11 minute read
The popularity of open water swimming has skyrocketed recently and one name has cropped up again, again when talking about cold water immersion: Wim Hof - the original iceman. His simple, but effective, method for coping with unbearably cold conditions has been adopted by thousands of followers across the world.
We take a closer look at the Wim Hof Method and speak to a qualified instructor, Hayley Dorian, to find how the techniques involved have helped her on a daily basis.
Who is Wim Hof?
Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete/adventurer who holds over twenty Guinness World records. His incredible feats of endurance include running a half marathon barefoot above the arctic circle and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in only a pair of shorts! Wim wasn’t born with this remarkable resilience to the cold, his method for enduring extreme conditions is something he developed to cope with a tragic event. After sadly losing his wife at a young age, Wim struggled with depression. Wim found that his grief could be managed by plunging into freezing water. By doing extensive training to control his breathing and enduring extremely cold temperatures, he managed to get his energy back and much, much more.
Ever since then Wim has been sharing these techniques to train the body and mind as the Wim Hof Method. The benefits include boosting your immune system, giving you more energy, helping you sleep better, increasing athletic performance and recovery, heightened focus and the ability to reduce stress.
Despite the icy premise, these techniques have become red hot in celebrity circles! Some of the famous followers that have adopted the Wim Hof Method include Russell Brand, Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jim Carey and the Body Coach Joe Wicks.
What is the Wim Hof Method?
The Wim Hof Method is founded on three pillars - breathing, cold therapy and commitment.
Breathing is something we do every second of every day, Wim Hof recognises there is tremendous potential in our breathing and the specialised technique of his method helps to unlock this. Sometimes referred to as ‘controlled hyperventilation’, these breathing exercises have been scientifically proven to lead to more control and resilience in our everyday lives.
Cold therapy involves exposing yourself to the cold through ice baths and cold showers. By easing your body into the cold water one limb at a time, the body and blood flow can adapt to the temperature drop. Slowing building up your tolerance and achieving proper exposure to the cold has been proven to have a huge number of health benefits, including reduced inflammation that helps fortify the immune system, balancing hormone levels, improving sleep quality and producing endorphins - chemicals in the brain that help elevate your mood.
The third pillar, commitment, is what binds breathing and cold therapy together. To be fully mastered both require dedication and patience. Wim Hof believes exercises in his program can train your brain to increase self-control and willpower, helping to reduce stress and improve focus.
How do I start the Wim Hof Method?
Wim Hof’s official website has details of how you can learn the Wim Hof Method, find qualified teachers in your area and advice on how to practice the techniques on the go.
What equipment will I need for the Wim Hof Method?
If you are heading outdoors for the cold therapy pillar of the Wim Hof Method there are some key bits of kit that help you make the most of your experience and stay safe.
- Swimming gear (trunks, swimsuit etc.)
- dryrobe® Advance change robe
- Warm drink
- A blanket and warm socks
After finishing a cold water therapy session it is important to rewarm as quickly as possible. As soon as you get out of the water your body temperature can plummet rapidly, this is often referred to as the ‘after drop’. Failure to rewarm properly can hamper your recovery, but it can also be dangerous, potentially leading to hypothermia.
Pulling a super-warm dryrobe® Advance on and changing out of wet layers as soon as you get out of the cold water helps you thermoregulate and get your core temperature back up to where it needs to be.
How the Wim Hof Method can help you on a daily basis
To learn more about the Wim Hof Method we spoke to Hayley Dorian, founder of Wild Sea Women. Hayley is a qualified Wim Hoff Method Instructor and uses the techniques she had learned on a daily basis.
You previously worked in a fast-paced, IT Engineering job until quitting in June 2019 before starting your wellness business. What drew you to becoming a qualified Wim Hof Method Instructor?
Several years ago (around 2015), I was at a crossroads in my life and began looking at ways to manage the stresses that I was experiencing day-to-day.
I began looking into meditation practices such as Transcendental Meditation and soon started feeling the benefits which came from taking some time out twice a day to practice, and though I didn’t particularly look forward to doing these daily meditations, I felt they were necessary if I wanted to start making some positive changes in my life.
