Living Now - - Making A Difference -

air bal­loon at an al­ti­tude of 1500 me­tres. Al­to­gether he now holds 26 Guin­ness World Records.

When I ques­tion him about plans for fu­ture ex­treme stunts, Wim replies, “Yeah. I still am very able to do that, but it's not of in­ter­est to me now. The in­ter­est for me is to tackle fear, trauma, de­pres­sion and dis­ease”. Wim al­ways be­lieved he had dis­cov­ered what he refers to as a ‘short cut’ into the deep phys­i­ol­ogy of the hu­man body – that he has con­scious con­trol over his own im­mune, vas­cu­lar and en­docrine sys­tems. As a prac­ti­tioner of Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine, I find this truly ex­cit­ing. This con­cept of mind-body in­te­gra­tion is com­pletely con­gru­ent with our holis­tic ap­proach to health. How­ever, for many years Hof’s claims were dis­missed by the sci­en­tific es­tab­lish­ment.

The break­through came with a series of ex­per­i­ments that started in 2007 with lead­ing sci­en­tific re­searchers in the Nether­lands. Hof ex­plains: “They tested me in the univer­sity within a case study, ex­per­i­ment, and then they found out by tak­ing blood that I'm able to sup­press in­flam­ma­tory mark­ers which nor­mally cause a lot of au­toim­mune dis­eases”. In sum­mary, these ex­per­i­ments, which in­cluded pro­longed im­mer­sion in an ice bath and be­ing in­jected with a bac­te­rial endo-toxin, showed that Hof was able to vol­un­tar­ily in­flu­ence his au­to­nomic ner­vous sys­tem [1]. This was pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered im­pos­si­ble by the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity. As a sin­gle case study is not con­sid­ered con­clu­sive ev­i­dence, the study was re­peated with 12 vol­un­teers who had been trained in­ten­sively by Hof for four days, com­pared with an un­trained con­trol group. The re­sults were im­pres­sive.

Us­ing Hof’s tech­niques, the trained group, un­like the con­trol group, was able to repli­cate the pre­vi­ous re­sults.

Hof has been in­volved in nu­mer­ous stud­ies since then, lead­ing doc­tors and sci­en­tists around the world to ac­knowl­edge the enor­mous po­ten­tial for pre­ven­tion and treat­ment of dis­ease with these meth­ods. It is the push for fur­ther re­search that is Wim’s driv­ing fo­cus now. Wim is the first to ad­mit that there have been count­less peo­ple be­fore him that have been able, through ded­i­cated yo­gic prac­tice, to achieve this level of con­trol over their bod­ies. How­ever, he be­lieves that the dif­fer­ence is that we are now able to prove these abil­i­ties with sci­en­tific ev­i­dence.

“We are into this study now about mi­to­chon­drial oxy­gen ten­sion. It ap­pears that [us­ing breath­ing tech­niques] we are able to in­crease the oxy­gen lev­els within the mi­to­chon­dria them­selves”. Mi­to­chon­dria are known as the ‘pow­er­houses’ of the cell. They be­have like a di­ges­tive sys­tem – tak­ing in nu­tri­ents and break­ing them down, us­ing oxy­gen to cre­ate en­ergy rich mol­e­cules es­sen­tial for life.

“We’ve got re­search re­lated to in­flam­ma­tion, to pain, anaes­the­sia and very soon we are go­ing to com­pose a new study with Stan­ford Univer­sity in San Fran­cisco. That study is on in­flam­ma­tion in the brain, the wrong chem­istry, re­lat­ing to PTSD, de­pres­sion, fear, trauma, any­thing we can­not han­dle. I'm very sure we are able to cre­ate new neu­ro­log­i­cal path­ways in the brain, mak­ing us able to con­trol our brain a whole better than up un­til now is known.”

Hof’s de­sire to achieve this has led him to de­velop the Wim Hof Method ( WHM). [ There is a free in­tro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing be­gin­ning ex­er­cises, at] These tech­niques are de­rived from his ex­pe­ri­ences in what he terms ‘ the hard nature’. The train­ing has three com­po­nents: breath­ing ex­er­cises, grad­u­ated cold ex­po­sure, and train­ing the mind­set.

