It’s a few days after his birthday when I call Wim Hof, the legendary “Iceman” and extreme athlete known for his superhuman ability to withstand long-term exposure to sub-zero conditions. It’s the middle of coronavirus lockdown, but he tells me he was still able to celebrate turning 61 by spending a frosty 61 minutes in an ice bath. He shrugs it off and says he could have endured longer. Most people would struggle to do ten minutes in similar conditions.
Hof has an infectious personality, his wide-eyed enthusiasm for wellness and giddy verbiage only occasionally tempered by a reference to the hard science backing his claims. In other interviews, he’s been challenged for getting the facts wrong, and he explains that his children, who also help him run his business, are always having to remind him to stick to what can be proven — not stretch his claims too far, so as to avoid drawing criticism from the skeptic community. But with Hof, it seems he can’t quite help himself.
He does make a few mistakes on the science in our interview, and he certainly has a tendency to get carried away. But he is genuine — I get the definite impression he truly believes in making a positive impact on people’s lives through the Wim Hof Method. And while he may have scientific blind spots, there are plenty of studies to back up the benefits of the deep breathing techniques and cold exposure he has pioneered.
In your own words, what is the Wim Hof Method?
It began as a soul-searching exercise, but soon I found the cold. From there, I developed specific breathing exercises and did regular cold-water immersions.
The mindset part is a result of learning we are so much more capable of dealing with stress — physical, mental, biological, and emotional — than we previously were aware.
Stress control derived from regular practice in the cold makes you confident and very adaptable in daily life.
So breathing, cold, and mindset are the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method that give way to learning how to deal with stress of any kind.
So the Wim Hof Method is a lot more than just breathing and exposing yourself to cold? It sounds like it involves a lot of “life-coaching” ideas too.
The method is composed of three pillars as mentioned previously, but the outcome is more than just physical — it’s spiritual.
It is about love for all: nature, yourself, others, and all sentient beings. This is what you get when stress in your life is no longer a nuisance. You become more peaceful and full of uninhibited flow. It’s spirituality, with two legs firmly on the ground.
Which parts of your practice specifically help you get more in touch with yourself?
If you go take the course, for example, you don’t think — you are. You get into the depth of the brain where normally you are not.
Killer No. 1 in society is cardiovascular disease. In every person on Earth, there are millions of little muscles helping to control blood flow. How do you train these muscles? By going into the cold. Blood flow will improve with training and will improve access to oxygen, nutrients, and vitamins for your cells.
Then the heart. Because we wear clothes all the time and avoid exposure to the cold, our skin becomes de-stimulated. All our thermal receptors, which are designed to pass on the cold and react to it, no longer do so effectively.