It’s 6 a.m. on a Monday. I stealthily maneuver out of bed in the dark, as to not wake my wife. I head to a dark area of my living room, lay down on the couch and focus on deep, fast breathing cycles, 30 reps for four rounds. After each round, I hold my breath for another 20 seconds. I then sit up, clear my mind and just be.
After about 5 minutes of this, I head to the shower. I turn the water to the coldest temperature possible and step in. I take two breaths, check my mind, which is already strong and ready, and plunge my body under. The ice water feel like BB pellets hitting my skin, but after three days, I have started to enjoy the feeling.
Recently, my coach sent an email with a video link of a documentary created by Vice. Apparently, he was going to meet some super human named Wim “The Iceman” Hof.
As I read a little more about this guy I learned some very powerful stuff. For instance, While swimming beneath an ice cap in below freezing waters (yes, where holes in ice caps are cut out in order to enter and exit), Hof claimed to have lost his sight. He was not wearing goggles, and couldn’t see where he had to exit the water.
When asked about the stress levels at that point on Tim Ferriss's podcast, he explained, “Stress was absent in that moment. I just had to figure it out. Studies show that someone laying in bed could have higher levels of stress than someone about to go bungee jumping.”
Hof is the holder of 20 Guinness World Records for withstanding extreme temperatures. These are all cool and interesting feats, worthy of awards and mentions. However, what made me a Hof believer is when I read this scientific case study that explained this:
"On March 23, 2013, 24 scientific study participants were injected with a dead strain of Escherichia coli, a bacteria that normally induces violent sickness for days on end. To the scientists shock, however, none of the 12 people who were trained in the Wim Hof Method experienced any ailment whatsoever. Helping to substantiate Wim’s claim that humans can consciously control their immune system. The other 12, the untrained control group, were affected severely."
As explained on Hof’s site: The Wim Hof Method (outlined below) is similar to a type of meditation that produces inner heat and yogic breathing. But it’s something much more. The method comes from what he terms "cold hard nature." He claims, through subjecting himself to the bitter conditions of nature, he learned to endure the extreme forces of cold, heat and fear. Many have tried to disprove his methods, but he has overcome each doubter.
If you learn his method, he says, anyone can accomplish the same.
Hof explains that cold exposure for your veins is similar to working out for your muscles. The cold temperature helps strengthen your veins by contracting little muscles that surround them. Making these veins stronger and healthier helps improve your blood circulation and reduces the force your heart has to work to pump blood to the rest of your body.
Picture someone laying down, blowing up a balloon very quickly. These rapid breathing techniques have different results for different people, but typically ends up making that person feel almost high on oxygen. Hof claims that this provides complete oxygenation of blood and cells.
Meditation is important to bring awareness to your body and clear your mind. Hof says that the mental component of his method is the most vital part.
Your action plan
I’m all about action and I know you are too. So, you ask, how does this relate to your daily life? I don’t live near an ice-capped body of water, nor do I work near the Sahara desert. Good points. Funny enough, some of these things I’ve done previously as a way to increase my mental strength (such as cold showers, ice baths, long runs without water, etc.), but here’s how I’ve started to implement the Hof method into my daily life:
1. Take cold showers.
Every time I take a shower, I put the water to the coldest level possible. I’ve been doing it for the past few days, and already notice a difference. The water has become less cold, and being able to do things I don't want to do helps to improve my mental strength for the remainder of the day.
2. Take ice baths.
Fortunately, for me, I have access to an ice bath at the facility where I train. Cold showers are great, but ice baths are the next level. Everything cold showers do, the ice baths do on a much greater scale. I have started taking ice baths once per week, and plan on increasing that number to two to three. I’ll also be increasing the amount of ice and duration I sit in them.
These baths not only help to accelerate muscle recovery, the freezing temperatures have been proven to increase the size of your veins and improve circulation. Additionally, it psychs you up mentally. Making yourself uncomfortable is the best way to improve your mental strength.
3. Focus on breathing exercises.
I’ve started following Hof’s exercises. I haven’t seen any long-term benefit yet, as I just started, but instantly you’ll feel more relaxed. Here’s the breathing routine:
- Find a place to get comfortable. It is best when done lying down, but whatever you prefer.
- Once ready, start breathing heavily, but not too heavily. It should be a balance of shallow and deep breaths, almost like you're blowing up a balloon. You may start to get lightheaded, and your body may tingle, which is perfectly normal.
- After 30 to 40 breaths, empty your lungs and hold that breath. Hold that breath as long as possible without choking. This is where you can start recording your times.
- After you let go of that breath, take a deep breath and hold it for 10 to 15 seconds before exhaling.
- Repeat the above steps for another three rounds. If you want, record your times so you can track your progression and see immediate results.
- After the four rounds, Hof says to enter into a meditative state for five minutes. Note: if you’re a complete beginner start meditating by closing your eyes and bringing your awareness to your breath while focusing on the space between your eyes.
I’ve never been a mediator. However, lots of people in the business world do it, notably Tim Ferriss, Marc Benioff and Russell Simmons. I’ve been giving it a shot. I’ve incorporated it into my morning routine. I find a quiet, calm place and simply clear my mind. It has helped me stay in peace before rushing into my day and helps to prioritize my life.
5. Get uncomfortable.
I already do things that make me uncomfortable because I know that is the best way to grow as a person. However, I have committed to this practice on a daily basis now, as this is also part of the Hof method. This can be anything, from doing a workout that is so strenuous it scares you, to learning a new skill (programming), public speaking or even talking to that guy or girl you see every day at Starbuck’s.
Do something that makes you uncomfortable every day, and watch yourself grow in unimaginable ways.
6. Get outside.
Hof's method requires you to step away from your desk and head outside. This helps you disconnect and find peace. There's something about being out in nature that can help ground you and allow you prioritize everything in your life. Suddenly, those conference calls and client requests don't seem so urgent. This is an important step in productivity and efficiency.
I’m all about figuring out how to be the best version of myself. Even before I came across Hof’s method, I have held similar beliefs. I have always believed that we can accomplish anything we want, that our minds are the most powerful tools on this planet, that extreme forces can improve our capabilities and that our bodies know how to fully heal themselves no matter how strong the infection or disease.
Hof took it further, created a system and actually proved it out by testing it against science. And he won.