A Journey of Ice and Fire: My experience with the Wim Hof Method

As some of you might know, several months ago I ran a campaign on IndieGoGo to get funding for Wim Hof’s workshop in Poland. It fell short of the necessary amount, but I was able to purchase the online video course. This is a story of my journey into the cold.


 

It all started when I learned about this article. I thought to myself “what a load of crap” at first. I mean, come one, really? Influence the immune system with breathing? That’s the sort of thing you hear from quacks and pseudoscience people. But as I found more information about Wim Hof and saw that he actually did have achievements, quantifiable, testable things, like siting in a tank filled with ice water for more than an hour or climbing snowy mountains in shorts, I thought to myself “maybe there is something to this guy”.

Little by little, I started practicing the breathing method described in the post above and it just always felt… interesting. I don’t know if I was controlling my immune system or transcending anything, but the sensation I had from the breathing sessions was always interesting, probably in the way that drugs are interesting. More about that below.

wim-hof-method-iceman3

The video course

Control of the immune system

This is the first one and the most important one for me. You can control your immune system at will? That’s some Bene Gesserit shit, man. Of course I was very curious, but at the same time, I could not have been more skeptical. What I didn’t expect was that there was a study, not only on Wim Hof, but on people trained in the Wim Hof method. A study on PNAS, at that, a reputable science journal. I recommend that you read (at least a bit of) the study, but the short version is this: some people trained by Wim Hof and other untrained people were injected a bacterial endotoxin, something that produces a strong immune response. The control group (the untrained guys) felt sick, the Wim Hof group just breathed through it and felt okay. In other words, while the control group fell sick, the Wim Hof group was almost untouched by the endotoxin. Pretty nice, huh? Especially if this skill is transferable to other attacks on the immune system, not just endotoxins. You can wave goodbye to that cold that has been bothering you!

My own personal experiments: Two times I felt like I would get sick,  I decided that I would do no breathing techniques and see if there was any difference. I got sick both times. On all the other occasions that I felt like I would get sick (around 6 or 7), I did the breathing techniques and didn’t have any symptoms – all but once, when, despite my best effort and continuous breathing, I managed to get really sick. Of course, all this is really weak evidence, but it did work for me with a significant success percentage.

Seeing that there is nothing parallel to the Wim Hof Method, for the control of the immune system, I give the course a 5/5.

Cold resistance

The exercises are really well put together and you have a natural progression, there are no shocks. First you just do hot-cold showers, then cold-hot-cold, then just cold, then long cold, then ice baths… The progressions are easy and you are always prepared for the next week. I am still not entirely satisfied with my progress – I need to train more so that my toes and fingers don’t get numb during prolonged cold exposure, but I am much better at handling the cold. It’s also really cool if you have access to nature – taking a really cold swim or crawling through snow is much more fun than just cold baths and showers.

On cold resistance, I give the course a 5/5.

Mindfulness

I hoped that I would also see a significant increase in my mindfulness and “be more Zen” (that was one of my three goals before starting the course), but here I did not see improvement as in the previous two categories. It is probably because I have already done a lot of mindfulness meditation before the course, so the meditation part wasn’t as new (and by extension, as significant) as the breathing and cold exposure. Nevertheless, my Zen level remained roughly the same as before the course, which is okay, so I give the course a 3/5 in that category.

Material, organization, curriculum, communication

Here I see some room for improvement. I think that the course would benefit from an optimization process. What I mean specifically is this:

  • There should be more videos explaining the structure of the course, and the written explanations should be more clear. (the PDF to be printed doesn’t seem like someone put a lot of effort in it)
  • Despite the scientific studies that show that there definitely is something to the Wim Hof Method, the community sometimes dabbles in pseudoscience and mysticism, and the language can get ambiguous and unclear, as is usual in pseudoscience and mysticism. I think that the method would benefit enormously if Wim and others would read up on the scientific method, maybe on Less Wrong or some books, perhaps Feynman. Generally, Wim doesn’t make incredible claims, so it’s all cool, but you sometimes get the feeling that he doesn’t completely appreciate the importance of the scientific method. My personal (and very general) advice is more clarity. The Facebook community is a bit worse and people sometimes post stuff about spiritual healling and chi energies and supernatural things – Wim and his team should probably be careful that the community doesn’t become an alternative medicine cult; that’s another reason why I suggest reading more about science and rationality.
  • I know that the course moved to another platform now, but the old forum was poorly designed and there wasn’t much interaction with Wim or the trainers. I would appreciate if there was a Questions and Answers session for the people that buy the course, where Wim (or another instructor) can dedicate an hour of Skype calling to the buyer of the course, something like personal consultation. I don’t know if that would be cost-effective though, but it would certainly be nice. Generally I would advise more communication with the team/instructors/Wim.

In short, I would like to see more effort put into the course, more videos, more explaining, more Q&A, more consultation, more mentoring, better design, and the other thing I would like to see is a more scientific culture. Overall, I give the course a  2/5 in this category.

Athletic performance & breath retention

My breath retention increased significantly and I have found that if I do some sort of cardio interval training, if I do the breathing during a break between intervals, my performance increases (probably due to oxygen saturation in the blood; more energy is available with more oxygen, I suppose). I have also found that explosive, plyometric movements, like precision jumps, get like a little bit better: I can jump a bit higher or farther. I don’t lift weights, but I suppose I would find a similar result in that area too. This is a really incredible hack, so I grade the course 5/5.

The drug-like effect of the breathing rounds

This was a real discovery for me and I must say that I was impressed. When you start to do the breathing rounds, your inner mental state becomes somehow… different. Here’s a metaphor (that probably won’t be that useful unless you try it yourself): imagine all your thoughts as dry leaves lying on the bottom of a big jar. When you start doing the breathing sessions, what happens to these leaves is that they start to turn and fly around, like if there was a strong wind within the jar. This was my impression with my thoughts and ideas and emotions: they would seem to flow faster, in a more chaotic fashion, and I would make certain connections really fast. It was also a good thing for my creativity: I got a lot of good ideas simply from a round or two of breathing exercises. I would describe it as jump-starting your mindfulness meditation; shaking things up. You kind of shake everything around and observe what’s going on. As stated in a previous paragraph on Zen, I didn’t get any lasting Zen state (or, to be more specific, MORE Zen), but during the process I found a lot of interesting stuff and so I grade this 5/5.

Overall impression

I think that the course was really good and I’m happy that I bought it, as I learned a lot and gained certain skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have. The really impressive thing for me is the control of the immune system and I would like to see further scientific research and the MED (Minimal Effective Dose) of the Wim Hof Method: it would be cool (did you get it, cool?) if we could boil down Wim’s teachings to the minimum that’s required for the control of the immune system and cold resistance. I mean, it’s possible that this already is the MED, but I would like to see more studies done with people that have done just the breathing, but not the cold exposure, or just the cold exposure, but not breathing, or just like one breathing cycle per day, and so on. It would be nice to play with such variables and see what has the biggest ROI, and then focus on that. But, absent such studies, I think that the full package of the course is a great resource, I grade the course 4.5/5 and I recommend it to everyone.


 

If you want to try out the Wim Hof method, I recommend the new website and the free mini-course. For me, it was an incredible experience and I am glad that I did it.

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