Our Wise Guide: Modern life, with all of its stresses and demands, can sometimes leave us disconnected. We feel as if we’re not quite inhabiting our bodies, or fully in touch with our thoughts. While, relatively speaking, we enjoy comfort and convenience, something’s still lacking. That’s because modern civilization, as marvelous as it is, has neglected something vital: deeper connection with ourselves.
Key idea 1: Wim Hof was shaped by an early love of nature and dramatic encounters with the cold. Wim Hof’s life began with a struggle. His identical twin, Andre, was born first, and the doctors almost missed Hof, mistaking his presence for his mother’s contractions. And so he was born in the cold hospital corridor, struggling for breath.
As an adult, he understood this early struggle had left a deep, unconscious imprint on him – pushing him to embrace life to its fullest.
Following his difficult entrance into the world, Hof enjoyed a childhood spent out in nature. He believes this was equally formative.
The key message here is: Wim Hof was shaped by an early love of nature and dramatic encounters with the cold.
As a child, Hof played in the woods near his home city of Sittard in the Netherlands. Along with his twin brother and friends, he played at being Tarzan, swinging from the trees on old bicycle tires. He preferred to spend all day making tree-houses and digging underground rather than study or attend church. He’d even cook in the forest, baking potatoes in an open fire, and eating them with a little salt.
This early relationship with nature was vital to him. It stimulated and developed his senses, and gave him a deeply rooted sense of his place in the world.
Hof and his friends would even build little igloos in the snow. One day, when all of his friends went home, Hof stayed inside the igloo, feeling a nice kind of glow from the freezing ice. His parents found him much later, peacefully dozing . . . but in the early stages of hypothermia! Thankfully, they’d found him in time to revive him. But this would hardly be his last encounter with the cold.
At 17, Hof moved to Amsterdam to live in a squat. There, he could think freely and make music, living outside of societal norms and conventions.
One freezing Sunday in Amsterdam's Beatrixpark, Hof felt a sudden, mysterious urge to swim naked in the freezing water. Just like in that cozy igloo as a child, the cold didn’t repel him. He recalls feeling liberated by its power.
More than that, he felt liberated by his own power. If he could withstand this cold, he thought, then what else could he do? Inspired by the cold, he began to sense hidden reserves in the human mind – he could be much more than he’d ever imagined.
Key idea 2: We’ve lost touch with our truest selves.
These childhood and early adult experiences connected Hof to a deeper side of himself. Through exploring the outdoors and then embracing the cold, he believed he had awakened parts of the mind that lie dormant in many of us.
He notes that as we’ve become more and more civilized, we’ve forgotten how to connect with our deepest side. Though we’ve created a society with every possible comfort and convenience, we’ve lost the ability to understand our emotions.
Depression and anxiety continue to rise. We no longer know how to regulate our moods. Instead, we rely on antidepressants and stress-relieving medication.
The key message here is: We’ve lost touch with our truest selves.
There is a fable that sums up this state of affairs well. Some wise men had gathered to discuss what to do with the human soul. “What are we going to do about the soul, since people have made such a mess of it?” they asked.
At first, they suggested putting it at the top of the highest mountain. But people crawled up the mountain, found the soul, and made a trophy of it. So they suggested putting it at the bottom of the sea. Alas, the people dove to the bottom of the sea and put it in a museum. Then, the wise men suggested putting the soul beyond the furthest planet. But the people built spacecraft, found it, brought it back, and went to war over it.
Finally, one wise man suggested putting the soul in the people themselves. Here, at last, was the right answer. Why? Because people never look there.
And so here we are. A world where many of us have lost touch with what matters most. Whether it’s called the soul, or simply the deepest part of the mind, it’s the same.
Our brains didn’t evolve over millions of years just to leave us helpless to our modern condition. We can be so much more, and indeed, have already been so much more. Our ancestors, before they grew conditioned and softened by modern civilization, understood this instinctively.
As Hof experimented with the cold and with controlled breathing in the squatters’ house as a young man, he began to understand this, too. He started to construct a method, which would reconnect him to his true self. In the following sections, we’ll look closely at the techniques he devised.
Key idea 6: The Wim Hof Method can enhance athletic performance and endurance.
As we’ve seen, the Wim Hof Method can be used to prepare our bodies for physical and mental activities. When it comes to athletic feats, the method is perfect for squeezing the best out of ourselves. The cold forges our will, the deep breathing oxygenates our bodies, and the mindset allows us to push our edge. By improving our endurance levels, the Wim Hof Method allows us to go further and longer than before.
The key message here is: The Wim Hof Method can enhance athletic performance and endurance.
There are some notable athletes who’ve used the method with great success. One is the Dutch mixed martial arts star, Alistair Overeem, who employs it to improve his fighting condition. Entering the ring professionally in 1999, he’s now 40, an age where most fighters retire. Yet he shows no sign of slowing down.
In 2015, Overeem faced Ultimate Fighting Heavyweight Champion, Junior dos Santos, who was then the highest-ranked heavyweight in the UFC. Santos was a formidable fighter, someone known for knocking his opponent out.
Overeem went into the fight as the underdog. But rather than let his nerves get to him, he employed the breathing exercises he’d done with Hof earlier that year. Keeping his cool, he defeated Santos by a technical knockout in the second round.
