A Wim for Ice
October 15, 2020 9:37 PM   Subscribe

How Iceman Wim Hof Uncovered the Secrets to Our Health. "Over the past decade, researchers from major universities have studied Hof and found solid evidence that when practicing his method, he can control his own body temperature, nervous system, and immune response—findings that are head-scratchers for medical science, because humans aren’t supposed to be able to do any of that. It’s now documented in peer-reviewed papers that, among other things, Hof may be able to turn on at will his body’s tap of opiates and cannabinoids—euphoria-inducing chemicals that provide natural pain relief and an overall sense of well-being. What’s more, Hof insists, if he can do this, so can the rest of us." posted by storybored (36 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have limited control of my immune system and pain response (nervous system?).

I haven't gotten the flu in 10-15 years (can't remember last time). Colds are trickier.

I found that if I "listened" (felt?) my body regularly (like meditation to suppress outside distractions). I could feel them when they were first getting started. They had a distinct chemical "taste". If I could catch them when they were small I could concentrate on them and "absorb" them. But if they grew too much while I wasn't paying attention there was nothing I could do but ride it out.

The ability has grown over the years but I'm old (and getting older) so I'd bet I'm losing some of that with the general deterioration.

The pain control is weird in a different way. If I get a sudden injury or bee sting or...

I have to do the control thing within a short period measured in a handful of seconds. If I'm occupied (with whatever injured me for ex) and don't catch it by then it seems to set itself up and ignore attempts to affect it.

Take it for what you will.
posted by aleph at 10:55 PM on October 15 [12 favorites]


taquito boyfriend, who's pretty evidence-based as far as boyfriends go, has been doing Wim Hof breathing daily for a couple years now & swears it's helped him recover lung function after a gnarly black mold situation we went through

sometimes he fills the bathtub with ice & sits in it & makes "HOOOOOFFF this is BRACING!" noises

idk if this will be useful to anyone as a data point, I just want to explain my reality
posted by taquito sunrise at 11:59 PM on October 15 [36 favorites]


I'm skeptical minded and a student of history so these claims remind me of claims made by fakirs who said they can control their pain response to perform feats such as walking across hot coals or laying on beds of nails. Or they can control their heart rate in "suspended animation" to be buried for weeks. I don't know much about Wim Hof but cursory reading shows that he is heavily influenced by yogic breathing practices.
posted by muddgirl at 12:11 AM on October 16 [15 favorites]


I was on the WIm Hof mailing list until they sent me a special offer about how to give my woman ‘cervical orgasms’. Sure, I believe that Hof can sit in the cold longer than most people, but I’m not sure that I would ascribe his health to that - maybe he can sit in cold water because he’s strong and robust. Almost as strong as his public relations and marketing game! Because honestly, if this guy is spending all his time sitting in icy water, how come there is so much on the internet about him?
posted by The River Ivel at 12:41 AM on October 16 [6 favorites]


Muddgirl, that was my reaction too. It doesn't mean that he's lying, but I'd like to see him perform while being scrutinised by professional magicians.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:42 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


Just a word of caution: don't do the Wim Hof breathing (or any type of hyperventilating) when you are in any type of water. It can lead to a blackout, and if you are in water, death. It has happened to supposed Hof technique practitioners, though I'm pretty sure he doesn't recommend doing this while in water.
posted by eye of newt at 12:43 AM on October 16 [5 favorites]


What I find immediately off-putting is this whole macho parade about how he attempts colder and colder water. It seems like a pseudo-religion perfectly suited for a certain species of young male.

It sounds like he's taken a pinch of holotropic breathwork and then combined it with the sauna cold plunge.

Around here - in Netherlands and Germany - big sauna complexes are a big thing. There's extreme heat saunas (wet and dry) and then there's ice plunges as well. Everyone does it - all ages, all types. It does relax your muscles and put you into an otherworldly state. But I must add that every time I've been near an ice plunge there are usually some women calmly sitting in freezing water and then also men, who dash in and beat their chests about it.
posted by vacapinta at 1:22 AM on October 16 [16 favorites]


I've not heard of him but I got into the habit this spring of a cold dip first thing every morning. I've stopped now (10 deg c seems to be my limit of fun) and am having cold showers instead or a dip in the sea when I can (it's still about 15 deg c), but I can certainly attest to getting a magnificent short-term buzz and a longer-term strong feeling of wellbeing from it. I'd certainly start again as soon as it feels possible next year, and I'm thinking of building a mini plunge pool just for it.

