An interview with Wim Hof, the ‘Iceman’ wellness guru who claims cold showers are the key to a happy life
Wim Hof is a household name among fitness and wellness enthusiasts. Known globally as “The Iceman”, he has set numerous Guinness World Records for swimming under ice and prolonged full-body contact with ice, and still holds the world record for a barefoot half-marathon on snow and ice.
Now, Hof is teaching his transformational Wim Hof Method all over the world.
The 60-year old Dutchman is also known for climbing Mount Everest in a pair of shorts, running across the Namibian desert at 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) without drinking any water, and running a marathon in the Arctic Circle at -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) – again in his swimming trunks without any training.
The cold became Hof’s friend when he was still a teenager. He found solace in the cold later when his first wife committed suicide and he was left to raise four children on his own. He went on to combine breathing exercises and ice baths and coined them the Wim Hof Method, which he has perfected over many years and now teaches all over the world.
We sat down with Wim Hof to discuss his mission in life, what he does with sceptics – and how we can all unlock our unlimited power.
You hold 26 world records, such as remaining in ice for 1 hour and 52 minutes. You’ve climbed Mount Everest in only your shorts. How did it all start?
Everybody has a connection within, a desire to fight and discover the depths of your being. I soul searched early on in life, and I began to look into a lot of books, esoteric books. I also did a lot of yoga, karate, meditation and running.
At the age of 17, I eventually found a deeper connection, not through those disciplines, but when I found the cold. Swimming in cold water was just able to bring me right back into the depth of my physiology, more than any of those disciplines were able to do. So I got hooked on the cold, and to use it to get into this deep connection with my mind and my body. From there on, I trained on my own for 25 years. Naturally, I explored more and more aspects, led by my own instincts, and it was like celebrating the power of the mind and the body. At the time, everybody said I was crazy to bathe in cold water. Everyone thought I was out of my mind. But it was the opposite, I was deep into my mind.
So I was silent about it. I kept my discipline to myself, and I trained every day for 25 years. One day the newspaper came and they published an article about me. They couldn’t believe what I was telling them, and many other interviews and articles followed.
Tell us about your first Guinness world record.
In March 2000, Guinness World Records came to challenge me in the cold. I set the Guinness world record for the farthest swim under ice.
You say that the cold is your only master, your only teacher. What is it about the cold that is so healing?
The cold brings our cardiovascular system back to its original condition, where the mind-body connection is being reset. Our will has a direct influence on our vascular system, which could wrap around the planet 2.5 times, it’s so long!
Once our will is in control of it, we are able to “connect” with any part of our body. Once we have an inborn connection with our cardiovascular system, we’re able to “travel” within and influence that system. We can reach any part in our body and heal it. If we have pain somewhere in the body, that is a signal for the mind to do something about it. But most of us are disconnected from the vascular system.
So if you continue to take cold showers, you learn to bring it back to its natural condition. And then you have power, the way nature intended it, over your own vascular system.
Besides that, our skin is the biggest organ, and the best skin care is taking cold showers.
The Wim Hof Method also includes breathwork. What are the health benefits of that?
Our breathing has become very shallow. So with the kind of breathing we do with the Wim Hof Method, we’re able to deeply change the chemistry of our body. It has been shown through science. Breathing helps to alkalise the blood, and that is very good for the nervous system, because alkalinity makes the electricity in the blood work more efficiently. We’re like alchemists, we change the chemistry of the body, and bring “light” into it. Breathing deeper also feeds into the cells’ biology. We are able to alkalise our blood within 20 minutes.
When did you start to bring science into your experiments?
I set so many records, that the scientific world began to see what I was doing, and they said, “What this man is doing is physiologically and scientifically not possible. But he’s doing it!”
We ended up doing several experiments together, and they found out that I was able to do things that they thought were impossible. I was able to tap into the autonomic nervous system, as well as the immune and hormonal systems. All those systems were considered to be autonomous, but I managed to deeply tap into them.
So we did this experiment, where they injected thousands of people with a bacteria. We were trying to find ways to naturally fend off and activate the defence mechanism against this bacteria, and preventing it from entering the system. So they tested this on me. They injected the bacteria, and I was able to do what all these people couldn’t do, which was for my body to have control over the bacteria within 15 minutes.
After the experiment they said, “Well, you can do this because you’re ‘The Iceman’. You’re a superhuman,” and I said, “No, everyone is able to do this. Let me train people in a competitive study.” They then asked me how long it would take for people to get even close to my results – one year, two years? And I replied, “10 days!”
It took me four days. They were injected with the bacteria, and it took me four days until they all showed the same thing. They were able to deeply influence the autonomic nervous system and the immune system, and the bacteria had no or very little reaction on the immune system.
This was never done before. It changed the books in the universities all over the world. We have much more control than we think. But we have to expose the body to the natural elements, such as cold and heat, and take it out of its comfort zone. It’s positive stress. It makes the body and mind work.
Can we do any of this at home? And how do we prepare for a workshop with you?
Yes you can. Take cold showers every day. You begin with 40 seconds. Then you go up to two minutes. You can have a warm shower for 10 minutes after that. But in order to make the body work, you have to take cold showers. This is how it works.
So what happens to our body when we’re exposed to extreme cold conditions?
The adrenaline goes up as we’re exposed to the cold, and the adrenaline awakens the body. It peaks, and then it brings the cortisol right down.
Our chronic diseases are caused by oxidative stress, and the continuous presence of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. The controlled adrenaline rush in our body during a cold shower brings the cortisol right back down after the experience.
