I have to admit, I do not like the cold. I’m strictly a sauna kind of gal. Yet for some reason I find myself two weeks into The Wim Hof Method, forcing myself to take bracing cold showers every morning and breathing weirdly until I think I’m going to pass out.
I may not like cold, but I wonder if I like boredom even less. Remember that experiment when they shut people in empty rooms with a button that gave themselves electric shocks – and they all pressed the button? Lockdown has been a bit of a treadmill of yoga, meditation, self-discovery, (plus Netflix, working in bed, Zoom cocktails), walking, walking, walking. I felt a bit, well, meh. I needed to feel alive!
Who the hell is Wim Hof?
Seriously? Unless you have been living under a rock (apart from the lockdown-shaped one…), you must have heard of the Iceman. He is a large, bearded and rather eccentric Dutch chap often spotted by icy lakes in speedos. He climbs mountains in shorts without dying of hypothermia. Scientists have studied him because he should not be able to do this. Yet he assures us all that he is not superhuman (despite a backstory that would give Batman a run for his money), and that we can all do it... if we adhere to the three pillars:
committing to do this every day.
There are many claims about cold therapy. Current research has been around the theory that we can use this type of endurance stress to control our immune, metabolic, and limbic systems. Some suggested benefits include:
increased metabolism and ‘good’ grey fat
improved immune function
help with chronic inflammation
releases endorphins (the buzz you get after freezing your bits off).
The breathing technique increases energy, reduces stress and apparently (hello) cures hangovers.
Although I’m a bit late to the Hof Party – Russell Brand, Gwynnie and a whole bunch of wellness influencers have already been there – I thought I’d give it a go. I work from the The Wim Hof Method book, but you can also do a free online course on his site.
Lesson one: take the cold showers. Don't procrastinate, just do it.
Day one, jumped in, screamed, jumped out. Wim assures me that after 10 days I would be able to stay in the shower for two minutes. Surely, he is mistaken.
Day two, I managed 22 seconds, with a lot of yelping and arching away from water (aka cheating) but felt exhilarated. It cleared a few cobwebs. For a few days it began to make me angry. It felt like the opposite of all the self-care advice I’d given over the years, more like punishment. “Why the hell am I doing this?” I yelled at myself. But still did it.
Yet it got easier, especially after doing his breathing technique and reading the chapter on The Power of the Mind. I noticed after 20 seconds of discomfort, I calmed down and began to become aware of the cold sensation rather than try to escape it. I felt rather Zen. According to Wim, my vascular system has awakened. Two weeks in I can now do two whole minutes!
I follow the guided online videos as I can just lie down (never do this standing!), switch off and listen to him.
Basically, you breathe in and out (quite fast) for 30 times, then hold an out breath for 30 seconds to 2 minutes – that's the hard bit. Then you breathe in and hold for 15 seconds – much easier. Repeat three times, lengthening the held out-breath each time.
People have reported seeing strange things, accessing their spiritual whatnots. I just feel a bit tingly and see stars. I am still on the Beginners version and today can hold my breath for 90 seconds. Since I’ve improved already, I am hopeful.
This is vital because you have to do this every day for it to work. Instead of thinking “ugh, cold shower”, I think “can’t wait to feel that buzz and feel great”.
I also mentally talk to my body. As Wim says, get it into alignment and on board with the process, instead of forcing it like a bad child into the nasty cold shower.
I tried the meditation sequence Hof describes in his book and found this self-meditation so much deeper than guided mediations.
I do feel pleased with myself, less sluggish and, surprisingly, a bit addicted. I am very into reading how others have benefited from the WH Method and am truly enjoying his book.
After each cold shower, I have felt zingy and glowing. Plus, my skin feels gorgeous, soft and smooth, an upside of triggering a fight-flight response apparently.
Downsides? At first, I felt exhausted and a bit shivery during the day. Day 9 my lips turned blue. Just once.
But today I notice the brain fog has lifted, I am very energised (slightly manic) and positive. Could the WHM be the reason?
It could be a lockdown thing and I’ll get over it once I’m allowed to go shopping again. But I shall continue for 30 days at least, when they say cold showering becomes the new normal. Perhaps I’ll end up climbing mountains semi-naked. At least I won’t be bored.