I live near the coast and the majority of year-round swimmers are women who don't make a big thing about the cold. Do it because it makes you feel good, not because you (think you) turn into some sort of manly winter god...
posted by dowcrag at 1:47 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]


claims made by fakirs who said they can control their pain response to perform feats such as walking across hot coals or laying on beds of nails

I'm not a fakir, just a fat retired IT worker, but I can personally attest that neither of these feats requires anything extraordinary in the way of pain response control because, with correct technique, neither of them actually hurts very much. If they do, you're just doing them wrong.
posted by flabdablet at 2:38 AM on October 16 [12 favorites]


I am not a fan of all the trappings, but I enjoy a weekly swim in the sea, which in Iceland is rather cold, particularly in the winter. The length of my swim depends on how I am feeling - anywhere from 100 meters to 1000, but weighted to the extremes because it hinges on whether I decide to cross the bay.

As a circus artist, I feel like the cold swim helps my muscles relax and recover. But I'm not sure how much of that is a real effect of the cold water, and how much is mental.

As someone with anxiety, I am 100% certain that the cold swim helps quiet my mind and focus my thoughts, and leaves me feeling calm and centered. It's the very definition of a subjective effect, but it works wonders for me,
posted by Nothing at 3:21 AM on October 16 [11 favorites]


If anyone wants to learn more about Wim Hof and his feats/methods in audio form, the podcast Oh No, Ross and Carrie! recently did a series of episodes on him and a workshop they went to using his methods.
posted by mochi_cat at 3:40 AM on October 16 [15 favorites]


Medlife Crisis (a cardiologist) on YouTube did an excellent deep-dive into Wim Hof from a medical perspective. Overall he thinks that it seems beneficial, with all the usual caveats that medical evidence requires. IIRC, he thinks that all high-altitude mountaineers should use the breathing technique, too.

I've been reading a fair bit into breathing techniques recently, since I have asthma and emphysema. Wim Hof himself gives me the creeps a bit, but if the techniques work then why not use them? With James Nestor's book Breath out, too, it seems there's some hype building around breathing. I'm still in the "it's all very confusing" stage, with some techniques emphasising lung volume and hyperventilation whereas others emphasising shallow breathing and hypoventilation. On top of that, an important pillar of the Wim Hof method is the cold water aspect, which adds another level of complication.

If nothing else, one thing has been useful to me immediately, and that's switching from mouth to nose breathing. For years, I've been using a nasal spray to keep my nasal passages open but I've had to stop taking it. Disaster! However, concentrating on mostly-100% nasal breathing has been surprisingly easy and my nose seems to be sorting itself out despite (or because of?) the lack of medication.
posted by milkb0at at 3:48 AM on October 16 [7 favorites]


I'm not a fakir, just a fat retired IT worker, but I can personally attest that neither of these feats requires anything extraordinary in the way of pain response control because, with correct technique, neither of them actually hurts very much. If they do, you're just doing them wrong.

In the annals of homemade science videos, some of the science teachers at my high school videoed themselves walking across hot coals. The most exciting bit was when they had to explain what they were doing to a cop because of course someone had phoned the police on people obviously making a video behind the football field.
posted by hoyland at 4:41 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


It takes a shitload of firewood to make enough charcoal to rake out into a red-hot bed long enough to require an impressive number of paces. If you're going to set one of these events up yourself, do not burn old pallets. Walking on red-hot coals is one thing; walking on red-hot coals with a generous sprinkling of red-hot iron nails is quite another.
posted by flabdablet at 5:32 AM on October 16 [31 favorites]



Around here - in Netherlands and Germany - big sauna complexes are a big thing. There's extreme heat saunas (wet and dry) and then there's ice plunges as well


I miss spas. My kingdom for an hour +massage, a steam room, a sauna and a cold plunge.
posted by thivaia at 5:51 AM on October 16 [9 favorites]


It would be pretty hard to fake swimming under ice for 100 meters, climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro while half naked on video or being covered with ice for an hour while hooked up to medical telemetry by scientists and recorded how he can control his physical responses. Most of the responses here about him being a 'fakir' or should be examined by professional magicians are not really examining the actual evidence of what he can do to control his physiology in extremely challenging circumstances.
Yes, he's probably trying to monetize what he can do in some unfortunate ways, and there have been more than one incident of people dying using the breathing techniques in poorly chosen locations.
I've been doing the breathing and cold showers for a couple of years now. I've not gone the full 'Wim Hoff' scenario though I initially started going down the rabbit hole of ice baths. It's pretty incredible that he can use a type of meditative focus to control physiological responses when encased in a vat of ice for an hour. Clearly he's suffering a bit when exiting yet shows no signs of frostbite where almost universally you would expect people to exit this situation with hypothermia and/or frostbite and be in extreme difficulty.
I've managed to reduce my reaction to cold so I can deal with it more readily in my daily life, which is kind of cool. I think his type of control is the result of a long period of effort and while average people can definitely improve and get some control over their physiology using his methods, it's not something you can do to a great extent without a big investment of time and focus. I've held my breathe up to 6-7 minutes and this apparently is part of my physiology, it's not even particularly difficult to do under some circumstances. It's not something I pursue or want to do regularly but, wow, kind of amazing that is even possible.
posted by diode at 6:46 AM on October 16 [7 favorites]


