He is internationally renowned for his countless ice endeavors that range from being up to his neck in a cilinder filled with ice cubes for over 90 minutes, swimming a distance of 50 meters under polar ice, running a marathon barefoot to climbing the Kilimanjaro in nothing more than a pair of shorts. It gained him worldwide fame and his nickname: The Iceman.
The Iceman, or Wim Hof, has defied all logic with his cold meditation techniques for many decades now. What first started out as a way to try to silence his inner turmoil, lead him on a path that made him break many ice records worldwide. These eventually resulted in a scientific journey to prove that his meditation and cold technique does influence the autonomic nervous system and consequently the immune system.
UMC St Radboud
And the idea that humans can influence the autonomic nervous system was long considered to be impossible. Wim cooperated with the UMC St Radboud Nijmegen in a cold physiological experiment and baffled scientists with his body’s response to the cold. He stood in a cylinder filled with 700 kg ice cubes. An untrained person would likely die from hypothermia but Wim’s body temperature remained constantly around 37 degrees Celsius. The researchers wanted to find out why Wim can control his body so much better than other people. It delivered a scientific breakthrough that might shed new light on how to possibly prevent disease and improve one’s health. And Wim believes anyone can achieve that with the right training and exercises.
The man behind the person
When we sit down with Wim, we feel an almost child like energy radiating off him; He can hardly sit still and alternates between talking and doing a one hand stand on the side of a chair or 20 push ups in the hallway. But once you get him talking about his meditation techniques a different persona emerges. Focused and in control. We’re intrigued. Who is the man behind all the media attention? What defines him and what drives him to pursue this quest?
Get up close and personal with the man who has made it a mission to prove that you can strengthen your inner nature with a simple meditation technique he developed.
Who is Wim Hof?
I grew up in a working class environment in Limburg, the South of the Netherlands in a family of nine children. My birth was quite traumatic. After having my brother, the birth did not progress as should. The doctors feared for my life and prepared my mother for the worst. While waiting to be transferred to the OR my mother delivered me in the freezing hallway of the hospital. I can’t shake the belief that this connects to the cold that runs like a red thread through my life.
Your method is closely related to ancient Asian practices and meditation. Have you always been interested in spirituality?
I have a brother who is 5 years older than me. He went to India when I was young and when he came back he would often play Buddhist music. That music somehow triggered something in me, it enabled me to find a silent focus. That’s when I started reading books on buddhism, yoga and spirituality and I taught myself their teachings.
Learning the teachings of ancient wisdom are often sought by those who experience psychological turmoil. Was that the same for you?
You have to know that from an early age onwards, I have always felt this unrest and agitation deeply rooted inside me. When I was 18 I went to Delhi, India where I saw a little man by the side of the road slowly rolling sticks from spices and herbs. The utter calm and peace he radiated stopped me in my tracks, I found that deeply impressive, that peacefulness was what I wanted to feel. Twenty years later when I was in my forty’s I was in Tibet to climb the mount Everest and I had a similar experience when I saw local people picking up Yak droppings with that same focus and serenity. I did not recognize that from the life I had been living here in the west. I literally craved that inner peace.
Does that mean you haven’t found that peace at some point in those 20 years?
I think I have been trying to find that peace all my life. My wife, the mother of 4 of my children, who I loved deeply, was severely depressed and at times psychotic. This had a tremendous and burdening impact on all of us. It is so tragic for all people involved and it is so sad not to be able to help someone overcome that horrible illness. Her life ended dramatically when she saw no other way out than to commit suicide. No, that time in between was about survival. Peace came only later in my life. I think this experience has been my karma. To live through this ordeal, learn from it and help others because I believe that my method can also help people with depression.
Can you explain that?
I believe that our current lifestyle contributes to many forms -not all- of depression. We don’t focus so much on our inner needs any more, are out of touch with nature. Like the Romans said: Mens sana in corpore sano. A healthy mind in a healthy body. The two are closely connected. By raising the O2 level in the body you will improve its overall health. This also helps rebalance the production of specific hormones and processes in the brain, which is often disrupted with depression.
One day you walked by a frozen pond and felt this urge to submerge yourself in the cold water. Why?
I have always been drawn to the cold. As a child I already loved running barefoot in the snow. I was walking through the park one day, I think I was 18, stripped down to my underwear and went in. The shock causes your breath to falter involuntarily. You start breathing very deep without realising it. That moment gave me the key to the depth in myself. It is a feeling; I felt a brief moment of peace. I continued these breathing techniques on a daily basis, it made me feel better, gave me more focus and it became a lifestyle, my second nature. At first to push my body and mind beyond its limits, later to prove that the adagio mind over body is true. We can do so much more than we realize, we only have to learn to tap into its source.
