Often referred to as “The Iceman”, Netherlands-born extreme athlete Wim Hof’s life was changed at age 17 when he felt a sudden urge to jump into the freezing water of the Beatrixpark canal. He became well known for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures and set the Guinness World Record for the farthest swim under ice in 2000.
Before becoming one of the world’s most extreme athletes, Hof had a relatively typical childhood. He was born in Sittard, Limburg in 1959, and was one of 9 children. He had four children with his first wife, Olaya. Wif Hof has spoken openly and honestly about his experience with Olaya. She died by suicide in 1995, which left him alone with four children. In an interview with Goop he discussed what it was like to be by her side throughout her fight with depression. He expressed how badly he wanted to help her, and how badly she wanted to help herself but couldn’t.
It’s a situation not many people have had to go through, and he acknowledges that it is a struggle most cannot understand. After her death, he had to learn to be a single parent while grieving. In the worst of circumstances, he found ways to make it through. One of the most healing things in his life at the time was cold water. With all the chaos and confusion in his life, submerging himself in cold water provided a stillness and a much needed sense of calm.
During that time, he continued to develop his cold water breathing technique, which came about naturally. He has called the cold water his teacher, and he started to notice the benefits of the cold water, breathing techniques, and positive mindset he was employing.
At the time, he had already completed many unbelievable feats, but in the early 2000’s he hit his stride, and his career really took off. Hof set the world record for fastest half marathon barefoot on ice and snow, the world record for the longest time in direct, full-body contact with ice a total of 16 times, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro wearing only shorts and shoes.
The feats he has accomplished amaze and confuse fans and scientists alike. He has been widely studied and written about, and many have questioned his seemingly superhuman ability to endure freezing conditions.
Despite his unique and extraordinary abilities, Hof’s motto is ‘what I am capable of, everybody can learn”. He has developed a method that he uses in his work and teaches called the Wim Hof Method (WHM). He has noted that our modern lifestyles have taken us away from our natural environment, causing our age-old survival mechanisms to no longer be triggered. The WHM helps people reawaken those mechanisms within themselves and reach new heights of what they can accomplish. The method involves three pillars: breathing, cold therapy, and meditation.
The first pillar is breathing, and it’s all about harnessing the previously unrealized potential of your own breath. Hof points out that the way we breath and the amount we breathe create bodily responses. The amount of air we take in has a direct correlation to the amount of energy that is then created in our cells. Through special breathing exertions, Hof is able to keep his body in complete control while in extreme conditions.
The second pillar of the WHM is cold therapy. Hof has definitely been ahead of the curve when it comes to this one, seeing as cryotherapy use is very much on the rise for its countless health benefits. Cold therapy in the WHM takes on many forms, and there are certainly options for those who can’t afford frequent cryotherapy sessions. Hof encourages cold showers, ice baths, and experiencing the cold outdoors.
The third and final pillar of the Wim Hof Method is commitment. This pillar focuses heavily on willpower and self-control. Willpower is essential when it comes to mastering the other pillars of the method, because conscious breathing and cold therapy require so much patience and dedication. Hof has seen many people lose track of their goals, or fall into unhealthy habits and routines. He believes that willpower can be trained and increased by learning to ignore unhealthy thoughts that are hardwired into people.
The WHM employs brain training exercises that help people learn to master their willpower and make better decisions that enable them to remain dedicated to the program and their other goals. This pillar can also be a helpful way to relieve stress and reduce impulsivity.
Hof realizes that it’s likely that not everyone employing his method has the intention of becoming a professional extreme athlete. So for those whose goals are different, there are still many reasons to incorporate the WHM into your life. There are many physical benefits to the method, including improved quality of sleep, more focus, and improved immune response. The WHM breathing techniques have also been documented to reduce inflammatory responses and suppress injected endotoxins. Participants in the method have reported higher energy levels and relief of symptoms caused by autoimmune diseases.
If you’re making plans to swim through ice or you’re just looking for a natural anti-inflammatory, the WHM might be able to help you out.
More information on the method can be found at www.wimhofmethod.com
For an advanced understanding of Wim Hof’s life and work, be sure to check out his book The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential
Weekly inspiration from Wim Hof can be found on his podcast
And if you really want to dive straight into the freezing water, we’d definitely recommend signing up for one of Hof’s many courses https://www.wimhofmethod.com/elearning