Breaking the Ice with Wim Hof

Wim Hof’s extraordinary ability to endure extreme cold earned him the nickname of ‘The Iceman’, but his breathing techniques can be used for much more than frozen dips
One winter’s day in 1979, a 20-year-old Wim Hof was walking through Beatrixpark in Amsterdam when a strange idea came over him. “I was looking at the water in the canal. There was a thin layer of ice on the top,” he recalls. “I felt this irrational attraction, like: let me go in!” And so he did. He took off his clothes and plunged his entire body into the freezing water. “The rush was great. I felt really powerful and reconnected with my body. I felt: this is it!” From then onwards, Wim took a dip in the same canal every day until, six months later, he was able to withstand five to seven minutes of what anyone else would probably describe as torture.
Wim Hof meditating on an ice rock

Wim meditating on an ice rock

It was the start of a journey that would turn him into ‘The Iceman’: a globally renowned daredevil and a bona fide medical marvel. Since then, Wim has set a world record by remaining immersed in ice for almost two hours, completed a marathon in the Namib Desert without water and climbed Mount Everest in just his shorts. And he did these things—and many other mind-boggling feats besides—by controlling his own body temperature through breathing exercises he believes can unlock the evolutionary potential of the human body. “The impact of severe cold makes you aware of your deeper physiology,” he explains. “This is something we have lost in modern life. But we can rediscover it with practice.”

Of all Wim’s stunts, it was one in which he almost lost his life that he says taught him the most. Stood on a frozen lake in Pello, Finland, just miles from the Arctic Circle, his task was to swim 180 feet under the ice, down one hole and out of the other. You can watch the eventual successful attempt on YouTube: there’s Wim, blue-eyed and thick-bearded, a man wearing nothing but swimming trunks, surrounded by a film crew in sensible thick coats. A few breathing exercises and in he goes, launching into an elegant breaststroke under the ice before emerging out of the other end. But the first time he tried, he forgot something.

“I lost track of the way because I had no goggles on,” he says. Wim’s eyes began to freeze over until, trapped beneath the frozen lake, he went blind. “But you know what? Because I did the breathing so thoroughly before going in the ice, I still had the right chemistry in my body, even though I didn’t have any oxygen anymore,” he says. “I never felt the agony of drowning. I realized in that moment I had conquered the fear of death. And then a diver took me back by my ankles!” The next day, Wim returned with protection for his eyes and set a new World Record.

Wim Hof swimming in icy waters

Wim swimming in icy waters

You may be asking yourself, reasonably, what exactly the point of all this is. This is where The Iceman’s story gets even more remarkable. In a test carried out in 2013, Wim and devotees of his method were injected with bacteria that normally induces violent sickness. The participants were able to modulate their immune system’s response and fight the attack in a way that baffled observing scientists.
“No one had been able to do this before,” Wim explains. “So these breathing techniques, though very simple, go deep.” His belief is that, far from just enabling you to take a dip in a frozen lake, his form of meditation can help fight illness and even depression. “I am changing books in universities all over the world,” he says. “And I have a mission: to free this world of disease and unnecessary pain.”

Before that though, there’s time for at least one more stunt. “You know, the daredevil is in my blood,” he laughs. “So I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro in 24 hours in my shorts. And I’m going to take people like David Beckham and Jim Carrey with me. We’re in talks to make it happen right now!”

You’d be a fool to bet against him.

Wim Hof warming up through t’ai chi

Wim warming up through t’ai chi

The Iceman’s three tips for applying his method to everyday life.

Breath consciously and deeper. This will help you maintain the right alkalinity in the body.

Every day, after your hot shower, take a cold one for one minute. The whole vascular system will be stimulated. A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away!

Believe you are the master of your own mood and emotions. That’s the natural state of our being: happy, strong and healthy.


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