It would be pretty hard to fake swimming under ice for 100 meters, climbing up Mt. Kilimanjaro while half naked on video or being covered with ice for an hour while hooked up to medical telemetry by scientists and recorded how he can control his physical responses.

It would be pretty hard to fake being buried alive for 40 days and surviving, as Sadhu Haridas did in 1837. His feat was also witnessed by doctors.

I am making no claims about Wim Hof's abilities, I'm not qualified to. I'm just pointing out he seems to be part of a long tradition.
posted by muddgirl at 7:34 AM on October 16 [6 favorites]


...and it's a long tradition that people like David Blaine and Hezi Dean are a part of.
posted by aramaic at 7:50 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


I looked up pictures of the Kilimanjaro trek and surprise surprise they are wearing shoes, shorts, and many are wearing hats. Not something I'd personally want to do but not an impossible feat of human endurance. I seem to recall a famous photo from a high school textbook of a young boy walking across ice&snow in just boots and a hat.
posted by muddgirl at 8:09 AM on October 16


Not having looked at this at all, I recall a scientific review of psychic abilities, a thick book with lots of opining but turning back to the appendix that actually described the "experiment" it was a standard magic trick I knew. Magicians and flimflam folks know that scientists are amoung the easiest to fool.
posted by sammyo at 8:58 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]


What Joe in Australia said.

Icing is just a standard therapy for muscle issues, cold is good for bodies and different folks have different limits, the general comfy chairs are not great for breathing habits, get out and go for more walks. It's all good, pushing to wacky extremes maybe not necessary for most.
posted by sammyo at 9:10 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


Seconding the Oh No Ross and Carrie episode. My cynical assumption is that this falls into the category of people making extreme claims and backing them up by doing things that a lot of ordinary people could do without the mumbo-jumbo if they tried. I've spent an unreasonable amount of time with inappropriate clothing in very cold places. It was fun. And the feeling came back to all my digits eventually. I was kinda hoping for more when unlocking human potential. But, it seems harmless.
posted by eotvos at 9:25 AM on October 16 [4 favorites]


"His corneas froze" - ye gods.
posted by doctornemo at 9:32 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]


Side note: Harpa is a very cool building.
posted by doctornemo at 9:43 AM on October 16


Snap Judgment did a segment profiling author Scott Carney's experience with Wim Hof back in 2017:

https://snapjudgment.org/story/the-enlightenment-trap-snap-817-transcendent/

It's... quite an experience.
posted by erikred at 10:14 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]


ANYTHING that can be done with hypnosis, can be done without it. Simple truth. My problem is, I turn off pain I shouldn't, without realizing I'm doing so. It's just second nature, for me.
posted by Goofyy at 11:08 AM on October 16


The Yaghan people of Tierra del Fuego lived their lives naked in a climate that averages between 9°C (48°F) in summers and 0°C (32°F) in the winter, so it is within the limits of human ability.
posted by fings at 11:09 AM on October 16 [3 favorites]


Pepijn van Erf has been following Hof for awhile, here is the latest article with some follow-up on the research into the Wim Hof method.
posted by muddgirl at 5:26 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


My body should be full of canabanoids by this point. Can’t seem to turn them on without a lighter though.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 7:01 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


I have not taken a shower with even warm water in years. Which honestly isn't that big a deal, the water from my tap is right at 68 F, same as Barton Springs pool, where I swam for years, not this year because COVID19. I throw in my kickboards (I use 2, I'm a person with negative buoyancy) I throw them *way* past the middle of the pool, now I've got to go after them and so I do. None of this candy-ass going in one step at a time, I jump in and immediately I'm swimming, I'm swimming even before I come back out to the surface, I kick on out to my kickboards, by the time I'm there I'm perfectly comfortable. In the winter it seems balmy; the trick is to not miss even one day in the fall as the temperature falls some, I love when it's in the 20s F, getting out and water is steaming off of me. The lifeguards hate us, because they've got to be out there in the snow or sleet or whatever, it's fun to smile at them and wave cheerily.

