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Teachings of the Iceman: How Cold Water Can Change Your Life

  • Words: Lucas Mascatello

  • Photography: Meinke Klein

With 2021 already shaping up to be a doozy, we're using the first FRONTPAGE of the year to get some much-needed spiritual and emotional wisdom. Without further ado, meet the Iceman...

The Iceman has an important message for each and every one of us: the cold will save our lives. The Dutch meditation guru, aka Wim Hof, holds 21 Guinness World Records for feats like running barefoot through the Arctic and hanging by one finger from 2,000-meter-tall cliffs. His sense of physical control has been the subject of numerous scientific studies, and his sense of spirituality has garnered him a devoted following on Instagram and YouTube. The skill at the heart of all his abilities (and the one he cherishes most), however, is simply breathing.

The Wim Hof Method mixes deep breathing exercises with freezing showers and meditation to achieve an effect that Hof believes can manipulate the immune system and fend off disease, depression, and heartbreak. Hof’s wife Olaya died in 1995, and the ensuing despondency led him to his current practice — he’s been on a mission to pass on his teachings ever since, to share his warmth by being cold.

“Nobody wants a nagging mind because of a broken heart,” he told Highsnobiety when we met the guru for a penetrating conversation last year. “Going into icy cold water goes into the depths of your brain; it breaks the loop. Suddenly, the only thing you want is stillness of the mind.”

To give us some much needed inspiration to better ourselves for the year ahead, here are the key bits of wisdom we garnered from the Iceman:

On the essence of his practice:

"Let the mind shut up and be healthy, strong, and happy. And how do we do this? I found those answers in cold water. Cold water is, like, straight up. Going into cold water... it goes past the mind. It goes past your thoughts. It will force you to let go, and let the body do what the body is capable of.

It sounds very complicated, but it's nothing but mere logic. Since we have the choice to take our comforts — comfort zone behavior, extension tools, industrialization, cars, heaters, air conditioning — to control nature around us, we never mined the depths of our own physiology, which was built to win cold. Cautiousness, fire in the cave, to be hunted... to hunt is stress, natural stress. All that has gone now, but our physiology is still there. It needs to be stimulated, and the cold does it. The cold goes past our passage of thoughts, it so effectively goes into the depths of your body. A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away!

That discomfort we feel 'breaks the loop,' the loop of our neurology. If you go into the cold water, you are forcing your brain to bring blood flow to the brainstem, which then nourishes the midbrain, the limbic system. It hits all of our brain with the right amount of blood flow. So, suddenly we feel so good after a cold shower. We feel good in general. We've got more energy. Because the whole brain needs an equal amount of blood flow, which we normally are deprived of through our 'resting' conditions."

On the tragedy which presaged his spiritual journey:

"I used to be so depressed, but that's logic. If you lose your wife, jumping from eight stories down in '95... the mother of my four children. Deeper, more heartbroken, I could not have been. And that suffering makes you think — makes your mind think — all day long. It's nagging. It's aggressive. It takes away the life stream. You don't feel alive anymore.

My four children, with whom I was left, they make me survive, but going into the cold water... that made my mind feel something again. Icy cold water goes into the depths of your brain and breaks that loop."

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Highsnobiety / Meinke Klein

On how we start our cold water journey:

"The breathing... the breathing exercises. The breathing is crucial. The first thing you do when you go into cold water is breathe deep. That is a natural reflex to change the biochemistry in the body in order to deal with the impact of the aggressive cold on the body.

So, the stress of the cold needs deep breathing to make the biochemistry change. How do you do that? You have to learn, to think how to go deeper than the stress inflicted upon your body, to give oxygen to re-regulate the systems within the body. That is what deep breathing is capable of.

I absolutely recommend anyone to watch videos of this technique on YouTube. Because it’s not like normal breathing exercises... they don't work. This works because it is so rigorous. It goes so deep. You have to take deep breaths fully in, letting go. You blow out the carbon dioxide, which is your trigger to breathe. After 30 times, you have such a little amount of carbon dioxide that the trigger to breathe is not there for minutes. What happens then is a sort of controlled hyperventilation; we get so much oxygen roaming through the body that the body becomes very alkaline.

This is a sort of biohacking point we made, which no animal does. That is control of the biochemistry by breathing manipulation.... by manipulating the breath."

On whether this practice is a cult of some kind:

"No... it's no religion, but you're a divine being. You are feeling divinity. You are the regulator of your own mood. You are the alchemist. You are the biohacker at birth. We are born to be able to get the best of ourselves any time we need to."

On his sense of spirituality:

"Spiritual beings are the most grounded people in the world. They are in the universe standing very proud with their hands in the sky, feet on the ground, and they are like lighthouses. Beautiful. And it is just through love. Love about yourself. Love about life... about your surroundings.... about nature outside. A happy person doesn't inflict violence to the environment or to its kin, or to anybody. It’s radiating good energy, it's just love. Just feel good and be good and believe that you are built to be good and to feel good. And if you do that, then it's going to manifest on a DNA level.

I’ve always been interested in spirituality. When I was 12 years old, I was already going into psychology, Hinduism, Buddhism... anything I could get my hands upon. The soul search was on, but I did not know where to go. I just had this urge... this deeper feeling, and I wanted to find... but I did not know why. And then you get through the belief systems. You get through the conditioning. You find ways to tap into deeper physiology than existence paradigms tell us to do. You are exceptional. You are an anomaly of nature! There is more than meets the eyes."

On how he characterizes the soul:

"The soul is about love, and the mysticism of every day... the wonders. We cannot stand still and ask, 'Wait, why is that?' No, you gotta go do it! You've got to go down and do this! You've got to go do that!"

On his personal mantras:

"I always say, 'Breathe, motherfuckers.' That's a mantra, man. Hey, and, 'Get high on your own supply.' And, 'A cold shower a day keeps the doctor away,' of course. And, 'Learn to own your own mind!' It's for free! It's all there! It's beautiful. That's who you are."

On his ultimate mission statement:

"Hey, man, I'm a man on a mission now, because I'm gonna show all the world and everybody that everybody has the innate capacity to regulate their own mood, which is happiness. Anybody is able to connect with their conscious... to take the steering wheel and be the captain of their health and master of their mind. And that's... that's the way it is."

  • Words:Lucas Mascatello
  • Photography:Meinke Klein

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