The second episode of the new Netflix series The Goop Lab features a small group of people plunging into a freezing lake and overcoming various fears and anxieties in the process, encouraged all the way by a curious character named Wim Hof. Also known as The Iceman, the 60-year-old Dutch extreme athlete has become famous – and the subject of scientific study – for his ability to withstand extreme temperatures by using his mind to control his autonomic nervous system.
Hof has worked with scientists all over the world, testing applications of his conscious breathing and cold therapy methods – a sort of literal mind over matter approach. As The Goop Lab points out, a 2014 study conducted in the Netherlands involved 24 people who were injected with an endotoxin known to cause fevers, chills and headaches. Half of the subjects were trained by Hof to suppress their immune response and avoided symptoms; the others did not.
A household name among the fitness and wellness-obsessed, Hof has become a sort of guru to celebrities from American pro surfer Laird Hamilton to British TV and radio presenter Chris Evans, who has said taking cold showers “changed his life.”
And now, just days after Hof hit the mainstream on Netflix, The Wim Hof Method comes to Dubai. During three day-long workshops participants will learn conscious breathing and cold therapy, working their way up to a bracing dip in an ice bath. Cold therapy, which has been hard to come by in the UAE’s normally hot climate, has been credited with helping people increase their energy levels, overcome pain, stress, anxiety and depression, boost their immune systems, redefine their limits and improve performance levels.
The course will be taught in part by Daisy Ellison, a yoga teacher, breath coach and Somatic therapist Isaac Mullins, a yoga teacher who started his professional life as a ballet dancer before leaving to spend years healing himself from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I have complete faith in the methods I practice and teach and I never teach anything I have not experienced for myself,” explains Mullins. “I teach in the hope that what I share will in some small way contribute to helping the student find more peace within themselves and thus contribute to making the world a better place.”
Livehealthy.ae asked Mullins to explain the Wim Hof Method in more depth:
What is involved in becoming a Wim Hof instructor?
Becoming a Wim Hof instructor is an arduous but life-changing experience. I had already been practicing and teaching yoga and yoga therapy for 20 plus years when I started practicing the Wim Hof Method, so I was well-prepared for the focus required to succeed. But even so it takes an incredible amount of determination. Here are just a few aspects of the training: One has to learn to control their body temperature through a lot of cold exposure and breath work. We had to bathe in freezing waterfalls and walk in minus degree temperatures for long periods of time whilst wearing only shorts. We had to climb Mount Snezka in Poland in around minus 20 degrees Celsius wearing only shorts and pass various science exams mainly focused on biology at around degree level. As an instructor, one also has to continue to learn and is reassessed on an annual basis.
What can someone who takes this workshop expect to come away with?
A great introduction to the Wim Hof Method which, if practiced regularly, will undoubtedly bring more peace and health into their daily lives. I would go as far as to say the tools they will take away are some of the most powerful methods I have come across in 30 years of working with the body.
Breathing is a key pillar. Can you elaborate?
Breathing influences your nervous system and state of mind. Some will breathe paradoxically, meaning they breathe in and their chest expands and belly goes in. You will breathe in shorter bursts and activate your fight or flight system constantly. This, in turn, influences your state of mind and physiology – and not in a positive way. There is a relationship between breathing and anxiety; people who breathe more superficially tend to be more anxious and are worse at focusing their attention than people who breathe deeply and calmly. Breathe through the belly, deeply and calmly as you move through your life and you will experience a more tranquil and focused mind and healthier physiology. The WHM exercises are a great way to improve your breathing patterns and also deeply cleanse the system from built-up tensions. They provide eustress (healthy and strengthening stress) for all the systems of the body and thus strengthen and purify the nerves whilst exercising the cardiovascular system. The WHM breath work is very effective in reducing inflammation, which is essential for optimum health. There are also many ways in which the breath work prepares the mind and body for the cold.
Let’s focus on the ice bath part…. how and why does that work?
There is more and more research and evidence emerging demonstrating the benefits of cold exposure. The benefits are far too extensive to list but they include: anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, release of “happy hormones,” the training of the circulatory system, hormesis, more energy and focus. Personally I have found cold exposure essential to help me overcome PTSD and the anxiety that results from it. To put it simply, when you can learn to stay relaxed in freezing cold water you can pretty much stay relaxed in any situation.
How does yoga play into it?
Yoga is simply presence of mind; the WHM is a method to attain this. The asana (yogic postures) practice is incorporated into the method for physical fitness and mental focus. Also asana is a great tool to prepare the body for the breathing exercises. However, the asana practice is not a compulsory part of the method. If a student had an aversion to asana they could certainly leave it out and focus on the cold and breath work. The breathing, the cold and the yogic postures are all vehicles to help the practitioner inhabit their body more and to stay grounded in the present. From my experience one can then think more effectively whilst increasing awareness of the body.
How will people recreate this for themselves once the workshop is over, considering the water doesn’t get very cold in the UAE?
There are many possibilities to keep practicing at home. In fact you only need the shower to be 16 degrees Celsius to gain the benefits of cold exposure. I often teach in India and so have come across many ingenious ways to make a shower cold. One friend freezes a block of water and puts it in a bucket with holes in and then runs his shower through it. To be honest though, the best part of cold exposure is when you can find naturally cold bodies of water such as the sea or a waterfall. Suddenly holidays in cold countries become much more appealing.
What do you wish people knew about Wim?
Maybe you’ll see this in the Netflix series, but when Wim walks into a room you can feel a shift in energy. From my perspective Wim is a true altruist. He has tools which can bring massive healing to people – much needed at present – and he wants to share them. I have watched him give all his time to people with questions for him. He never tires of helping those who seek his counsel. He’s the best kind of crazy you could hope to encounter.
- The Wim Hof Method workshop is one day and runs on January 31, February 1 and February 2, 2020, from 10am until 5pm at Nasab, located in KOA Dubai, Wadi Al Safa 3. The cost for the full-day workshop is Dh900.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.