Breath­ing tech­niques are fun­da­men­tal to many health prac­tices. WHM breath­ing could be con­sid­ered a con­trolled form of hy­per­ven­ti­la­tion, and for this rea­son Wim cau­tions against prac­tis­ing it while driv­ing or in other po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions. Us­ing this method of breath­ing, oxy­gen lev­els in­crease, and car­bon diox­ide lev­els de­crease with a cor­re­spond­ing rise in ph lev­els – the body be­comes in­stantly more al­ka­line. Build­ing up the body’s re­sis­tance to cold, ini­tially by al­ter­nat­ing hot and cold show­ers, trains the vas­cu­lar sys­tem while si­mul­ta­ne­ously pre­par­ing the mind to cope with phys­i­cal stress. This is pro­gressed un­til ul­ti­mately you are able to chal­lenge your­self with ice baths or run­ning in the snow. Com­mit­ment to the pro­gram au­to­mat­i­cally strength­ens your men­tal fo­cus and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Wim ex­plains “If these tech­niques are done well, we are able to tap into the depths of our phys­i­ol­ogy. It takes some prac­tice, but you can feel the ben­e­fits very fast”. At this point I’m nod­ding vig­or­ously in agree­ment. Af­ter four weeks of fol­low­ing the on­line WHM train­ing, I was able to in­crease my breath hold­ing time up from 55 sec­onds to over three min­utes, and jump hap­pily into an ice cold Mel­bourne win­ter shower!

The tech­niques are de­cep­tively sim­ple. When once asked whether the breath is through the nose or through the mouth, Hof replied, “Any hole will do!”

It is this com­bi­na­tion of hu­mour, con­fi­dence, and de­ter­mi­na­tion to break down the mys­tique that has sur­rounded tra­di­tional es­o­teric prac­tices, that makes the Ice­man so ap­peal­ing.

One of my pa­tients has dubbed him ‘a guru for the mod­ern age’. When I put that to Wim, he just laughs. “The word guru means one who brings light. ( Wim is self-taught in more than ten lan­guages in­clud­ing San­skrit.) He ex­plains that the way to bring this light is by sci­en­tific in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “So you can take away the con­fu­sion and spec­u­la­tion. Then it be­comes a non-dog­matic choice.”

Hof’s achieve­ments are as­ton­ish­ing, but for me, it is his ob­vi­ous pas­sion to help oth­ers that res­onates most pow­er­fully. He has a say­ing, “Ego. No. We go.” Wim ex­plains: “We are a tribe. We have to help each other. Car­ing and shar­ing is a tribe thing… This so­ci­ety has be­come too ma­te­ri­al­is­tic, too much com­pe­ti­tion go­ing on.”

Again he brings it back to phys­i­ol­ogy: “So the dis­tance between peo­ple is cre­at­ing an ab­sence of oxy­tocin, and that brings about a lot of ail­ments.” [Oxy­tocin is of­ten called the ‘love hor­mone’, as it is re­leased dur­ing sex, child­birth and lac­ta­tion.] When I men­tion to Wim that my next pa­tient due is 35 weeks preg­nant, he launches into a dis­cus­sion on breath­ing in labour and the re­search into pain man­age­ment. As we talk fur­ther, I re­alise the im­pli­ca­tions for health and heal­ing are noth­ing short of mind blow­ing.

There is also a true sense of a deeper spir­i­tual as­pect to this work. In Wim’s words: “Life is beau­ti­ful. It’s about the love – the love for life and the love for each other. It’s magic what is hap­pen­ing, but we just for­got how to live it fully. By breath­ing, you take it in and fill up all your phys­i­ol­ogy and thus you be­come aware of the beauty of it all – feel­ing great that is.”

Wim Hof and his team are com­ing to Aus­tralia for the first time this year to con­duct a series of work­shops and re­treats. n

Matt Rad­ford is a Phys­io­ther­a­pist, Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine physi­cian, and the di­rec­tor of Cen­tre of Health – Phys­io­ther­apy & Chi­nese Medicine in Mel­bourne.

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