A couple Sunday’s ago I decided to take part in a fundamentals course for the Wim Hof Method. The itinerary was comprised of breathing techniques, cold therapy, and a selection of lectures by a sports chiro, immunologist, and of course, Wim Hof.
So who is this guy anyways? Tim Ferris gives a great summary (be sure to check out his podcast with Wim).
“Wim Hof is a Dutch world record holder, adventurer and daredevil, commonly nicknamed “The Iceman" for his ability to withstand extreme cold. He is the creator of the Wim Hof Method and holds more than 20 world records. Wim is an outlier of outliers, as he routinely asks scientists to scrutinize and validate his feats. Here are just a few examples: In 2007, he climbed past the “death zone" altitude on Mount Everest (~7,500 meters) wearing nothing but shorts. In 2009, Hof completed a full marathon above the polar circle in Finland, in temperatures close to −20 °C (−4 °F). Dressed in nothing but shorts, Hof finished in 5 hours and 25 minutes. Hof holds the current Guinness World Record for the longest ice bath, now set at 1 hour 53 minutes and 12 seconds. But it’s not just cold. In 2011, he ran a full marathon in the Namib Desert without water. The run was performed under the supervision of Dr. Thijs Eijsvogels. He can also run at altitude without suffering from altitude sickness. In the same year, he was injected with toxins under doctor supervision and demonstrated that he could effectively control his autonomic immune response. Wim was able to raise his cortisol levels and lower his blood concentrations of cytokines (inflammatory mediators) using solely his meditation and prep techniques. Not only this, but he was able to train others to achieve the same effect… with only 4 days of training.”
With any course, I’m typically there way before registration begins. It all started around 11:30am, so sure enough I putzed around UBC from 9 til then. With any growing movement you’ll find a flock of followers. I began to notice the attendees roll through the doors of the student nest building. I could tell I was going to bump shoulders with a handful of yogis, full on their recent method kool-aid kick. Sure enough I was the only one who didn’t bring a yoga mat (I don’t even get the whole 3mm foam, like, just sit on the ground champ). I’m always wary of a church like following, but at some point I just buy-in and roll with it (except for the mat). Immerse yourself and take with you what you will. You don't have to find inner peace, but don't be the one guy not dancing. To feel is to understand.
Wim was a vibrant character, full of passion, with a great vision. Go deep, tap into your physiology, influence gene expression, control your immune system, and rid yourself of the bullshit. The science is there, now breathe motherf@#$er. Together we can change health care from the ground up, transform how we mitigate chronic stress, and increase our performance. He was also wearing graphic swim trunks and a loose white t-shirt. This guy is a dude. You can't not love him.
Dr. Trisha Smith was up next and ran over the core elements of the method and implementation. She spoke to some powerful points in her life and appropriate preparation before beginning the method. She touch on the 3 pillars of the method: breathing techniques, cold therapy, and commitment. I’ve noticed her before working with one the lead instructors of Functional Range Systems, Hunter Cook, and I always got love for a fellow FRCms. We ran through some spinal and rib prep before the breathing practice. What followed was a group of about 100 or so people, breathing every last molecule of available oxygen in the room. When you start chasing the deep breathes, some drug-like experiences are often noted. You may be familiar with this should you attend my mobility class. I’ve practiced this power breathing method for about 6 months and swear by it. It’s always great to get some hands on coaching and pick the brains of those well versed. And who doesn’t love cardiovascular training without all that running around.
After a lunch break we we listened to Prof. Dr. Pierre Capel. He’s worked in medical research for about 40 years and has been a key contributor to mapping out the biochemical science behind the method. We can all attest to the power of placebo and just feeling good after something, but some scientific mapping can truly increase the reach of a method. I always appreciate an opportunity to nerd-out and back up the walk with talk.
At this point it was about 5pm and we all new what was upon us. The suspense built through the entire day, and we knew it was time for some cold therapy. In particular, it was time for an ice bath. Sure enough I was apart of the final group. I stood for about 20 minutes in the ‘horse stance’ thrusting my arms back and forth shouting “hoo, ha, hoo, ha, hoo, ha”. I stripped down to my swim shorts and walked down the stairs, and stopped just outside of the student nest building. It was about 1 degree celsius, with a nice windchill. Then, with about 8 other people, I climbed into an inflatable pool up to my neck filled with cold water and buckets of ice. After about 2 minutes of breathing through the joy of an ice bath, we climbed out. I stood around outside for about 15 minutes afterwards in my shopping wet trunks. Then I made my way back upstairs for some Q&A.
I managed to step into and out of my comfort zone that day. Now begins the process of interpreting the knowledge presented and finding an effective method for implementation. This was a great reminder of how much we can truly influence and change our physiology. Do not just blindly follow a method. Take the time to ask the questions and understand the why. Know the risks with any venture. When you do decide to commit, commit fully. I just may continue down the instructor path; at some point I'd venture to Colorado for their master instructor course, basically consisting breathing, hikes in the snow, and swims through frozen lakes, all in your shorts. Or not.
We won’t be climbing into ice baths during the Mobility Class, anytime soon, but consider how much time you spend at room temperature. Your body was designed to adapt. Holler at me if you have any questions.
Emile Maxwell Connaughton