I slowly stepped into the water. First the right foot, then the left. It was cold, ice-cold. Yet the feeling was not unpleasant. After an initial reaction of resistance, I could relax and immerse myself deeper. My heart started racing and my breathing became uncontrollable. But after a few seconds of shock, I could breathe normally once more. Almost instantly my body started creating heat, inner fire, the process of thermogenesis was ready to equal the force of the cold. There I was, relaxing in a bathtub full of ice on a sunny sunday in Amsterdam. I smiled at Wim, and he smiled back while telling me to get out. Next!
Nature is my Sensei – The world my Dojo
I was attending a workshop given by Wim ‘The Iceman’ Hof. It was a six-hour day of training, talking and laughing. I was eager to learn of his extraordinary insights into the human body. Wim has demonstrated he can consciously control his autonomic nervous system and immune system with a meditation technique he learned in mother nature, something thought to be impossible. Yet, this might not come as a surprise since Wim has shown the impossible multiple times before. He is the world record holder of ice endurance by standing in a container full of ice for 1 hour 52 minutes and 42 seconds. He ran a full marathon above the polar circle at a temperature of −20 °C (−4 °F) on his bare feet. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro just wearing shorts. And not only can his body withstand cold, he is also capable of doing amazing feats in the heat. Last year he ran a full marathon (42.195 kilometres (26.219 mi)) on the highest desert plains in the world, the Namib Desert, without any water and without any food. Mind over matter I’ve heard him say multiple times. Now, you might wonder what personal relevance this holds for you. Maybe Wim is a genetic outlier who can reach impossible heights that are barred for us mere mortals. However, Wim insists that this is not the case. He claims that with sufficient training all of us can learn how to turn up our own thermostat, live healthier, stronger and longer and gain deeper levels of understanding into our own bodies. We are all endowed with the same physical mechanisms after all. So how does he do it? Or better yet, how can you do it? (Watch the video first) The breathing exercise you see Wim doing here is a controlled breathing exercise, and key here is the breath retention. With this exercise you learn how to hold your breath longer and to make conscious contact with your heart, autonomic nervous system and immune system. You (the frontal cortex) learns how to override the hypothalamus which is responsible for regulating the peripheral nerves and veins which in turn regulate body temperature. Untrained individuals in freezing temperatures start to shiver after a few minutes. A bit longer and the body shuts down blood flow to the extremities to protect the inner organs. If the core temperature drops under 35 °C (95 °F) hypothermia sets in, which can be lethal. Wim however, does not close his nerves and veins. His metabolism goes into overdrive (300%), generating extra heat. With his veins open, he can still distribute the heat effectively to his extremities. After almost two hours in the ice, his core temperature will only drop a little and his body shows no signs of frostbite.
During the workshop Wim exclaimed that modern man is too comfortable. We are never hungry, we are never cold. Before his attempt to climb Mount Everest he remarked “Edmund Hillary’s ascent of Mount Everest was a testament to human achievement; my climb of Mount Everest in my shorts will be a monument to the frivolous, decadent nature of modern society.” In other words, we, and with us our bodies, have become lazy. We all know our muscles deteriorate when not being used. Yet, the same holds for your immune system and all the little muscles around your veins. In order to get stronger again we need to train ourselves, preferably every day. You can find the general outline of Wim’s training method here. He is a great teacher, and I strongly recommend learning his ‘Wim Hof Method’ at one of his workshops or his online course. Whenever I feel down, I do the Wim Hof Method and take a cold shower after. I always feel great after doing this. So far I haven’t experienced a physical or mental ailment that didn’t got less after doing this. Whereas I used to have quite a few headaches and colds, I rarely ever have one now. And if I do, they are always very mild. Half an hour of breathing and the pain dissolves from the problem area. The energy you feel during the meditation has become second nature, accessible wherever I go. I would recommend everyone to try it out so you can do the impossible too.