Who is Wim Hof and What in the World is he Doing?


Clare Acuti, Staff Writer

As I trekked home from school a few months ago for around 15 grueling minutes I was faced with the harsh force that is the cold. Thirty-degree weather was rough for me even while sporting my trusty facemask/makeshift wind protector. On my walk, I pondered many things, most notably the phenomenon of longing for summer while in winter and wishing it was winter while in summer. All I have known, after living in New York for my whole life, is this vicious cycle of hot and cold, and while it has its numerous disadvantages, at least it’s not winter all the time. From then, I got to thinking about the people in Northern Europe and Antarctica, who face frigid temperatures and unbearable winters often. This thought sparked a memory that was lodged deep in my brain, the stories of a man by the name of Wim Hof.

I first learned about Hof when my mom clicked on one of those Facebook posts with a catchy title that is almost always successful in grabbing the attention of your average middle-aged woman (sorry mom I don’t mean to call you middle-aged, but you fell into a trap designed for people over 40). When I first learned about Wim Hof and what he was all about, it was obvious to me that more research needed to be done on this anomaly of a man. With one google search, you can come upon a plethora of mind-boggling photos that include a man in boxers or a bathing suit, surrounded by snow and visibly cold water. The first thought that comes to mind is, “Why? Why would anyone want to do that?” and that is the most normal and logical reaction to have. That is because the idea of going into freezing and below-freezing temperatures basically naked is preposterous to those of us who can barely walk in 30-degree weather without complaining. Well, apparently there’s a reason for this madness and its fittingly named the Wim Hof method. 

Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, is a Dutch motivational speaker and “extreme athlete” who has done some of the craziest things imaginable. Namely, he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, he stood in a container filled with ice cubes for over 112 minutes, and he ran a half marathon above the arctic circle while barefoot! Yet, he is completely healthy and attributes his time in the cold to his mental and physical health. By now you must be wondering what this method entails and how this man has been able to survive – don’t worry I’ve been wondering the same thing. According to Smithsonian Magazine, scientists tested Hof by putting him in an MRI machine and cold water. They hoped they would be able to understand how his brain reacted to the cold and see if that offered an explanation for his temperature-defying feats. The scientists actually found that when he came in contact with the cold water, he was able to make his brain create an artificial stress response. This may seem crazy, but it’s actually something that you might be able to do too. Wim Hof claims that he is able to do this thanks to his breathing method. 

You can download Wim Hof’s app to learn more about his method or you can take the easy way out and do some more research (I chose the latter). According to Healthline, to start the breathing method you should find a relaxing spot, take a strong breath in through your nose, slowly exhale, and repeat 30 times. Then, on the 30th time, “exhale to 90 percent” and hold, when you need to take a breath, inhale fully and hold for 15 more seconds before exhaling. Hof recommends doing that three times. This is not supposed to be very easy for beginners, and it was definitely difficult for me, the first few times I tried it. I worked on using the breathing technique over the span of a few days, and each day I think it got a little easier. Now, I’m sure that doing something crazy like climbing Mount Everest with a bikini on will take a little bit more than a few days of this but I’m interested to see how my body will react to more weeks of trying this method. 

Hof firmly believes that harnessing breathing can be the key to controlling your body and how it reacts to different temperatures and other stressful situations. He also claims that the next step to becoming like him is cold exposure. According to Hof’s website, the “feel-good chemicals” in your brain can be triggered by increased cold therapy and it can lead to improved sleep, fat loss, and a decrease in inflammation. I have never been one to go bananas over cold weather, but I am a firm believer in rubbing an ice cube on your face every night. I have always had skin that was red and prone to cystic acne, so I tried to find ways to bring down the inflammation. I started taking an ice cube and rubbing it on my face for about 15 minutes before bed and the redness and puffiness of my face decreased pretty quickly. This might not be cold therapy to the extent that Wim Hof is recommending, but for those of us who would like to take baby steps, icing your face can be very beneficial. 

Finally, Wim Hof’s final step is the mind. He says that being committed to what you are doing can change how successful you are in achieving your goal. No matter how comfortable you are with your breathing or the cold, if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to be able to withstand that temperature or overcome that obstacle. This is a very important lesson in life and even if you’re not planning on braving sub-zero temperatures like the Iceman Wim Hof, believing in yourself and having faith in your capabilities is something that we should all be practicing on a daily basis.