As well as improving performance, the Wim Hof Method allows athletes like Alistair Overeem to recover more quickly, to reduce their inflammation, and to sleep better.
There’s a simple exercise that you can do to demonstrate its power.
First, get down and do some push-ups. Then, relax and do one round of the breathing exercise we described earlier. Then, at the end of that round, when you’re holding your breath on the exhale, try doing the push-ups again. You might be surprised to discover that you can do twice or three times as many push-ups as you could before!
The most dramatic example of someone doing the push-up exercise comes from a man called Henk van den Bergh, a Dutch blacksmith. As someone with rheumatoid arthritis, he was advised to attend one of Hof’s special workshops. At dinner on the first night, Henk said he doubted that he could perform even a single push-up. Hof told him that the next day, he would do 40.
And the next day Henk, a man with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, after doing his breathing exercise, got down and did 40 push-ups as if they were nothing!
Key idea 7: By consciously changing our biochemistry, we may help release old traumas stored in our DNA.
Rather than being frozen, DNA is changed by every life that it passes through. The stories of our ancestors are stored deep in our DNA. We carry the memory of ancient lives within us. Amazing, isn’t it?
Some of what’s stored, like our ancestors’ ordeals and pain, can even emerge to harm us. In fact, a research paper published in 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America documented that the sons of former American Civil War-era prisoners were many times more likely to die earlier than the sons of soldiers who’d escaped imprisonment. The ordeal of those prisoners, it seems to Hof, may have expressed itself in their children’s genes.
So, DNA can be modified within a lifetime, for better or worse. That being the case, Hof suggests that there are things we can do that may influence these changes.
The key message here is: By consciously changing our biochemistry, we may help release old traumas stored in our DNA.
For Hof, though it may sound far-fetched, if we’re able to change the biochemical make-up of our bodies, we may be able to alter our genetic expression. If this turns out to be correct, we may be able to release trauma inherited from our ancestors. Although science has yet to confirm this ability, the Wim Hof Method seeks to facilitate it for us.
When we breathe deeply and go into ourselves, we often encounter long-buried emotions. Many find themselves crying or laughing mysteriously when they follow the method’s controlled breathing. Others experience visions, like faces they’ve never seen before, but feel somehow familiar. It may be that these visions are deeply-encrypted genetic expressions. Or, more simply, the memory of our long-ago ancestors.
When people at Hof’s workshops have experienced this, they often report feeling better, as if a burden has been lifted. It’s as if the memory of an old trauma, from generations back, has been released.
Key idea 8: The Wim Hof Method may relieve chronic symptoms and disease.
While it might be nice to imagine that we can affect our genes for future generations, the Wim Hof Method seeks to improve our health outcomes in the present. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it can be used to help alleviate serious illnesses and conditions.
Take Richard Ayling. In 2006, he was seriously depressed, and had begun to neglect his health and diet. He was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called ulcerative colitis, a debilitating condition causing intestinal pain and bleeding, and he was left with very little energy. He became quite restricted in what he could eat, and the amount of exercise he could do.
Following Hof’s method, however, Richard managed to reconnect with his body. Over a short period of time, he underwent a deep healing and renewal. Now, almost miraculously, he has completely recovered from his ulcerative colitis. He can once again eat and drink whatever he likes, and exercise without feeling exhausted.
The key message here is: The Wim Hof Method may relieve chronic symptoms and disease.
Another example is that of Anuschka Franken. In 2011, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, just months after she had given birth to her fourth child. This condition caused paralysis in her hand and arm, which meant that she could no longer work as a professional violinist. Her mother recommended Hof, and so she attended a workshop. Even during the first breathing exercise, she could feel tingling in her hand and arm – it turns out they weren’t paralyzed at all. After a short while practicing the Wim Hof Method, her hand and arm recovered almost completely. Now she’s back playing violin, full-time, with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra.
While these cases, and many others, offer only anecdotal evidence, it seems that human beings may, perhaps, willfully improve even serious ailments.
All over the world, from Barcelona to Sydney, from Warsaw to Los Angeles, people are using the Wim Hof Method to help improve their health and fight back against serious illnesses and conditions. Others are simply using it to become their best self, to feel more connected and alive.
The Wim Hof Method isn’t a replacement for expert medical advice, but it may offer an alternative to pharmacological solutions – especially those which have damaging side effects.
As well as freeing ourselves from these traumas, we may be able to consciously rewrite our genetic legacy. Meaning, we may even be able to have an impact on what we pass down to future generations. By changing the biochemical composition of our bodies – as with Hof’s breathing method – we may be able to influence the expression of harmful genes.
Though more research is needed, it’s wonderful to think that we may be able to suppress future ailments, like arthritis and immune disorders, for our descendants through our actions in the present.
The key message is that through the three pillars of the Wim Hof Method – embracing cold, controlled breathing, and a focused mindset – you can connect deeply with yourself, improve your physical and mental health, prepare yourself for athletic feats and physical endurance, or combat illness. By awakening yourself through cold, you can improve your vascular health. Through controlled breathing, you can oxygenate your body and fight inflammation. And through deep concentration, you can prepare yourself for any feat you can imagine.