I still hear the admonitions as if it were yesterday. “Wear a hat, it’s cold and you’ll get sick” “Cover yourself or you’ll catch a fever, it’s cold outside” There are more, but I think you get the picture.
Fast forward to 3+ years ago and I stumble on a video like this (Wim Hof Method - Winter Travel).
“Brrr, I’m getting cold just watching this.” “How on earth can they do that?” “They must all be crazy!” “I wonder how many of them were sick after that” “I could never do that, I hate the cold!” These were the immediate thoughts that popped into mind.
Fast forward to today, and I have just returned from Poland, after completing the very same winter expedition with 16 other amazing people (Alexander, Andrew, David, Elud, Florian, Henrique, Jacob, Jonathan, Joonas, Juan, Kszenia, Michael, Ruarri, Ruben, Saskia and Troels), two incredible instructors (Leonardo Pelagotti & Patrick Phillips - links below) and Wim Hof himself.
We had ice baths, dips in frozen waterfalls and scaled mount Śnieżka for two and a half hours, including a fierce blizzard in the last, treeless stretch of the climb; all of which in nothing more than shorts and boots...and for the follicly challenged, a beanie hat.
The average air temperature throughout the 5-day experience hovered around -5 C, the outdoor water temperature was a steady 0 degrees, and the blizzard at the top of the mountain, when considering the windchill factor, hovered around -15 to -20C.
It will take me a few weeks to make sense of what just happened, but I must wonder, how does a sceptic like me go from hating the cold and being conditioned to believe that he’ll get sick because of it, to voluntarily immerse himself in icy waters and walk into a blizzard virtually naked?
My “hot” off the press considerations:
THE WIM HOF METHOD
I came across the Wim Hof Method about 3.5 years ago. Despite the initial incredulity, I immediately became curious. It seemed like this man was not human, I thought he may be a superhero from another planet; and so I investigated.
For over 30 years Wim Hof was ridiculed as a clown, a freak show of a man with exceptional capabilities. His claims that everyone could naturally achieve strength, health and happiness were ridiculed as the claims of a mad man.
Eventually the scientists became curious and started inviting - more "challenging" really - Wim to complete several feats while being tested on. When he demonstrated that he - and anyone willing to learn his method - could voluntarily influence his immune and endocrine systems, both functions of the autonomic nervous system, which were previously thought impossible to control at will, the flood gates opened.
You can learn a lot more about the method and the science behind it through the eBook linked from this article, but in a nutshell it is "a practical way to become happier, healthier and more powerful." It suggests that as humans "we have developed a different attitude towards nature and we've forgotten about our inner power. This is the ability of our body to adapt to extreme temperature and survive within our natural environment. The Wim Hof Method is based on 3 powerful pillars: cold therapy, breathing and commitment."
As a counsellor committed to finding more impactful ways to help my clients rediscover the power and beauty of their lives, I am often searching for new theories, approaches and techniques.
Having reflected for just one day after my Polish Winter Expedition, I can point to three ingredients that made the experience a psychologically deep and powerful one.
I arrived in Poland on the 23 January 2019 nursing a fresh cold - runny nose, itchy throat and itchy ears. At this point I am excited to be there, but knowing how much I love the warm, humid weather in Singapore, where I live, I cannot fathom how I could possibly complete this expedition.
Sure thing, over the past 3+ years I spent time doing cold showers, immersing my hands and feet in buckets of ice, breathed fully in, but this expedition was a whole other level.
My motivation was low, it would be fairer to say that I was driven by a strong sense of curiosity and a desire to test myself in ways our hypnotic, daily life seldom does.
And so, I say it again, "how does a sceptic like me go from hating the cold and being conditioned to believe that he’ll get sick because of it, to voluntarily immerse himself in icy waters and walk into a blizzard virtually naked?"
Many of the clients I work with are stuck in a life they often resent. From there they experience an almost complete lack of belief that any alternative may be possible. They often see no way out, burdened by many life commitments they often did not consciously choose for themselves.
My learning was that however remote or absurd an alternative may feel from the place where we stand, there is indeed always another way.
Belief - one may say faith - that, even without current proof almost anything is possible, was the first ingredient that helped me complete all challenges.
In my case it was the belief that my body intuitively knows more than I imagine cognitively, and that if I let it take over the process, I don't need to control it, restrict or limit it, instead, it would just do its own healing.
Control is another theme I often see my clients struggle with. Its intentions are very noble, to protect the status quo and avoid discomfort or damage. Its byproduct is the illusion that by controlling everything we will favourably influence the infinite variables that make up our circumstances, but it is indeed an illusion.
In fact, the very act of controlling and cloaking ourselves with this thin layer of "comfort", is the very reason we often become stuck in unhealthy patterns of behaviours, emotions or past traumas.
Surrendering to the unknown, letting go of the need to control everything was the next ingredient that helped me complete all challenges.
When I first stepped into the icy water and thought that I could just control the cold with my mind, I was wrong!
The cold is merciless and the untrained mind is not ready to simultaneously feel the body stubbed by thousands of "knifes" and "needles".
Then I remembered the training, I let go of control and only focused on one thing, my breathing; suddenly the pain was gone and an inexplicable sensation of warmth entered my body.
I was able to peacefully sit in that ice bath for 3 minutes.
You probably heard the saying "it takes a village to raise a child". This was true in tribal times, as much as it is true today. And yet, many of us live isolated lives, where our connection to other human beings is limited to functions we often feel disengaged from, like work.
And so, why do I believe community is the final ingredient of my puzzle thus far?
Because through community we learn, we share, we experience and we connect, and through each of these we discover and heal.
In therapeutic settings, we are very well aware of the power of the community. Thousands of groups run daily around the world that bring together the addicted, the hopeful or the desperate, which are a lifeline to many.
Community in my experience pushed me to realise that it was possible, and therefore I too could believe in my ability to achieve the impossible.
Until 1954, athletes had been chasing the elusive 4-minute mark on the 1-mile run, a feat that was thought impossible by many. And then, a student from Oxford, Roger Bannister, achieved that very mark. Suddenly, within a few years, more than other 10 runners had broken the mark.
Having witnessed Wim and my fellow travellers complete their challenges and be well, my brain could no longer fool me in thinking it was impossible.
We all need support to grow and thrive, whether it is to hear a comforting word, to have a shoulder to cry on, to receive a hug, a smile or the inspiration to achieve something amazing, we all need support.
And so, in conclusion, while I am sure I'll have more reflections in the future, I want to invite you to:
Learn more about the Wim Hof Method and the amazing science behind it
Challenge your beliefs and identify at least one that you are willing to put to the test
Try a cold shower to train your ability to surrender
And reach out to your community, whoever they are, to feel the nourishing power of connection
Thank you for reading my article, if you would like me to help you with similar situations you are currently experiencing, you can book a free introductory session for us to explore how we could work together.
I work with clients from all walks of life, from all over the world, either face to face or via online videos.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
The Wim Hof Method explained (eBook)
What is the Wim Hof Method (website)
Leonardo Pelagotti lives in Paris and is an official Wim Hof Method instructor. He can be contacted for workshops, seminars and more through his company website: https://www.inspire-potential.com on his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EliseandLeonardo/ or via email: Leonardo.firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Phillips lives in Berlin and is an official Wim Hof Method instructor. He can be contacted for workshops, seminars and more through his instructor page: https://www.wimhofmethod.com/instructors/patrickphillips on his facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/the.pat.phillips/ or via email: email@example.com