The iceman teaches people all over the world to heal by tapping into colder temperatures.
The thoughts that run through your head before you meet “The Iceman” are complex. Am I ready for this intensity? Will he know that I still hate cold showers despite 10-plus weeks experiencing his course? How should I speak to someone with superhero powers? Will I have intelligent questions about the science? Doubt and insecurity rush in.
“The Iceman” is Wim Hof. He is a Dutchman, a father, a teacher and a world-record holder, adventurer and daredevil, who received his nickname for his ability to withstand extreme experiences in nature — including exposure to cold and heat, and lack of oxygen. He holds 20 world records — one for the longest ice bath — and has stayed immersed in ice for as long as one hour, 52 minutes and 42 seconds. A 2014 scientific publication of the “Wim Hof Method” explores his use of cold exposure during training, exposure to bacterial endotoxin, breathing techniques and meditation.
Of course, I have no reason to be concerned about the interview. At every interaction with the Wim Hof community, you feel only inclusiveness, as if its members want to embrace you and share an awesome secret with you. In fact, the workshops and attendees are now a worldwide collective, and you can find “Hoffers” everywhere who are eager to connect, practice and share a meal, an ice bath and stories of their journeys.
On the day of my interview with The Iceman, our crew arrives early in the morning, and Hof has just landed and made his way from the airport. He enthusiastically says hello, then dashes off to take a quick shower — presumably a cold one — before we begin filming the interview. The people running Hof’s business are his family and friends, and they greet us as if we already belong. Hof settles in, and we choose a position that offers a view of the incredible San Francisco sky just as a storm is brewing. It’s unusual for this time of year, but fitting that nature has joined to bring Hof’s ideas to life.
Who is The Iceman?
Hof introduces himself on camera: “Yes. Okay. I’m Wim Hof, and they call me The Iceman. They gave me this name because I do all kinds of feats in extreme cold-weather conditions. I love to expose my body to cold, hard nature, because it brings about the strength from the inside, equalizing that impact from outside, and it makes me feel alive. The cold nature woke me up. I was an ordinary guy with children and had a broken heart. Nature healed me. It is hard to describe, but the emptiness inside gave way to warmth.”
He continues, “Mother Nature is where I found a profound presence of myself — the physiology, what God really meant to it, you know, a divine force called life itself. [As a result] of all these experiences in nature, I found keys. They are not mine. They [belong to] Mother Nature. She gave them to me, she is my teacher, and I brought them to scientific laboratory settings, [for] research to verify.”
The science behind the man
Hof insists, “I am not a special human with extraordinary powers.” He’s taught hundreds of other people to do what he does, and scientists continue to study his methodologies to better understand their impact on physiology. Their research shows that he is able to tap into the autonomic nervous system, which was believed to be beyond conscious control.
His extraordinary feats prompt many people to regard Hof as a guru, something he resists, because everyone has the capability to practice what he does. He explains that although we’re built to feel cold, heat and differences in pressure, we have devised means to protect ourselves from those changes. As a consequence, “humans have developed a different attitude towards nature, and we actually forgot how to tap our inner power.”
He explains, “Because we wear clothes and control the temperatures at home and work, we have changed the stimulation on our body, [and] thus the old mechanisms related to survive and function. As these deeper physiological layers are not stimulated anymore, we have become weak and unfamiliar with them, and our bodies grow weak, and we are no longer in touch with our inner power.”
By awakening the physiological processes associated with survival, Hof says we can rekindle that inner fire and heal ourselves. Hof’s practice is called Inner Fire, and comprises specific meditation insights, a unique breathing technique and exposure to progressively colder and colder temperatures. He says the benefits have been verified through research, and they include deeper sleep, reduced inflammation, better immune system function, increased energy levels, enhanced creativity, reduced stress levels, improved mood, faster recovery, elevated metabolism and enhanced athletic performance.
He explains the components of the Inner Fire practice.
01 Mental conditioning. It’s a prerequisite to the breath work and cold immersion components of the practice: “If you learn how to control your mind, anything is possible.” Hof says he has found a way to break the endless loop of mental stress that comes with daily living. “Through thought, we can go into the brain, change the chemistry, and suddenly you’ll find yourself the way nature meant you to be.” That is, capable of tranquility “in any situation.”
Hof points out that consciousness “simply consists of signals,” and that that neurological activity can be directed to influence cellular activity, not only in response to temperature, but even to control the immune system. From Hof’s perspective, the most significant aspect of his method is that we can “talk to” our bodies to control immune response and heal ourselves from within.
02 Breathing. Hof’s method comes from his exposure to cold. In contrast to the shallow breathing that he says is typical of modern life and that results in poor health and low energy, he had to learn to breathe in a way that would create more oxygen in the body. “As a result, the body becomes more alkaline, and suddenly, oxygen levels increase, and there is increased energy.”
Hof explains that the breathing technique “requires learning how to bring back the right blood flow into all the parts of the brain, which helps to change [your] chemistry within a couple of minutes.” In addition to increased energy, the change in chemistry through conscious breathing techniques has the effect of releasing toxins, relieving stress and tension and strengthening the immune system.
03 Cold immersion. From Hof’s perspective, our tendency to seek comfort — which is easy to find, for most of us — has weakened our bodies’ ability to respond to stressors, has diminished our immune response and reduced our ability to keep inflammation in check and endorphins (“feel-good” chemicals) circulating.
Regular and incremental exposure to cold, Hof explains, effectively improves blood flow, easing the stress on the heart to pump blood, and delivers more oxygen to cells. Hof’s recommendation for a cold immersion practice is simply to turn the end of your hot shower into a cold one. “Just half a minute, a minute, and it will condition your vascular system very rapidly, and then you feel energized. Build up to longer showers and colder temperatures over time.”
Everyone can practice
Hof describes his Inner Fire practice as one that anyone can do — and not because he believes that everyone has the willpower and just needs to find it. He says, “It’s about trust. It’s about confidence. It’s about believing in yourself again,” adding, “We have all that intelligence inside.” We just need to love and take care of ourselves to awaken it.
Wim Hof offers guidance for those who are interested in tapping their inner fire. [Editor’s note: The Wim Hof Method breathing exercise has a profound effect on your physiology and should be practiced as designed. Consult a medical practitioner for health advice or before beginning any new physical practice. Read Hof’s cautionary advice for a safe practice here.
01 Keep it simple. Hof suggests starting with the basics of his practice: breathing, stretching and cold showers. “Feeling is understanding,” he says, and if you feel a lot better as you practice, you’ll be motivated to stick with it.
02 Experiment more. Hof anticipates that the initial practice will prompt questions and some resistance as we second-guess the simplicity of the method. His 10-week program provides more insight and opportunity to deepen the practice and the experience.
03 Expand the practice to life. With experience comes awareness and curiosity about how that awareness can apply to the rest of your life. “Suddenly you notice and feel,” Hof says. “The trust is back again. The self-awareness is awake. I’m the one to make the choices. I’m the one to choose for love, for life — and express myself.”
Find out more about Wim HofRead and the science behind his method . Hof offers free instructions on how to perform the method and also offers a 10-week course on his website that teaches the method in detail.