ice bath, freeze, power, strength

How the human body and mind is capable of creating miracles

Words: Josh Rakic
Photography: Barcroft/ Getty Images

Naked but not freezing, extremophile Wim Hof’s claims of using hyperventilation and mental control to overcome cold and illness are put to the test.

Dubbed “The Iceman” for his seemingly unnatural ability to withstand the freezing cold by utilizing nothing more than a heightened breathing technique and mental strength, renowned Dutch daredevil Wim Hof’s controversial methods have long been the source of criticism and skepticism alike. So investigative journalist Scott Carney set out to debunk the shirtless adventurer and prove him nothing more than a genetic anomaly and dangerous charlatan, only to find himself a believer and the author of an intriguing new book on Hof’s methods, What Doesn’t Kill Us. 

© YouTube/ Scott Carney

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The 57-year-old Hof holds 20 world records - among them climbing Mt Everest bare-chested and remaining submerged in an ice bath for almost two hours - all of which he attributes to his three-step “Wim Hof Method” - cold therapy, conscious breathing and mental determination. And having witnessed Hof and 12 of his students’ clinically-proven ability to augment their own immune systems and resist the effects of dead E. coli bacteria, Carney has no doubt that Hof has in fact tapped into the lost evolutionary strength humans are said to possess. In fact, Carney says he’s living proof.

THE RED BULLETIN: Scott, you’re a cynicist but found yourself convinced in Hof’s methods?

SCOTT CARNEY: When I first met Wim back in 2011, I was pretty sure I was going to debunk him as another one of these fake gurus with some sort of bunk miracle cure. I’d just come off a book about people dying while pursuing this sort of stuff - superpowers. And I really thought that Wim was going to be a charlatan, have a couple of tricks and be putting people into potentially dangerous situations. But turns out he wasn’t a sham. 

You’d never considered climbing a mountain before but did so with Wim, at Mt Kilimanjaro no less, in nothing more than shorts…

It’s funny when you put it like that. As I say in the book, my spirit animal is a jelly fish. I’ve got no real fitness history. I’m not in bad shape but I’m not in exceptional shape either. I live in Colorado and I’ve always had outdoor interests. But I never had plans to climb a mountain like that. I ended up climbing up in basically just a bathing suit last December. And we did it in 28 hours, when usually it takes about five days to get to the same spot. We were using his method to resist the dangers the environment usually poses to people.

In layman’s terms, what is the Wim Hof Method?

The first is cold exposure, whether it’s lying in the snow, taking a cold shower or jumping in an ice bath - whatever will put you in a cold state. And when you’re in that moment of shock, the goal is to to suppress the automatic responses you have to shiver. And by doing that, you force your body to use a different way to heat itself. The other half is a conscious breathing routine, which looks a lot like hyperventilation. And then holding your breath with no air in your lungs. And you do that over and over again. I learned to hold my breath for three minutes. And do 40 push-ups without taking a breath, where as a week earlier, I could only do 20.

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You can heat yourself mentally…

It sounds nuts. One of the things I was really interested in was the use of these methods to extend control over autonomic processes in the body - and you do end up being able to heat yourself consciously. You are able to push past perceived limits much easier. If your brain has this governor in it that suggests you can put out “this much”, with this technique you can add like 10 or 20 percent of endurance on top of that.

The book also talks about using the method to combat the effects of illness…

Yeah, the same goes for the immune system, which is crazy. I’ve witnessed people use his method to actually treat pretty serious illnesses - not cure them, but manage them very well. I’ve seen rheumatoid arthritis reversed, to crohn’s disease. I’ve seen a guy handle the effects of parkinson’s very effectively doing the breathing method and cold exposure.

You spent the best part of five years researching his methods. Why do they work?

The anatomically modern human is about 200 years old. And in that time, we’ve had some whispers of technology with fire and things like that. But we’re still pretty much constantly exposed to the variations of the environment - cold at night, hot in the day. Seasonal changes. And our bodies are developed to adapt to these cyclical changes. But today, the modern human is pretty much at a constant temperature of 72 degrees their whole life because of heating and cooling. We’re super comfortable. What the Wim Hof Method shows, and more importantly what evolutionary biology shows, is that when you re-introduce variations into your environment, all of that machinery in your body has something to do. It’s like “okay, it’s cold so I’m going to heat myself”.

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You witnessed Wim reject the effects of an E. coli injection…

He went into a lab and said he could suppress his immune system, and they gave him an injection of dead E. coli bacteria. And what it’s supposed to do is generate a fever. Wim said he could resist the response and after they injected him there was no response. And 99 per cent of people will have a response. So the doctors were fascinated but concluded he was a genetic anomaly. Then a year later, they tested 12 college students who had taken his training for a week in Poland - just like I had - and after they injected all 12 of them, there was no fever response. So that’s the moment when you realize there is something very special about the Wim Hof Method, and we should all take it seriously.

What Doesn’t Kill Us will be released on January 3 and is currently available for pre-order.

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