Wim Hof is a man who understands what it means to be cold. The Dutch daredevil has made a name for himself running a marathon in sub-zero temperatures wearing only shorts (and without any water, because apparently that isn’t hard enough already); climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in similar attire; and repeatedly breaking the world record for the longest ice bath, among other stunts. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why he’s earned the nickname, ‘The Iceman’.
But far from being superhuman, Hof believes that anyone – yes, even you – is capable of achieving such feats, with the right training. He attributes his ability to withstand extreme cold to specific meditation and breathing techniques; and now he’s on a mission to spread the potential health benefits of the ‘Wim Hof Method’, working closely with scientists around the world to prove that his techniques work.
In September Hof will be trading frozen climates for the scorching North African heat of Marrakech, when he takes to the stage at MATTER, PURE’s un-conference brought to you by Tourism Australia, on the first day of the show. Meanwhile, we managed to peel him off an iceberg long enough for a chat…
When and how did your career as The Iceman begin?
“When I was 17 (40 years ago) I began to discover the things with the cold and then from there I began to change my breathing pattern, because the cold needs oxygen: if you go in it, you need to breathe deeper – you do it instinctively. I found out later that breathing deeper enabled me to counter the cold impact; thus, I began to enter into my physiology a lot deeper and became aware of capabilities I had never used.
“After regular bathing outside in wintertime in Amsterdam, I could stay under the water for five, six, seven minutes even, after doing repeatedly deep breathing. And I began to learn more about this breathing, to bring me deeper in my physiology, and that brought about a lot of new facts about what I could do with my body and mind. After coming to the awareness that we are actually able to do so much more than we know, I did a whole lot of challenges in nature.
“Eventually, thirty years later, I came in contact with a newspaper, who saw a man doing astonishing things on the ice, in the ice. under the ice. Then the television actually began to take a interest – from there organisations like Discovery Channel, BBC and National Geographic began to cover my challenges.”
How did you get the nickname ‘The Iceman’?
“I don’t remember – it just appeared on the internet. (Laughter) And I thought, “Hey, what? Nice. I can live with that.”
Can you explain the Wim Hof Method and its benefits? How did you discover this?
“The method right now consists of three pillars: the breathing, the cold adaptation and the mindset.
“The breathing has been shown in university studies to be able to suppress the inflammatory markers in the blood, to bring about controlled stress hormones called adrenaline and epinephrine that help the body to peak and be at its utmost functionality to flee or fight.
“Mindset is a real neurological activity that is able to control our body so much more than we thought – and I’m now actually showing that in scientific studies, which will be published very soon. Little by little I hope the understanding that mindset is actually able to control the body will become mainstream.
“Recently we completed a new big study on immunity with a university in the Netherlands. We injected bacteria that usually causes fever, uncontrolled shivering and overall agony; but we were able to suppress the inflammatory markers in the blood using breathing cycles and gradual cold exposure. Within a quarter of an hour 100 per cent of test subjects had complete control over those mechanisms, showing that the breathing supresses inflammation and creates an ability to deal with pain and control stress hormones.
“Gradual cold exposure optimises helps us to optimise our vascular system. The vascular system features 125,000 kilometres of blood vessels, which have little muscles and reflexes; with gradual cold exposure you can train those little muscles and reflexes and get your heart rate down to an average of 20 beats per minute. That means a whole lot less stress and better transportation of blood that brings nutrients, vitamins and oxygen immune cells.
“Separately these three elements have great factors; but together, even more. I want the Method to be studied more and more, because it really is a gift from nature that takes us back to the purity within ourselves. We are pure beings originally, only we are alienated therefrom; we have to go back to our pure selves, which involves a deep understanding of and practising connection between the brain and the body. We are capable of directing our lives, our mood, our health, our strength – with the right energy, it’s all there.
“I first went into nature, into the cold, because of my most basic belief that there is more than meets the eye. There is more. I don’t believe in war, I don’t believe in disease, I don’t believe in depression; I believe there is more – I will find it. I went into all kinds of esoteric disciplines – cultures, traditions, religions, debates, practices, etc. – but the cold water is what brought me in connection with these deeper layers and proved that the brain-body connection is there.
“People say, “That man is crazy”, and I can understand that, because many people promise things and say things for their own benefit; but this is based in science. It is rooted and backed up by science – by pure, non-speculative, data – so it cannot be denied anymore. It is not about training the body, it is about awakening the body to regain the way nature meant us to be.”
Describe your average expedition-goer or workshop attendee – what sort of person does the Wim Hof Method attract?
“People who are open for new things. It can be anybody; it can be from doctors and professors, to carpenters – anybody. It’s not just for secluded clientele or people who are into new-age things or fitness; it is for everybody. The range of people we attract is as colourful as humanity itself, so I welcome them all.
“It’s the science, the non-speculative backbone, that convinces those people. It is good for your well-being; it brings you stacks of energy; it makes your vascular system better; it could possibly aid depression. I want more science to back all this up, but overall we are convinced that you are able to become a whole lot better in a very short period of time.”
What does transformational travel mean to you? What has been your most transformational travel experience so far?
“Transformational travel means going to a place within ourselves that’s more than we ever thought possible. For example, I take people to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in very short period of time: if we do it in one and a half days (where normally it takes six), on average 40 per cent get to the summit; where as if we accelerate like 400 per cent and do it in half a day, most of them get up – like 90% or something.
“And they do it in shorts; they might even have conditions like Crohn’s disease and cancer, but they still do it in those record times. I mean, if that’s not transformational travel, what is? It’s astonishing for those people; they’re not only transformed, they are flabbergast – something has very deep has been changed. And there’s no speculation or no doubt about it: they’ve seen it, they feel it, and it is done.
“Here in Poland, around a thousand kilometres from the Czech border, we have a house where we do winter travels. All the people who come, after four or five days they go walking and climbing with us in shorts or bikinis, in freezing temperatures, for hours and hours – sometimes it’s minus 20, 25, minus 30, with the wind-chill and everything, but still everybody is capable of climbing the mountain in almost no clothes. And that brings about not only the control of a deep capacity of them, but also a more real, physical capacity.
And you know what, they become like a family. This tribal thing: love, family, brothers, and sisters. It is not sectarian, it is just this oxytocin thing going on, and it makes people strong, not only personally, but in the togetherness there is no border anymore, there is no individualism anymore. We share, we take care of each other, and we go and we blow our own minds. It makes people realise they are a person: they are healthy, happy, strong, they’re pure; this is the way nature meant us to be – to be pure again. And this purity needs to come back.”
What can we expect from your talk at PURE 2017?
“I will be just who I am. I am pure! I have no programme, I’m going to be there in my pure form. I’m going to say what’s on my mind, what’s in my heart. Everybody will understand that, because in the end common sense is an experience we all know in the depths of ourselves, we recognise when it’s all bullshit or when it is pure and coming from the heart. We are all pure – we are like clean water inside, only we became alienated that from and perturbed, unclear, confused. Let’s get back to that purity.”
You can catch Wim Hof speaking on the main stage at MATTER, PURE’s un-conference brought to you by Tourism Australia, on 10 September. To find out more or get involved, click here.
Katie Palmer is Editorial Manager for Beyond Luxury Media Ltd.