My shower? No big deal. And, same as swimming in Barton Creek, coming in off that bike ride and getting into that stream actually sortof a warm-up. Just like at the pool, you don't candy-ass around, turn the water on full blast and inside 5 or 10 seconds all is well. It's great fun to have visitors, listen to them screech and howl. I also keep on cold-water showers when vacationing, and in case you ever wondered the water in the Chicago area is awfully goddamn cold. Wow.

Inspired by Hof a few years ago, I decided to wear nothing but shorts, gloves, bike shoes, and a helmet through the whole winter It snowed that year, twice at least. I got a flat tire, and of course it was way the other side of the lake, maybe only 1/3 the way into the ride, and of course it was the back tire, much bigger pain in the ass to get the bike apart and fix the tube, by the time I was on the move again my fingers were just absolutely gone, which then leads to not really being able to brake, or shift, so now I'm at a glacial pace as I'm pedaling through the snow, *finally* got home but could not get my hands to work, I dropped my door key, had to knock on a neighbors door with my helmeted head, she about flipped the fuck out, not only got my door open but also made me this big thing of hot chocolate. I was into hypothermia *past* the shivering part, so as I came back throught it coming out of it I was shivering violently, I still had my pack and helmet on because I couldn't undo the buckles. It sucked. I learned that day to keep the key in the damn door. I went that whole season dressed that way, thinking I'd somehow acclimate, no dice. Real hypothermia a couple of times, lots of times deep into the shivers but not passed through them.

I want to learn Hof's methods. I believe in him, pretty much totally. But I've not been able to breathe as they do, I don't know why I just can't hold as long as they do. These past two years I've worn a reasonable amount of clothing, jusst like a regular person would, I still suffered some but not what I know is available, just the other side into hypothermia.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:00 PM on October 16 [4 favorites]


It sucked. I learned that day to keep the key in the damn door.

That was your takeaway from experiencing serious hypothermia after deliberately setting up the exact conditions required for experiencing serious hypothermia?

I believe in him, pretty much totally.

Well okay then.
posted by flabdablet at 8:18 PM on October 16 [5 favorites]


From the Pepijn van Erf piece cited by muddgirl above:

"Conclusion: not really that much news about the Wim Hof Method since 2015. The method still looks rather safe and there are some interesting effects, but whether these are more than of scientific interest and might eventually be effectively used for treatment remains to be seen.
Also not changed is the way the company of Wim Hof, Innerfire BV, exaggerates the importance of the scientific findings in its outings."
posted by storybored at 9:07 PM on October 16 [2 favorites]


Yes, that was my takeaway. It's worked well to keep a key in the door. It's been swell. You doubt that?

I live how I want. I encourage you to do the same.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:39 PM on October 16


My takeaway from Erf's articles is that on his expeditions Hof keeps warm clothes and puts them on when he's not moving, which is pretty good advice he leaves out of the promotional material.
posted by muddgirl at 9:42 PM on October 16 [5 favorites]


This reminds me, I was listening to a "Fresh Air" interview with the free-diver/skin-diver (Craig Foster) who made a documentary film "My Octopus Teacher" about his experience befriending a particular octopus. But he also talks about acclimating to the cold water:
BRIGER: But did it take you a while to acclimate to swimming in those temperatures? How much time would you actually be in the water?

FOSTER: So at first, it took me quite a long time, I have to admit. Other people have seem to have acclimatized much more quickly, people that I've subsequently taken in. So I remember shivering for about a year every day. And then one day, I just stopped shivering. And I was like, wow, my body is getting used to this. I can thermoregulate. And I slowly started to figure out how to keep comfortable and keep warm. And, of course, your body adapts.

But, you know, the interesting thing, Sam, is if I've had a bad day or I haven't slept well or I've had an injury, I go in the water and it's very difficult for me to thermoregulate. If I've had a great day, I've slept well, I'm feeling strong, I can stand for a very long time, up to two hours. But if I'm compromised mentally, I can sometimes be cold within 20 minutes. So it's very interesting. And I've noticed exactly the same with other people. It's - the cold is a kind of a mirror to, how are you feeling mentally?
posted by amanda at 7:28 PM on October 17 [1 favorite]


I dropped my door key, had to knock on a neighbors door with my helmeted head, she about flipped the fuck out, not only got my door open but also made me this big thing of hot chocolate.

This is a wonderful little story in itself.
posted by mecran01 at 6:25 AM on October 19


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