Updated: Oct 20
Wim Hof, also known as "The Iceman," is an athlete who has set over two dozen world records for withstanding extreme temperatures, completing a marathon in below-zero temperatures, and climbing Mount Everest and Kilimanjaro wearing only shorts.
Wim has developed methods using a specific breathing pattern and cold exposure along with focused meditation to show that anyone can develop similar abilities, which may assist with health and well-being. I tried these methods for three months; here's my review.
"We have become alienated from nature, but the cold is capable of bringing us back to what we once had lost." - Wim Hof
What is the Wim Hof Method?
The Wim Hof Method (WHM) combines cold therapy, meditation, breathing, and focus to expand the limits of the body and mind. The WHM is touted as having many health benefits, including accelerating the healing process, reducing stress, improving sleep, normalizing hormones, improving sports performance, enhancing immunity, and more.
Wim has worked with scientists to test his methods in controlled studies that have demonstrated previously unknown possibilities, such as the ability of humans to voluntarily activate their autonomic nervous system and actively influence their immune response and consciously control their stress and pain response while increasing internal body temperature.
Cold therapy alone has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and the benefits include reduced inflammation, improved recovery, increased thermogenesis, increased life span in mice and flies, improved sleep, reduced pain, and reduced anxiety and depression.
I tried the Wim Hof Method.
I was intrigued and watched and read everything about Wim and heard a small voice in my head say, "What are you waiting for?"
I started with the breathing and cold showers but wasn't having the experience that he and others were sharing, so I got discouraged, distracted, and stopped altogether. Then a friend sent me a text about Wim, and I decided to give it another try, but this time I committed to the advanced breathing and the icy-cold immersion (commitment is one of the three pillars of the WHM, along with breathing and cold therapy).
When I first went into the water at a temperature of about 48 degrees Fahrenheit, I lasted for one minute before my body started shaking and my teeth chattering. My mind and body were screaming, "Get out and get out quick!"
I knew why. When I was a young boy, I had a few scary experiences with cold water in the winter, sledding in the snow and playing ice hockey. A couple of times I almost drowned in an ice-covered lake, but my brother saved me. As long as I can remember, I never liked cold water, and I got cold very quickly in freezing environments. I recognized I have some deep fears around cold water.
The following day I was not excited about getting back in the water, but Wim says to be patient, to commit, and know that cold water is your friend. So as I was going back in the second day, I started saying aloud, "My friend, my friend, I'm going back to my friend" to offer myself a little positive reinforcement. For the first week, it was very difficult for me, but I set my mind and opened my heart, and on the seventh day, I experienced a moment in the water I will never forget: I surrendered to the feeling, and I felt comfortable in the water. I was saying over and over, "I am one with the water." I felt happy, content, and accomplished. I thought, "This must be what Wim is talking about."
"I know the way. It’s not me... It’s Mother Nature who taught me." - Wim Hof
What the Wim Hof Method taught me
Over the last three months, I have not missed a day of the meditation and cold exposure. Now, three months later, I'm able to stay in the cold water for 20 minutes comfortably. Considering I already lived a healthy lifestyle and my immune system felt strong, the effects that I am experiencing emotionally and psychologically are compelling. I find myself more patient, peaceful, and calm in my body. I'm noticing that the way my body and mind respond in the water might be reflected in how I am now responding in my interactions in life.
Wim says that this method may help with PTSD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, addiction, and other psychological issues, and I believe this now. I feel my "fight or flight" response and nervous system have been altered, in line with scientific studies done on Wim and others applying his methods. I feel I have a new spiritual relationship with water and look forward every morning to starting my day in freezing cold water. I know that sounds crazy, but now I feel if I don't start my day this way, I'm crazy not to. I've even had a few moments in the water during my praying when I started crying and coughing and releasing what felt like suppressed emotions. I feel this is a spiritual practice for me now because when I'm in the water, I feel present, alive, and awake to myself and my surroundings.
"We are so successful at being comfortable that comfort has become the enemy of our success. " - Wim Hof
I was speaking to a sun dancer about my experience, and he said that American Indians would use cold-water exposure to keep their auras clean, that the cold water removes dense or dark energies that we pick up throughout our daily experiences and interactions with other people. When I wake up in the morning, if I feel tired or lazy or moody or just not feeling my best, after I get out of the cold water, my perceived negative energies are gone. I feel vibrant, alive, and excited for my experience that day.
I feel there's even more potential for healing and well-being with the WHM, and I intend to continue cold-water immersion for the rest of my life. Thank you Wim, and thank you to the spirit of the cold.
If you want to learn more about the mental and physical health benefits related to open water swimming and cold exposure, feel free to join our ICEWIM Facebook group.
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