Around the same time, I also came across Kundalini Yoga (The yoga of awareness, which has a lot of focus on the breath). I came across this type of yoga while reading one of Russell Brand’s books, he referred to it as the crack cocaine of yoga – I was curious, and so began practising this too from home via a DVD (there were no teachers of this type of yoga in my city at the time).
Both of these practices were helping me massively, which lead me to wanting to know more about the power of the breath, and the science of yoga and so I began my training to become a Kundalini Yoga Instructor. It was only then, via ancient yogic wisdom that I began to fully understand the science and benefits of cold-water exposure (Ishnaan - the science of hydrotherapy).
I was already cold water dipping and swimming (nowhere near as often as I do now) and had been taking cold showers since my teens without really knowing why I loved how cold water made me feel.
Through a series of events, in 2018 I discovered a local group of sea swimmers and began meeting with them once a week. One of the men from this group (Chris Nicholas) started chatting to me about Wim Hof (I had never heard of Wim until this point). So, I went home that day and began looking into Wim and The Wim Hof Method, I had no idea such a thing existed but was intrigued and drawn to Wim's work immediately.
Within a few days I had booked onto his 10-week online course and then noticed there was an instructor's course taking place in the Netherlands in a few weeks’ time and so without a thought, I enrolled. I had no idea how I'd get there or how I'd get the time off work (at this point I no longer had any love for my job in IT and was looking for a route out) I just knew I had to go and do this training with Wim, and thankfully I just managed to complete the online training in time (it was a prerequisite to attend the instructor’s course).
I knew in my gut that this was for me, I not only had a love for the cold, but was also fascinated with the breath, how the mind works and how this powerful combination could potentially help with a few health issues I had going on at the time.
I came home from the Netherlands and signed up to do the Master teacher training later that year (2019) in the Pyrenees. At this time, I had quit my IT Career and was ready to start a brand-new life where I could share my passion and become a Breathwork and Cold Exposure Instructor.
Why is it important to understand breathing techniques such as Wim Hof Method as a cold water swimmer and how has the Wim Hof Method changed your swim experience?
Practices such as the Wim Hof Method train us to be more aware of what's going on inside of our body, it makes us become more Intune with it.
The natural response of the breath as we enter the cold water is to gasp - it literally takes our breath away. When we gasp, we send signals to the body that we've hit the panic button. Our Sympathetic Nervous system (fight or flight) kicks in, the heart rate speeds up, and we begin to feel more stressed and panicky. By having this interoceptive awareness we can begin to control our body's response to the cold (or any other stressful situation for that matter).
When we practice methods such as the Wim Hof Method before going into the cold, we are preparing the body and mind to be able to remain calm in what may be considered to be a stressful situation. Personally, I have always considered cold water to be my meditation and although it still challenges me, and there are times when all I want is to be warm, when I go into the cold, all of the noise in my head gets quiet, I'm not thinking about any of the problems I have going on in my life - I am fully in the present moment and come out of the water feeling fully alive and empowered.
Although I was already practising breathing techniques before discovering the WHM, I have found this particular method to amplify the benefits I get from going into the cold water. I have more focus, creative ideas and feel energised in every cell.
Are there any other benefits of using the Wim Hof Method for other aspects of your life outside of cold water swimming?
The Wim Hof Method has become a daily ritual for me since I learned about it in 2019. I have found it helps to keep my immune system high, I don’t remember the last time I had a cold or flu, it’s almost like having a superpower and by practising breathing techniques such as this on a regular basis, it has made me become more aware of how I am breathing throughout the day.
As soon as I notice myself breathing in a non-optimal way (or not at all), I automatically begin to improve the quality of my breath, which brings me back to the present moment and to a calmer state of being. I believe the breath is so often overlooked when it comes to improving our health. The breath is the one thing we can only go a few minutes without, yet rarely is it brought into consideration when we have issues with our health. My mission in life is to share all the amazing benefits of breathwork along with cold exposure and the power of our mind.