The Iceman by Christina Libuda | 3rd December, 2021 | Personalities
The intense cold and a special breathing technique are the foundation of Wim Hof’s world-famous healing method. Now Hollywood is turning this extreme athlete’s life into a movie.
He jumped into ice-cold water for the first time when he was 17. Today, Wim Hof, 62, can stay in for two hours. What sounds incredible is something that any of us can learn to do.
Mr. Hof how did you discover your love of freezing temperatures?
I have always felt more drawn to the cold than to warmth. When I was 17, I once stood at the edge of a lake in winter. Pieces of ice were floating on the water and I felt the urge to jump in. So I did. It felt like meeting the love of my life for the first time – I was hooked. That was 45 years ago and the connection is strong to this day. The cold allows us to unleash unexpected physical power beyond our comfort zone.
How exactly does that work?
The cold is a natural stressor. We train our minds by taking it on. Cold showers strengthen the cardiovascular and immune systems. You become more resistant, not just to the cold itself, but to viruses, bacteria and workplace stress. I always say: “The cold is my warm friend.”
Based on your breathing technique, you developed the Wim Hof method: targeted exercises for strengthening the immune system.
With the aid of my technique, I was able to set world records as “The Iceman,” such as completing the barefoot half-marathon, in shorts at temperatures below freezing, in two hours and 16 minutes. Or taking the longest ice bath, at one hour and 53 minutes. When I first started talking about my method, people thought I was crazy. Until 2011, when a study by the Radboud University in Nijmegen showed that by using my breathing technique I was able to actively influence my nervous system. This means I can keep my body temperature constant or fight off inflammations. The study finally proved that my method works. There are millions of people dying of inflammation-related diseases every year, so my mission was clear. I want to help people heal themselves. Today my team offer seminars around the world, and you can also practice the method using my app.
Is your method only for those who are already sick?
No, anyone can use it. It’s an important investment in our own health and brings us closer to ourselves.
Your method is based on three elements. What are they?
The cold, breathing and the right mindset. A 30-second cold shower a day lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health. Oxygen and nutrient levels in the blood increase. The type of breathing technique we have developed is similar to hyperventilation, but you take deep and controlled breaths in and out. After 30 such breaths, the body is largely cleared of carbon dioxide. Suddenly you don’t feel the need to breathe anymore. Holding your breath for several minutes is no longer a problem. More blood is pumped into the heart and the body releases adrenaline to levels higher than a first-time bungee jumper would experience. Add to that the power of our thoughts. Each of us is capable of making our bodies stronger by force of will. Reclaiming our self-control makes us strong. This is how I would like to help people around the world get and stay healthy – and happy.
In 1995, your first wife took her own life. To what extent has this tragedy inf luenced your path since then?
I have never felt a deeper emotional darkness than after my wife’s suicide. The loss taught me to endure extreme situations by taking conscious control of myself. She is the mother of my first four children, with whom I developed the business model around my method and built the company. Together, we found strength in the tragedy.
Global stars like Jim Carrey, Harrison Ford and Liam Hemsworth swear by your method.
That strokes my ego, but my mission is much broader than that. Today, roughly 100 million people know the Wim Hof method and that number is set to rise. I have just signed a contract for a series with the BBC (Editor’s note: correct as of September 2021). It will feature me healing people who have been suffering from autoimmune diseases, depression or burnout for years, in the space of just four days. There’s even a Hollywood movie about my life in the works, with Joseph Fiennes playing the lead role.
Do you still feel the cold when it’s freezing?
Of course, but I’ve learned to enjoy it.