The “Iceman”….

Wim Hof is known as the “Iceman”. He holds world records for cold immersion and has climbed mountaintops wearing only shorts. He claims to be able to control his immune system and has backed this up with scientific tests. Specifically, being injected with an endotoxin under lab conditions. He and 12 of his students were able to control their bodies reaction to this endotoxin and surprisingly Wim and his students had very little biological reaction when compared to the control.

Vice made a short documentary about the Iceman, about his methods and background. To keep this post short, I’ll link to that Vice documentary here.

Our workshop was organised by an instructor who has trained personally with Wim Hof and is accredited to run such workshops. Link to the facebook page here.

Thoughts and expectations, before the workshop.

Straight off the plane and swooped into a van, I’ve been up since 4 am to catch my flight. It’s now 8.45 am and we’re off.

Driving down a quite Mallorca highway in a van full of anticipation, no one really knowing what exactly we were in for. All we knew was breathing, ice baths and something about a teepee. As we pulled up the driveway of a massive Spanish countryside property, the largest peacock I have ever seen greeted us, more accurately blocked us, in the driveway. The peacock then proudly displayed its beautiful tail. It seemed to slowly escort us up the driveway, keeping its tail at full mast, in all its glory.  We hadn’t stepped a foot out of the van and we were already, blown away!

The actual peacock that escorted us!

For this Wim Hof workshop, I was with a small group of guys who seemed to share a similar greenness when it comes to focused breathing techniques, although it appeared I was perhaps one of the greenest. I’ve had very little experience with breathing techniques, except for a small amount of meditation, where you simply focus on your breathing. This usually led to me falling asleep, I was clearly doing something wrong.

The cold I know.

The cold, however, I’m well aware of from my sporting days. Playing a contact sport, ice baths were all the rage with coaches and trainers alike, for post-game recovery. I recall trying my best to avoid them, although the trainer eventually found the shirkers. After some negotiating (more like begging) we were usually allowed to just go waist deep for a minute, a couple of times. It’s safe to say, most of us dreaded the cold water, and would have gladly not gone in. The 2 or 3 rounds of 1 minute felt like forever and the cold most definitely dominated over most of us.  There have been some articles circulating online about how cold water immersion is a waste of time for sports recovery. Link here. I wish these articles existed some years back, as to have some evidence to present our trainers.

 

During the workshop.

We started with the breathing technique, It was fairly simple and intuitive. Breathing deeply and intently focusing on the inhale, trying our best to “fill your lungs like a balloon”. We started with 3 rounds of 30 deep controlled breaths, making an effort to inhale as deep as possible and to exhale in a manner that felt normal. Inhaling deeply seemed to be the important point. On the last breath, we were told to exhale most but not all of the air and hold this as long as we could. Then, once we felt like we had to inhale, to hold this new inhaled breath as long as we could.

Then the cycle started again. We did this 4 rounds, to start with.

We then shared our individual experiences with the group. Not one person had a negative thing to say. The experience seemed to range from having a calming meditative effect to numbing of limbs with a feeling of euphoria.  Personally, I was lower down on that spectrum. Even though my experience seemed more subtle than some of the others, it was deeply calming and relaxing. I had messed around with some meditation apps and the like before and this was by far my most notable meditative experience, albeit small compared to some of the others.

We had a break and ate some lunch. Maybe it was all in my head but the food seemed to taste extra good.

 

Going deep….  

(Video link here..)

The next round of breathing we were told to go as deep as we can and play around with the technique a little bit. Try and push the breath holding a little more, and to even incorporate some pushups, planking, or simply contracting our muscles while holding the exhaled 30th breath. There can be a small risk of fainting, so exercises close to the ground are best. 

This next session is where things really took off (for some).

We ended up doing the same technique as described earlier, but with the added exercise or muscle tension (if we felt like it) for around 45 minutes. This, in it of itself, was strange. It didn’t really feel like 45 minutes to anyone. More like 20mins.

The effects were again in a range, depending on the individual.

