How Wim Hof and Cold Showers Changed Me
It’s 32 degrees, and the sweat I managed to build during my warm up sinks deep into my bones, leaving me with shivers.
“One minute til start,” the announcer yells.
I glance behind me and chide myself for being such a weenie. All the other racers are here, too. Through chattering teeth and numb extremities, I talk to myself: “It won’t last forever; everyone is feeling the same thing.”
I can’t tell you how many freezing cold start lines I’ve toed, skin guarded only by a thin layer of aerodynamic cycling lycra. And I’m MISERABLE! Just miserable.
I hate being cold.
HAAAAATE. In past years, I’ve gone to extreme measures to avoid it. I’ve logged a 25 hour week of riding indoors on the stationary trainer — very willingly!
Things began to adapt when I first heard of Wim Hof. My initial impression was, “It’s just not possible to do what he preaches — he’s an anomaly.”
If you haven’t heard Wim’s name yet, you might know him better as the “Ice Man”, the one who takes polar plunges and climbs mountains like Kilimanjaro barefoot, only wearing shorts and a beanie.
For me (a mere mortal), I adopted the belief it would be impossible to change my tolerance for cold. I’d been told I had Reynaud’s syndrome, where your body doesn’t create the appropriate amount of circulation to your extremities when cold, leaving them extremely painful and white.
However, the more I researched homeopathic remedies to cure Reynaud’s, the more Wim Hof began to sound believable: the only way to stop being cold, was to snuggle up with being cold.
Wim introduced me to a frame of mind I hadn’t considered — that the coldness of nature could actually be a teacher. By throwing off blankets and layers of warmth and allowing the cold to invade our bubble of body heat, we could actually have a radical experience between body and mind that wires new connections in our brains.
Cold can be a teacher?
Oddly enough, right around that time, I walked into the coffee shop and saw a friend of mine I hadn’t seen in months. On the table rested a book, and I immediately recognized the man featured on the front cover. It was Wim!
If the cover picture doesn’t drive it home for you, the title will: “What Doesn’t Kill Us”. Hmm. My friend insisted I borrow the book, written by a once-nay-sayer-turned-follower of the Hof methods, Scott Carney. You can get it here if you want to experience more of Wim’s theories and applications:
The book delves into how vastly our physiology is linked to our minds — in ways we can’t even imagine. I don’t need to go into the scientific detail of why and how (Scott Carney, does), but I can say this:
we are infinitely more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
However, we don’t see it because we are under the blanket of comfort on a day to day basis: seat warmers in our cars, thermostats in our homes, down jackets worn indoors at the coffee shop, where it’s 72 degrees inside.
No one is more guilty of being a creature of comfort than me. But lately I’ve wanted to change so I can overcome my body’s intolerance of being uncomfortable. I’ve begun doing things I really don’t enjoy in order to acclimatize myself to being cold.
I took the Wim Hof Cold Shower Challenge.
And let me just confirm: they are SO fucking painful. The first time, you’d think I was doing a VO2 max session — my heart rate accelerated, my breathing was out of control, and I felt helpless. I stared at the temperature handle on my shower, knowing that at any time, I could put myself out of this misery by simply turning that dial toward the H!
I lasted 60 seconds and then turned the water off. Immediate, glorious relief. Yet I went back for more the next day, and the next.
It’s funny how the mind and body begin to align when there is exposure to discomfort, because after just a few days of this practice, my mind had convinced my body that it was going to be ok. Not fun, but ok. I learned to sit there and take it with no fluctuation of heart rate or breathing. I still can’t say I look forward to the experience, but it has becomes a place of meditation, a personal place where my goal is invite the cold without having negative expectations.
And in places where there is real life application? I’ve done two races over this past winter where the temperature was below freezing at the start. Did I cure myself of frozen fingers and shivers?
Nope. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that luxury, so I made peace with the cold. I LET IT GO. I’ve learned how to breath and focus regardless of its presence. I don’t freak out, and I just let it be there with me.
I’ll have the chance to really perfect this mindset when we go to Kyrgyzstan this August for the Silk Road Mountain Race. Now that will be the true baptism of ice.