Hiking barefoot across glaciers. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts. Staying in a full contact ice bucket for one hour and 52 minutes. If you were to bump into Wim Hof on the street and hear his stories, the phrase crazy old man would quickly come to mind. But once you got past the surface (and maybe did a little Googling), you’d soon realize that Wim Hof’s improbable feats of mind over matter are very real.
Meet the “Iceman,” owner of over 20 Guinness World Records and a “method” that has the potential to enhance how science understands the human mind. You see, Wim Hof is able to do things with his brain that most of us will never even attempt. And for good reason, because to the unskilled, unpracticed soul, what Hof does would surely kill you.
Does this sound like hyperbole? Just try swimming under iced-over bodies of water for any distance and emerging unscathed, without hypothermia. (Actually, maybe don’t.) The 57-year-old Iceman has done exactly that and lived to tell about it. He’s a man who calls the cold “his warm friend.”
It’s kind of amazing — given Hof’s stories — that he’s not a household name. He defies all conventional reason, tackling daredevil feats with a calm we could probably learn from. He’s not the “Most Interesting Man in the World,” but with that job vacancy open, Hof could easily take the torch and run with it across a glacial ice sheet.
“The cold is an absolute doorway to the soul,” says Hof of his secret to survival in extreme conditions. “You become the alchemist of your own chemistry… anybody can do it.”
Score one for the yogis and transcendental meditators of the world.
Wim Hof isn’t urban legend. He’s not even a freak of nature. He’s a man who’s unlocked the power of the human mind in a way that is inspirational at the very least… and at most, might open a revolutionary doorway into how we understand ourselves.
“Depression, fear, anxiety and pain… all unnecessary suffering. The industry says that’s normal and I say that’s sick,” argues Hof, who leads workshops around the world to help people counteract these things and even has an online course. “We take pills, kill the symptoms… but not the cause.”
When it comes to preserving health and well being, Hof has had to channel powerful forces such as sadness (which he calls a “powerful trigger”) to get past major heartbreak in his own life. In 1995, his wife committed suicide and Hof was left with their four children and no one to help pick up the pieces.
“The cold gave me a deeper understanding of how to deal with a broken heart,” confesses Hof. “For that I went back into nature and again started climbing without gear. And I found silence therein. Because you have to go really deep in yourself to learn to trust nature within you. And then you [get] past this emotion. You are able to tap in.”
Hence, the Wim Hof Method — a way of influencing the autonomic nervous and immune response systems through mindfulness and breathing, meaning better control over your “inner nature.” His theory? People take short breaths that are not optimally supplied with oxygen. But with deeper breathing, and better mind control, anything is possible.
“I say just open up any hole you got, but get your breath in. By the nose, by the mouth, by the ass. I don’t care. Just get it in,” begs Hof.
Breathing, it’s as simple as that. But deep and consistent. And mindful. Then, the possibilities are endless… at least, that’s the way it’s been for Hof. He started running in the snow barefoot when he was just a teenager. He then progressed to tackle the aforementioned feats with his lungs, mind control and his feet — including running a half marathon barefoot above the Arctic circle wearing only shorts. And on the flip side, a full marathon in the Namib desert without water. And in sandals.
All well documented… and all incredible. But these days, Wim is way beyond the “wow” factor. He wants to bring it back to science. “Why I teach this method is because there is so much unnecessary suffering in the world… with our technology, we can shoot people to the moon and drive without a chauffeur, but we cannot become happy, strong, and healthy… Hey, I know the way,” Hof confidently concludes.
Whether you can afford not to believe him, well, that’s up to you.