All sorts of bright sparks follow the Wim Hof Method Training. I thought: either clever people attend the training or the training makes you clever. So, I also enrolled. I plumped for the ‘sitting in a tank of ice’ option. A plucky friend was going to join me. She could still squeeze one more challenge into her 2017 plan. We didn’t really know why we were going. In fact, we had only a vague notion of what the challenge actually entailed.
Ice, breathing, oxygen, meditation, metabolism, autonomic nervous system, commitment, being able to do everything and anything you want and giving your brain a jump start. That’s the general idea. Or so I thought.
Training. Day 1.
Chaos. Where are the changing rooms and where are all those other women aged 50+? Where are the women full stop? Bit of a man’s world. A large greenhouse type construction serves as a room. It’s crammed with brightly coloured yoga mats and lots of round, equally brightly coloured yoga pillows. And legions of thirtysomething men with beards and pony tails. Almost exclusively men. Strange. Maybe something to do with the fact that Wim Hof is himself a man with a beard and pony tail. Who frequently says something beginning with f or mother followed by another f.
A steady stream of fs and motherfs. What on earth are we doing here?
Wim Hof starts to strum his pink guitar and sing something. I still have no idea what we came for. Then the story begins. Slightly incoherent, lots of yelling, yet it appears to have some substance. Connecting the brain to heart and mind. I start to get what he’s talking about. How everything will work out fine, if you truly will it. That ice is not a goal in itself; that I already knew. The cold is a tool, or better still, a trigger.
Breathing. Cold exposure. Commitment.
Let me give you a brief summary of the building blocks: breathing, cold therapy, commitment.
Breathing is the source of life, oxygen, the heart and vascular system, metabolism and energy, stress reduction and an improved immune system. All pretty straightforward stuff. The point is, we don’t go about that whole breathing business the right way.
Cold therapy sets to work on your good and bad body fats, has an anti-inflammatory effect and, if done correctly, delivers a healthy dose of feel-good chemicals to your brain. Cold is related to fear too and fear is a bad counsellor.
Commitment is a biggy, because it’s all about choice. If you’re unable to choose you can never commit to something. Simple. Focus. Willpower. I got that from the brochure, not from Wim Hof’s f and mf story. Which is a story based on sentiment.
Breathing with 50 men in a room. What on earth are we doing here?
We do the horse dance, in preparation for the ice cubes. We’re talking November, rain, wind, grey, cold. What should we do? Should we keep our bathrobes on whilst standing outside in the cold and shivering from the stress of those ice cubes or not? Might as well take them off. In for a penny and all that. My tough cookie friend and I nonchalantly toss our warm and comfy bathrobes onto a large stone, tssss, who needs a bathrobe. There’s still 10cm between my toes and the tank containing meltwater and ice cubes. Okay, think breathing – do NOT think Parkinson’s – think focus – think who let the dogs out, who let the dogs out (don’t ask).
Into the ice water we plunge. Panic. Cortisol. Adrenaline. Ambulance. Aaaaarghhhh!
Breathe, breathe, breathe. Calm. Control. No fear. You remain warm from the willpower alone. That’s what it’s all about. Afterwards, the ice cubes clatter to the shower floor as we change out of our bathing suits. They’ve been there for a full 10 minutes. Not that we noticed.
Training Day 2.
Guitar, mats, cushions, pony tails. Would everyone show up? A story from Wim Hof about how every mother wants only three things for her baby: strength, happiness, health. Yep. True. But HOW? I start to believe that he ‘gets it’. I already do. Because of my journey and those moments when everything suddenly works out. Parkinson’s is wretched. It breaks you down and there’s nothing you can do about it. But that never detracts from your willpower. That fear doesn’t help. The fear of an ice cube bath won’t help you. Willpower, breathing, mind, heart and soul will. The connection between everything. Get that right and you’ll come close to being happy. Even if you miss something or someone.
Squeeze the oxygen into your body. What on earth are we doing here?
Another breathing exercise. Pretend you’re straining on the toilet but, in this case, you’re using your head. I was tempted to stay at home this morning. Now my friend and I are about to don our bathing suits once more. This time, our bathrobes remain resolutely on. Rain, wind, November, 50 people in a swimming pool containing 1500kg of ice cubes. First choose, then commit, before your toes hit the water: panic or no panic?
Fear or power?
I choose power, willpower. Because everything is as it should be, mind, heart, gut feeling, soul. After 5 minutes of ice cubes, everything still works. Better than before. Nothing trembles or shakes. You seem capable of transforming the stress of the freezing cold into warm hands. I get an extra special hug from Wim Hof. He thinks I’m wonderful because I pushed fng Parkinson’s to one side in order to enter that ice bath. He wishes me a fantastic journey and says: Stick it out.
WimPower. My Willpower.
Mariette Robijn, Huizen, the Netherlands
Photography snow crystal: Wim Rozenberg