One end had a decent meditative experience, with some light body tingling and a strong sense of claim. Those down this end of the range got so relaxed they drifted off to sleep or completely forgot to continue with the technique for brief moments. Instead just lying there in a state of claim and clear mind.

I was again in this group, it was a pleasurable experience, and most definitely worth it. As I said earlier, more common mediation techniques usually have me falling completely asleep. With the Wim Hof technique I was more energized and falling completely asleep was not going to happen (for me).

An enjoyable seizure?

At the other end of the range, to use our instructor’s words, “they went deep”. These guys had some pretty extreme body shaking. Which almost looked liked, for lack of a better word, a seizure. Don’t take the word seizure the wrong way. Those that experienced this said they could control the shaking if they wanted to, but preferred to lose themselves in it, because it felt so good. A pleasurable euphoric seizure is indeed strange and was a lot more than what I expected to happen.

I regret not taking a break from my own experience to quickly take a look around the room, as one of the boys did. He described it as a madhouse, with some doing pushups and squats and others shaking and thrashing about, it would have looked quite the spectacle.

It’s hard to convey that amongst the chaos there was absolute control, anyone could have stopped at any point in time. It’s not like a drug was taken and you must ride the experience out, it was all self-inflicted. Therefore, you must assume that all the shaking and thrashing was enjoyable because this could easily be stopped by the individual. As I said earlier, I didn’t have this reaction, but kind of wish I did.  After the 45mins was up, I observed one of the guys who arguably went the deepest. The following is my best attempt to describe the absolute bliss he was in..

 

He went the deepest.

As my friend exited the yoga/sunroom, that we all were in. He could barely walk straight, and he had this grin on his face like the dentist left the laughing gas on for too long. Laughing gas is actually a good analogy here because he couldn’t contain his giggling.

We looked each other in the eyes, to telepathically acknowledge the weirdness of the whole thing. One of those moments where a second of eye contact, is clearer than any conversation could be.

I too was feeling some euphoria and felt like my vision improved, like everything was clearer. Now I realised, my friend was deeper in the experience than I had originally thought. He walked off into the direction of the peacock. Yes, there was a number of free-ranging peacocks on the property. Now, I have no doubt the presence of peacocks roaming around like they owned the place, could only add to the giggly joy, but those beautiful peacocks couldn’t explain his nirvana.

 

Rolling around on the grass giggling.

We were told after the 45mins of breathing to wonder off alone for 10-15 mins and to not speak to anyone for this time. To allow each individual to experience their own I guess, “experience”. So my friend did just that, he wondered off, laughing in hysterics. I was keeping an eye and ear on him, as it was fascinating to see just how strong the experience was for some. He then giggled and rolled around on the grass for the next 10mins, he sounded like he was in heaven, absolute pure joy! Talking to him later when we all come back to reality, he confirmed it. He was absolutely loving it and felt amazing the entire time.  Actually, we all felt great, and this feeling lasted the rest of the day.

 

Next was the ice bath submersion.

The ice bath was a one person tub, filled with what must have been at least 60 kilos of ice. Someone said it was 100 kilos and maybe it was. It stood their ominously as we got some instructions and theory behind the experience to come.

The one who went the deepest!

 

Our instructor Luke made a lot of sense when describing most people’s innate reaction to cold. We are trained from an early age to fear the cold, “wear a sweater or you’ll get sick”, “close the window or you’ll catch a cold”.  We have linked being cold to increasing our chances of becoming sick. Could it possibly be, that our avoidance of the cold and therefore lack of adaptation to the cold, is ironically causing or exacerbating illnesses?

 

 

Luke spoke about adapting himself so well to the cold that he would comfortably wear only a  t-shirt in the winter, while everyone else is wearing jackets and scarfs. This seems to me as a difficult thing to fake, as it’s usually very noticeable when someone is cold and needs to put on a jacket, shaking, going blue, and arm crossing. I can imagine, pretending to not be cold for an entire winter would be way more trouble than it is worth. While also being very obvious to everyone around you. It was clear Luke was genuine when claiming to be “cold adapted” by regularly exposing himself to cold temperatures.

