I recently went to my first Wim Hof workshop and took the plunge into a metal basin filled with 33-degree ice water! Why did I do that? I wanted to challenge myself and learn first-hand how ice baths and cold therapy have been helping people cope with chronic conditions. Here is what I learned from my experience:
- Wim Hof is a mindset technique, not just a crazy ice-loving man who hikes glaciers in shorts barefoot.
While the ice bath and the benefits of cold therapy are a pillar of the method, breath work and mindset make up the other two equally important pillars. Hof Method Instructor and public speaker Michael Roviello expertly
- The breathing technique is a great tool to use for newbie meditators and stress-
Many of us scoff at meditation because it seems just so unfathomable; How many times have you tried to take a break and relax your mind only to realize seconds later that you are reeling with to-do lists and not yet done tasks? Ever feel like it is more stressful to sit quietly than it is to get up and do stuff? Meditation is hard and frustrating, for me at least. Taming the mind requires a new skill set, and the Wim Hof breathing technique can be the answer to your busy mind. During the breathing portion of the workshop, you lay in a comfortable position and are instructed to inhale deeply followed by exhaling just enough, repeatedly for a series of 3 cycles. The point is to hyperoxygenation the body so that it does not require new breath during the relaxation between breathing cycles. The result is more profound relaxation at the end of the 3 cycles. Some people even feel like they are floating, melting into the floor, or other imagery of great physical release coupled with mind rest. During this pillar, Michael teaches us about the difference between Sympathetic (fight or flight) and Para-sympathetic (rest and repair) nervous system functions. The ugly truth is that most of us hardly ever get enough rest and repair time. Our stressed fasted paced, consumer-driven lifestyles don’t afford us much relaxation time. In fact, having downtime to drop into rest and repair can be seen as a sign of laziness, selfishness and poor work ethic. The result is a decline in healing, health, and cellular regeneration. All of what we consider chronic illnesses have stress as a leading risk factor (CDC reference). Once you complete the rounds of breath and experience that sublime drop into rest and relaxation, it is time to test that new meditation skill with an adverse environment, which brings us to the cold plunge.
- The cold plunge has real science-based research that shows excellent results for many chronic conditions.
Wim Hof doesn’t actually love or even like the cold, what he does say about the cold is that he respects it, and with good reason! I was shocked that I had never been educated on the physical healing effects of cold plunge while in school or doing continuing education in the medical field. One of the most exciting things that I learned is that we have a layer of fat called brown fat. This fat insulates us and provides energy storage as babies, but goes away as we age, in part because we temperature control all of our environments. If we do an ice bath and ice plunges, we can revitalize that fat through a thing called “brown fat activation.” Brown fat actually feeds off the “bad’ white adipose fat, leading to better controlled diabetes, easier to control weight loss, reduction in inflammation, and all kinds of other great effects for auto-immune and chronic conditions that you can learn about in a Wim Hof course.
What to expect when you go:
Plan to be comfortable for the first portion of the workshop and to be wet for the last piece. Wear comfortable clothing and bring a seat if you want (yoga mat, cushion, pillow, small floor chair). Also, bring a water bottle to stay hydrated during the presentation and a bathing suit for the ice bath.
Introductions: The workshop starts out with a really personal touch that I believe sets the tone for the entire experience. After all, the experience is highly personal and meant to be a catalyst for healing and health. Expect to talk a bit about yourself, why you chose to attend, and what you are working on improving. Expect to listen to compelling and inspirational stories of the people around you that also choose to attend for some very personal reason. Expect to hear the inspirational back story of how Michael came to be a Wim Hof Instructor. Expect to feel a sense of tribal unity and shared purpose.
Presentation: Michael spends around 30 minutes educating you on the three pillars of the method and the story of Wim Hof. He covers the science, research, and benefits, as well as the compelling stories of overcoming and the personalized reasons for committing to this practice.
Breathing: During the breathing section, you will be prompted to lay down in a comfortable position and then you will be guided through a specific breathing technique designed to hyper-oxygenate your cells and relax your body in and mind. You will spend a total of about 10 minutes in breathing and an additional 10 minutes deep meditation that you never knew you were capable of. Michael pares the breathing and meditation with music from all over the world, chosen specifically to help your mind and body reach the parasympathetic state.
Cold Plunge: Here is where I was really challenged. I struggled hard with this aspect, HARD. Full disclosure, I am not a cold person. I am a Hot Yoga Person. I have specifically avoided the Wim Hof movement because I hate cold. However, I felt myself warming up to the idea of it through the robust scientific evidence of how it can help me (and my coaching clients) with focus, weight control, mental clarity, and more. You will have a chance to change into your swimming suit in a private spot. Then you will all gather as a group around the Ice bath (or pair of ice baths depending on the course) outside.
People will step forward with intention and will be instructed to step into the cold 32-degree water with authority and submerge their bodies for 90-120 seconds. Michael will coach, guide, motivate and encourage you as you do your best to surrender to a calm mind while freezing. Many people can take the things they just learned about relaxation and use them to relax in the ice, I was not one of those people. I was really surprised at how difficult it was for me to relax. I felt tense and out of control. I struggled to put my hands in the ice water. When it is not your turn, you are urged to be quiet and allow the person in the ice to do their work in peace. When your two minutes are up, you will emerge, and the whole group will cheer for you!
Warming up: Even though you may feel invigorated and warm, as you return to normal body temperature, it is important for you to move and generate core heat. A volunteer will bring you aside and help you with movements to warm up. Once you are warmed, you can grab your towel and cheer on the next person. The course ends after the last person is out of the ice bath and usually concludes with a few minutes of refreshments and networking.
Most people have an overwhelming sense of triumph and flood of endorphins as they exit the cold plunge, but if you are like me, you may end up feeling like there is immense and valuable work to do at the edge of your comfort zone. I came out of the ice HOT! I was MAD, furious, angry, intensely upset. The ice bath challenged me to surrender, and I struggled. That struggle caused me to feel ego-like anger at myself for the “failure.” So, needless to say, I a surprised at my response and will begin to incorporate cold showers and maybe more ice bath in my personal development and healing plan. I am excited to start sharing the mind/body healing of ice and cold therapy with my coaching clients.
If you want to add this modality to your coaching arsenal, here is how to get started
First, take the time to educate yourself by attending a workshop with Michael. Get the real facts and the information behind the methods in a supportive group setting.
Second, develop the habit yourself by incorporating cold therapy and cold challenges into your healing routine. Don’t forget to journal about your experiences and continue to seek out information on the topic to develop a robust understanding to teach from. Take a second or third workshop if you want to deepen your practice.
Third, recommend with conviction and lead by example. I recommend the breathing technique for my clients who have high stress and stress-related illnesses, who also have difficulty relaxing (hello, that is all of us!). If you have clients that would benefit from the mental exercise of the cold challenge but do not have access to a workshop or cold plunge, offer them the cold shower experience instead. Challenge them to step into a cold shower for 30 seconds and ask them to work up to 60, 90, and 120 seconds. If you shiver, you are likely activating that brown fat and will get some of the same results.
More About Michael Roviello:
Michael found the Wim Hof Method and also found immediate relief from physical pain, mental and spiritual balance and chose to spread Wim Hof’s message of Happiness, Strength, and health using breathing exercises, commitment, mindset, and cold therapy. Michael, now a Wim Hof Method certified instructor has multiple teachers the cold and the plant kingdom gaining new insight that the elements have a lot to teach us about ourselves. Michael is now co-founder and owner of