Cortisol is a big problem in modern society because we have a lot of stress, and it doesn’t go away, because we keep on going. Our mind says, “Oh I have to do this! I have to do that! … and that! … and that!” The cortisol won’t stop. So when you take a cold shower, the fight or flight system breaks down, as the adrenaline will shoot up and drop back down. And all the stress hormones go down with the adrenaline.
It’s very simple. You will feel a lot better, much more tranquil. You will go from sympathetic nervous system activity to parasympathetic nervous system activity, which is the system that’s activated when you’re resting and digesting.
You often speak about the human potential and untapped power. You even say that this could be the cause of depression, and how this can make us sick if we’re not living our full potential.
According to studies, the brain is now showing that it has the capacity to rule the body. Inflammation shows up in the body first, and then it gets into the brain through the blood-brain barrier. And then it creates imbalance in the hormones, affecting serotonin and dopamine production. But we are able to bring inflammation down just by using our mind.
Normally, when exposed to the cold, the skin temperature goes down. But in the studies we’ve done, I was able to keep the same skin temperature just by using my mind. That’s the potential everyone has to use the power of the mind to take charge of your stress. We can regulate our mood through our thoughts, and can therefore utilise our thoughts to get rid of stress.
So what do you think about when you’re working with your immune system? How do you programme your mind to be stronger than your body?
To utilise the power of the mind, you have to exclude your mind from the world. Where are you with your mind? Are your thoughts with your work, your partner, or your dog? Where are you? The mind is an entity, a reality. Bring the mind here, and exclude any distractions.
You have the power of the mind right here. It’s not over there, it’s here. So you set the intention. For my one-week “Power of the Mind” course I have eight steps and exercises. I get people to connect with their body through the power of the mind, and I get them to do things they thought were impossible. I do this in one week, and they go through eight challenges. One of them is to stay in an ice bath for 20 minutes. You’re exercising the power of your mind during these 20 minutes.
But it’s not about the exercises, it’s about the power of your mind. Throughout your daily life, you will then be able to choose this for any other goal you may have. And with that comes the easiness, and the simplicity of your mind tackling depression, anxiety, trauma, fear, PTSD and any other mental disorders you can rebalance.
Would you say that you’re fearless?
I have absolutely no fear. It’s like there’s a car coming and my baby is on the street. I do not fear the car, I go for my baby. I go for my goal. I go for my soul. I want to live, and not live in fear. I do not fear anything. I fear not to live. I want to live 100 per cent. If you live 100 per cent, there is no fear. If you are in love with someone, you have no fear, you go. You use your mind and you move straight towards your goal. It’s a state of mind, and we can have this with anything.
But most of us have never learned how to use our mind. We can shoot people to the moon, but we don’t have solutions for mental disorders? We can master mathematics, languages, history, and how to make money, but not how to balance ourselves and become happy. That’s ridiculous! All of us should be happy every day. We should be in control of our mood and our beautiful mind.
We have to bring it back to the power of the mind, the way nature intended it. We all have this power to transform ourselves and to experience happiness.
You single-handedly raised your first four children when your wife passed away. How did that shape the person you are today and what you are teaching?
Certainly. I had to find a way to feel good and to heal my broken heart. I had to find a way to function again. So the cold really healed me. When you are heartbroken, you constantly worry and you’re sad. When you go into the cold, you cannot think. You have to be. You learn to be, to be the best version of yourself. To survive in the cold helped me heal and to stop my worries, the sadness, the depression, the emotional pain. The cold and breathing helped me gain a lot of energy, and it made me very happy.
But, of course, I also had to work through the pain and the lost relationship I had with the mother of my four children.
What’s your No 1 advice?
That we are able to change. It’s all for the greater good, for all living beings. That includes trees, animals, everything … except for mosquitoes [laughs].
You’ve inspired thousands of people across the world. What are you most proud of?
My children. I have six children, and my youngest one is two. I want to show people that we are able to control our mood, our happiness, and our strength. We are working with the best researchers in the world to showcase this.
Do all of your children apply your methods?
They work with me every day. They are all part of the company.
You also have a twin brother. Is he into this?
Now he is. But before he wasn’t. Before he wasn’t able to do what I do, but as you can see now, training enables anyone to do it, too.
What do you say to sceptics?
I just go through science. You can be sceptical, but it’s stupid, because science is science. There is no speculation. It is only your choice to be sceptical. Fact is fact. Being critical is good, but to stay a sceptic is nonsense.
What are your plans and dreams? Where do you want to take the Wim Hof Method?
I want to show everyone in this world that the soul is the source of our happiness, strength and health. Love actually comes from the soul, from the light. My view is a bit hippie [laughs], and that’s why I show through science that we’re able to master our own mind and body in order to become happy, strong and healthy. I want everybody to get the opportunity and the choice (without dogma) to be happy and healthy, and to showcase it through scientific research.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
I want to stop war, and I want to stop disease. A lot of people think that’s crazy, because they think it’s normal that we have these issues.
With all the research we’ve been doing, they can’t say that I’m crazy any more. We as a species have unlimited power of our mind. We can make anything happen. I think it is time we stand up and facilitate the change to make people happy, strong, healthy and enable them to live in harmony with nature. We have to create a future for humanity and all living beings.
Do you have a motto?
We are built to be happy, strong and healthy. I fear not to live. We have everything to live up to our dreams. You have everything to achieve that, and in a very short period of time you can get all the tools to manifest who you want to be.
The ‘Iceman’ has climbed Mount Everest in shorts, run across the Namibian desert without water and set numerous Guinness World Records for swimming under ice