Cultish behaviour

We all surrounded the one person tub, forming a circle. We were told to sink into a half squat and use a simple breathing technique to center ourselves. This was simply, pushing the left arm out while rotating towards the right and breathing deeply in. Then reversing it, by pushing the right arm out towards the left and exhaling that same breath. This was meant to claim our minds and help us center ourselves while kind of energizing us at the same time.

We weren’t given an order in which to get into the tub, the instructions were to simply get in when you feel ready. I was mindful the ice was melting and the bath slightly increasing in temperature as time went on. There was about 13 of us surrounding the tub and I wanted to be one of the first 4 or 5.

Here he goes again…

The same friend that had such a profound experience with the breathing techniques at the beginning of the day, was first to get in. He appeared to do it with relative calm and zen not breaking his focus or even averting his eyes at all. Luke was giving verbal cues while he was submerged up to his collar bone. Talking to him later, he told me that he was really freezing. He looked at ease from the outside but was battling on the inside.

I was (as I had hoped) 4th to get in. As I walked up to the tub, I could see that the ice hadn’t really melted at all. It was cold, really cold. I quickly thought back to my sporting days and the ice baths that our trainers had set up in the changing rooms. I was determined to control my emotions and reactions in this ice bath. As I stepped into the tub it felt much more dense with ice, like there was more ice than water in this tub. Way more intense than any ice bath from back in the day.

Luke wanted everyone to have the water up to their collarbones. He told me to get a little lower down, so I did. It was so cold, that the cold almost felt warm in a weird way. A type of burning sensation that was a couple notches past cold. I remembered Luke’s earlier words, he had told us to not pull back from the pain, but rather go into it. Accept it, feel it, and embrace it. It sounds counter-intuitive to embrace pain, but you have no choice. Trying to not feel it only makes it worse. So I figured why not embrace it, it’s not every day that you sit in 100kgs of ice.

Go into the pain

Going into the pain and simplifying experiencing it, really seemed to help. Another one of Luke’s earlier instructions was to not attach a positive nor a negative mindset to the feeling of cold, but to simply “let it be”. This to me was the most powerful piece of advice. It was by no means easy to do, but for those brief moments when I could manage it, the cold was nothing.

I felt like I could have sat in the ice bath for longer than just a few minutes. Luke tapped me on the shoulder and I got out. I wasn’t sure how long it was, but it wasn’t much longer than a couple minutes. I got back into the circle with the others and continued with the tai chi like breathing stance. After a few moments, I decided to stop and just stand in the sun. It felt great, my mind was clear and calm.

Some of us went in for another round of the ice bath. It didn’t really seem to warm up at all, but the second round felt slightly easier than the first. Almost everyone seemed to tolerate the cold well. However, there was one guy who seemed to be suffering from minor shock-like symptoms. He was fine after 20 mins, but it was a clear reminder that what we all just did was no walk in the park.

 

After thoughts…….

We all sat in the sauna for 15-20 mins and shared some afterthoughts and personal experiences. Everyone was buzzing from the experience, but there was a range, just like with the breathing technique earlier in the day. Everyone except for maybe the one guy who suffered a little shock had a positive/energizing experience. However, he even spoke about the experience in a mostly positive way. Overall, the whole day was a lot more intense and effective than I would have guessed. Before the workshop, I kind of rolled my eyes at the thought of someone teaching me how to breathe. You breathe in, you breathe out, job done. It was an ignorant way to think, and I was dead wrong.

There is so much power in manipulating and taking conscious control over one’s breath. Some of the stronger reactions to the breathing technique really surprised me, I think it surprised everyone.

The ice bath was perhaps the highlight for me. It was empowering to demand your body and mind stay calm in the ice water, to fight the urge to jump out or to quiver. Everything in your being wants to panic, to do the opposite and sit there in calm, is oddly satisfying.

I can’t say I understand the exact science behind it, but something was going on, something positive. I can only recommend people to try it for themselves. At the very least you’ll learn another meditative technique and you might even be lucky enough to “do deep” and be in absolute bliss.  Nothing to lose id say.

Contact Luke through facebook here

The crazy beautiful location and venue details can be found here.  The house/property is available for rent.