attention during a breathing and meditating session.  But along with the easy way to keep your focus and be present in what you are doing you also get other benefits – finding out your today’s stress level, disbalances in your mind and body, as well as giving rest to the default systems of your brain that always activate when you are not focused. The technique has helped me greatly with the breathing and meditation part of my Wim Hof Method (WHM) practice. I call the technique “the 5 peaks”.

Someone in the Wim Hof Method Facebook group told me that dividing the 30-40 breath count that is part of the WHM into counts of 5’s really helps focus on the breathing. That is true indeed. It is easier to focus on counting 5 breaths instead of a sequence of 30-40 because every 5 breaths your attention needs to shift to 1 again. It really works.

Then there is the technique of imagining your awareness of you breathing as your index finger. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh – an extraordinary person with an extraordinary life and impact on the world – describes it beautifully in a speech that you can watch by following the link below.  The part that influenced the creation of the “5 peak” starts at 14:15:

So your index finger is a representation of your awareness that you are breathing.  And it is always touching the “line” of your in-breath and the line of your out-breath. Like running your finger along the edge of a book.  This is how the “5 peaks” are done:

During the breathing in I imagine 5 “peaks”. A line going up + a line going down make 1 peak. The line up is the inhale and the line down is the exhale. I imagine (visualize) 5 such peaks.


Make sure your awareness that you are breathing in or out is always there. As if “touching” the peaks’ sides at all times. Hanh says that if you are not doing that you are not doing anything. At first it really helps to imagine that you are running your index finger along the lines. Later you can just follow the lines as you breath. And as Wim Hof says – no holding of your breath when you switch from in to out. So at the top of each peak you just start to exhale. At the bottom of each peak you just start to inhale. Very smoothly, flowing. No stops, no holds.

Mentally following the 5 peaks’ sides helps me keep count of my breaths 5 breaths at a time and not let my mind wander (the “monkey mind”).

That is it.
But the benefits of this technique seem to be more than just an ability to focus on your breath and be present. Here they are, at least for me:

1. You have a measure of how much you are stressed today

When I am stressed I always find that I try to go through the “peaks” faster and not rhythmically. Some breaths are faster some are slower. At times I breath in fast and exhale slow or reverse. It’s a mess. My breaths are shallower but also I try to rush through them without focusing on the breaths. If I let that happen he “monkey mind” takes over. This simple “5 peaks” technique really tells me how stressed I am.

The bottom line is that if I see that I am breathing faster and shallower I know that that day my WMH practice will not produce the most profound results. Still works but not as well. I find it impossible to start with shallow and fast breaths (obviously stressed somehow) and end up getting great effects from the practice. But one should always try and just do as much as possible. That creates a habit – that’s the simplest way to explain the benefits of persistence.

2. You learn to be present at all times when doing the breathing

Make sure that your awareness that you are breathing in/out is always there. As if “touching” the peaks’ sides at all times. ALWAYS touching the line. Meaning that your awareness of your breath is always there. If your awareness of your breathing is not there you are not doing anything.

3. 5 seems to be a good number to follow – not to small and not to big

I found that my breath has more “flow” if I imagined 5 peaks instead of going up and down 1 single line.

I experimented with imagining the 5 peaks being not in one line but like a star or 2 on the left – 1 in the middle pointing up – 2 on the right. I also imagined different geometrical shapes incorporating the 5 peaks and following their outline – a square, a square with 5 peaks “growing” out of each corner, a pentagon on each corner, etc. It is very interesting actually – you start to “breath” following the outline of what ends up being a snowflake – a very complicated but repeating pattern. And you can rack up 40 breaths as if nothing. But all that is too complicated. For me what works best is a line of 5 peaks.

4. Extra feedback on how you are feeling today

The “5 peaks” are not aligned the same way in your mind every single day. I see them either tilted a little or too high above my eyes, or one side is “brighter” than the other. To me all that means some kind of lack of balance in the body and mind. Mentally “leveling” the 5 peaks seems to “level” other things inside you. Try and see where you see the 5 peaks every day – high, low, tilted to the left/right, is there any kind of disbalance.

5. Science, the monkey mind, and resting by thinking
At the end I have to mention that there is scientific research proving that using your mind to focus on something actually silences the default functionality of the brain. That’s all the activity that goes on when you are not thinking of anything in particular in an orderly fashion. It turns on as soon as you are not focused. The problem is that it uses up a lot of resources. The brain actually does not rest if left alone. That is another description of the “monkey mind” – it is our default brain function. The “5 peaks” technique that I just described seems to calm down the brain – silences the default “noise” it produces.