The way of the Ice Man
Wim Hof (AKA The Iceman) makes me proud to be Dutch…and maybe this heritage is what drove my cousins and me to roll around in the snow in our swimsuits when we were younger. Or maybe we were just a special kind of crazy. Anyway, Wim is a legend.
He has run a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot and shirtless, swam underneath ice for 188 feet, and completed a full marathon in the Namib Desert without consuming any liquids. I mean, this guy is basically superhuman.
Why am I talking about Wim? Well, he has a renowned technique called the Wim Hof Method that promises numerous health benefits, including:
- Heightened energy
- Improved sleep
- Increased focus and willpower
- Reduced stress levels
- Quicker recovery
- Greater cold tolerance
- Enhanced creativity
- Strengthened immune system
If you’re involved in a trendy fitness community, you’ve probably heard all about the Wim Hof Method. Maybe you’ve even tried parts of it yourself. But you’re still not sure if freezing your booty off in the snow is worth it.
Does the Wim Hof Method actually deliver the results it claims to? Let’s dive a little deeper (beneath the ice?) to find out.
The three components of the Wim Hof Method
While most people get fixated on the cold tolerance portion of the Wim Hof Method, there are actually three equally important areas the method focuses on: breathing, cold therapy, and meditation.
Wim Hof breathing
This is a great place for beginners to start because anyone can set aside 10-20 minutes a day to practice breathing. If you have asthma or another breathing condition, this might not be the technique for you. This is probably obvious, but don’t do this exercise while you’re driving, swimming, or doing anything else that could put you in danger.
Some people report feeling lightheaded when first doing this breathing exercise. Be sure to listen to your body and stop if you feel too uncomfortable. It’s best to practice this breathwork while you’re sitting up with your feet firmly planted on the ground. People often report struggling to do it while lying down.
Wim advises doing this breathing exercise every morning. Here are the steps of the breathwork:
- Take 30 quick powerful breaths.
- Hold the last breath for as long as you can (usually 1-3 minutes).
- Inhale fully and hold your breath for about 10 seconds.
- Repeat the cycle 3-4 times.
Wim Hof cold therapy
The cold therapy portion of the Wim Hof Method is just like it sounds, but don’t be afraid. There’s a way to ease your body into this practice.
Wim recommends you begin by gradually working up to taking a cold shower. You can start by adding 15 seconds of cold water at the end of your normal shower…and then slowly work your way up to taking a full cold shower. Put your limbs in one at a time to allow your body to adjust.
Cold showers don’t sound so bad for Southern Californians, but what about winters in the Northeast? Well, Wim seems to think the colder, the better. But make sure to ease into it so you don’t shock your system. And skip cold therapy entirely if you’re pregnant.
Once you’re a cold shower pro, you can ramp it up by taking lengthy ice baths and eventually work your way up to running barefoot above the Arctic Circle like Wim (if that sounds even remotely appealing to you).
Wim Hof meditation
This component of the Wim Hof Method does not seem to differ significantly from other kinds of meditation. Basically, the goal is to build your willpower so you will be able to fully commit to the more difficult parts of the method.
The mental clarity you gain from meditation will prepare you for whatever you want to tackle in life. Try out a few different types of meditation to see which one has the deepest impact on your willpower.
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The science behind the Wim Hof Method
There have been several scientific studies done on the Wim Hof Method. Essentially, they show that Wim Hof practitioners can control their sympathetic nervous system and immune response. This helps relieve some of the symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases and other inflammatory conditions.
Why does this happen? The key is the adrenaline that spikes when you’re practicing these techniques. Normally, an increase in adrenaline is associated with an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone).
For those who practice the Wim Hof Method, however, adrenaline presents itself supposedly without cortisol. This allows them to receive the benefits from adrenaline without the negative effects of cortisol. They are endeavoring to inoculate themselves against the stress response.
Research on the positive benefits of the Wim Hof Method is ongoing. Hopefully, there will be more data in the future that points to the truth of what many Wim Hof practitioners claim: the method has transformed their physical and mental health.
How to practice the Wim Hof Method
If you want to give the Wim Hof Method a try, there are a few ways you can get started. You can read Wim Hof’s book, The Wim Hof Method: Activating Your Full Potential. For a more in-depth study, take one of Wim’s online courses. You can even join him on one of his insane adventure trips.
For those who just want a taste of the Wim Hof Method, search for the Wim Hof breathing technique on YouTube. Try it for a few days and see if you notice a difference. Don’t forget to always be patient with yourself and listen to your body.
So does the Wim Hof Method actually work? The only way to know for sure is to try it out for yourself. Let me know what you find!