Tap into the power of breathing and exposure to the cold with an exclusive retreat in Poland with the IceMan himself; Wim Hof.
But how does his method really work?
A 60-year bearded man from the Netherlands ascends Mount Kilimanjaro in nothing more than a pair of shorts; his feet bare, his torso shirtless. The sub-zero temperatures are no match for his mind power and sheer determination; he doesn’t even feel the cold.
Wim Hof, otherwise known as The Ice Man, is no stranger to pushing his body to the extreme and enduring temperatures one normally only braces wearing down-puffer jackets, gloves and beanies.
In fact, he has held 26 world records for his undertakings with ice and freezing temperatures, including the longest ice bath (1 hour, 52 minutes and 42 seconds).
Further records include the fastest half marathon run while barefoot on ice (2 hours, 16 minutes, 34 seconds) and the farthest swim under ice (57.5 metres).
It was his wife’s battle with depression that ended in her taking her own life in 1995, that led him to adopt breathing techniques and meditation while dealing with extreme temperatures as a way of coping.
He now says that his technique, known as the Wim Hof Method (WHM), can cure or alleviate symptoms of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as other illnesses such as MS, arthritis, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety and bipolar disorder, among others. It’s a big claim, but something that Hof says arises from focusing within.
“We do not need to be sick. We do not need to be depressed. We have just got to find our way back inside our inner power and be the way nature meant us to be,” he told Mpora.
The WIM HOF method uses a combination of cold therapy, breathing and commitment.
According to their website, immersing oneself in the cold can provide an array of benefits; including “the build-up of brown adipose tissue and resultant fat loss”, reduced inflammation which can help improve the immune system, improvement of sleeping quality and balancing hormone levels.
Throughout exposure to the cold, breathing is pivotal to the WIM HOF method. By taking quick, sharp breathes in, and not releasing much oxygen in the process, the body is essentially hyperventilating.
Doing so saturates the blood with oxygen; and as a result, the heart rate, adrenaline and blood alkalinity levels are all increased. It is also about consciously thinking about every breath the body is taking, and what is happening inside during the process.
“If you oxygenize the body the way we do it, the oxygen gets into the tissue. [Regular] breathing doesn’t do that,” Hof told Discover Magazine.
“What happens in the brain stem, the brain says, ‘There is no oxygen anymore.’ Then it triggers adrenaline to shoot out throughout the body. Adrenaline is for survival, but this time it is completely controlled … the adrenaline shoots out throughout the body and resets it to the best functionality.”
The third pillar of the method is Commitment; putting the exposure to the cold and breathing techniques together, and committing to the patience and dedication that is required to reach full potential.
The Science Behind it All
But how and why can the body withstand such cold temperatures? And what are the benefits? A 2018 study conducted by the Wayne State University School of Medicine analysed Hof’s brain using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine while his body was submerged in cold ice water.
Researchers found that Hof had successfully tapped into the psychological system and activated an internal painkiller function, his mind inducing an artificial stress response. Instead of feeling cold, this allows him to feel euphoric while under freezing distress.
As to the claims that it cures illness; more research has to be done.
Try the method yourself in Poland with Hof
Wim Hof himself offers annual expeditions where one can be exposed firsthand to his teachings. For five days, 100 guests, separated into groups of 20-30 will descend into Przesieka, Poland, to undergo extensive expert training in the Wim Hof Method.
Mornings start with an extensive, deep breathing session, while afternoons are spent exploring the icy Polish landscape of rivers and hillsides, with outdoor activities that expose one to the cold.
Expect minimal clothing here; bare feet and bare torsos are customary as one swims through icy waters, practices breathing sitting on snow-covered rocks and hikes up mountains.
According to the website, “The Iceman keeps a watchful eye as he moves between the groups, spotting those who need an extra boost and sprinkling them with a dose of magic Wimness.”
Additionally, evenings offer a chance to reflect on newfound practices, with Hof often holding seminars detailing the implications and potential of his method.
The “retreat” culminates in climbing one of the peaks in the Sudeten mountain range, where the skills learnt in the previous days on tackling the cold are put to the test.
Prices for the 6 day expedition are $3579 AUD and include accommodation, guides and teachings.
Can’t make it to Poland? Wim offers a 10 week online course that details the fundamentals of his method. Priced at $403 AUD for 44 online lessons.