THE MISSING PEACE success.
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 . 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
www.wimhofmethod.com] 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.