A lot of people, it seems, still don't know who Wim Hof is. I think that will change quickly in the next year or so. He's on a mission to change the world, and this man isn't one for doing things half-heartedly.
There are dozens of beautifully written articles and books and documentaries that will tell you all about who he is and what he does, so I'm not going to write about that here.
I just want to share my experience. Because that's all I can share: my own personal story. And that's really a large part of what Wim Hof teaches through the breathing techniques, icebaths, and other fear-facing pursuits (like plunging into a river from a 9-meter high bridge): the personal experience. It's all about going inwards and realigning your own personal individual mind to your body, understanding the thoughts and emotions that come up when faced with challenges, and more importantly that YOU ARE IN CONTROL of them.
So for each person, the journey is different.
For me, the cold is where I struggled. Anybody that knows me knows that while I'm like Daenerys Targaryen when it comes to heat, as soon as I get a little chilly, I get grumpy until I'm warm again. Turn up the heat, give me a blanket, and don't talk to me until the goosebumps on my skin are gone.
I've known thanks to my yoga practice that there is an element of story-telling when it comes to the cold. Stories I told myself, like "I have poor circulation so I can't handle the cold" or "my body just doesn't have the ability to deal with the cold" or simply "I hate being cold". We always have stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, about our situations and how we can deal with those situations. Once we begin to recognise these thought patterns, we can take control and change them.
"But how?" was my question regarding the cold. How the hell do I control my body's response to the cold?
Turns out it's the same technique I've been using in other areas of my life. Such as fasting: when you fast, you get hungry. Duh. But you choose not to let your body's sensations of hunger control you. You take control with your mind over your body's urges. Through deep breathing and mindfulness, you begin to understand that little hunger pangs that occur after 16 or 18 hours of no food are not a sign of impending death. It's something you can overcome.
Stretching tight muscles in yoga is often unpleasant at first. But you incorporate the breath and mindful movement to find a place between ease and effort where--even though the initial reaction of the mind to the body's sensations may be "this isn't pleasant, stop it now" --you gain the benefit of staying there. Your body opens up and on the other side of the temporary discomfort is a wonderful feeling.
It's the same with the cold. Sitting in an icebath doesn't make the ice feel warm. Like fasting and stretching, it gets easier with time and practice, but that ice is never going to feel the same as a hot tub. But through the breath, and control of the mind, I found that the ice could be pleasant. That I could relax and find a peaceful calm there in the ice. That the sensations from my body did not have to control my actions or my thoughts.
And the physiological benefits are great. Just as stretching and fasting creates changes in the body that lead to long-lasting benefits, I have noticed that I'm not nearly as cold anymore in the frozen section of a supermarket, and not nearly so quick to put on a hoodie when the wind picks up!
But the real power of this is that this skill of taking control of your mind's reaction to your body can be applied to any aspect of life.
There is fear everywhere. Throughout our lives, in every nook and cranny of our journey on this planet, we experience fear. Fear of being rejected, not appreciated, not loved. Fear of failing, fear of pain, fear of discomfort. Physical, emotional, psychological. It's there all the time. It's part of being human.
But also part of being human is the ability to face that fear and know that it doesn't have to control us.