Can you tell us how your method works?
Due to our lifestyle today we are far removed from our natural bodily condition. We breathe much more shallow which means that our body is not optimally supplied with oxygen. You could say that my method causes you to hyperventilate by supplying the body with extra oxygen. You achieve this by breathing very deeply in and out in a specific rhythm. In short it is a controlled form of hyperventilation to raise your adrenaline levels. The whole process is a unique form of meditation I developed myself.
So why do you need to start the cold therapy and sit in ice then?
The shock of the cold causes you to breathe much deeper, spiking an adrenaline rush, stimulating blood circulation and giving you more oxygen. It is a way to get in touch with that altered breathing pattern, which provides incredible strength. Compare it to a mother who sees her child lying under a car. The adrenaline empowers your body to do much more than you ever thought it was capable of or possible. When you can control your breathing in the cold, or even hold your breath for up to 4 minutes you can control the release of adrenaline which can suppresses the respons of your immune system. And that is how you can influence your innate immune response.
Is your method for everyone?
With proper training anyone can do this. I have trained with people who had heart conditions, diabetes, rheuma and other ailments. I can’t state that it will remedy illness, but I believe it can help. I will never advice people to forsake proper medical care. On the contrary. Use my method as an addition to help improve symptoms and support your body’s natural healing system. It can’t harm and I’ve experienced first hand that it does a lot of good for many people.
Can you give us an example?
In 20014 we climbed the Kilimanjaro with 26 people. The challenge was reaching the top within 48 hours. An impossible feat, it was said. But 24 people in the group reached their goal. What made the result of this expedition even more remarkable is that some people in this group were battling illnesses like cancer, MS or rheuma.
Scientist, both in Europe and the US, have been conducting research into how your method affects the body. What were the results?
At first researchers thought I was an oddity, a rarity, maybe even a circus act. They now witnessed first hand that my physiology in cold temperatures was different than that from other people. More research was conducted to establish wether this was due to my meditation techniques with 2 different groups: group A was trained by me, group B, the control group was untrained. Group A showed much higher adrenaline levels and greater control over heart rate, bloodpressure and body temperature. That proved that we are on to something big here and that one can influence the autonomic nervous system, thereby actively regulating the cardiovascular system and thermoregulation. At another occasion my immune response was tested by injecting me with a specific toxin. It should have gone into override but it was suppressed. I did not get the flu symptoms you should normally get.
You must love the cold to be able to do what you do. Do you always shower cold like you tell people to do?
I am not sure if I love the cold, I have grown to appreciate it. Maybe it is my way of processing my traumas, to push my own limits and when I reach them to push even harder. And don’t think that I never take a warm shower, I enjoy that very much. But I hardly ever wear a coat.
Do you ever get the flu or fall ill otherwise?
No I don’t really. The last time I fell ill was when we returned from the Kilimanjaro trip. I gave my all because on trips like this I feel very responsible for everyone and I want it to all go well. But I had drained myself and ended up with upset intestines. But as soon as I started my breathing techniques again, it subdued. You should actually breathe deep and conscious, every day.
You have 5 children. Are they ice fanatics?
They have all taken the famous ice bath and tried my techniques, but only sporadic and I am not a father that pushes his kids into doing things. They have their own path in life, their own decisions to make. I love them and that is the only important thing in my opinion.
Are you religious?
No, but I believe in the goodness of humanity.
When is your journey fulfilled? You have scientific proof now, is that enough?
It is my purpose to find complete and utter peace within myself. I am not there yet although I am on the right way. And as long as I see success and progress for other people because of my technique I feel there is meaning in my journey. The joy and happiness I see in them because they feel better and they improve, gives relief to my soul. It is my redemption for the powerlessness and guilt I felt when I couldn’t help my wife.
Do you have daily rituals? And what do they offer you?
Breathing is my daily ritual. If I have the time in between workshops, expeditions, research and reading, I can easily sit down for an hour and fall into the rhythm of my breathing. I deeply enjoy that form of meditation. It gives me a moment of quiet and focus and it is the motor to good health.
What can people do to get in touch with your technique?
They can follow a workshop or purchase our online video which explains exactly how my technique works. All you have to do is visit the WEBSITE WIM HOF: