Also posted on the Prague Monitor here.
The past two years have been difficult for many of us. The lockdowns, isolation, endless debates and ever-changing rules all contributed to feelings of being overwhelmed and losing control of our lives. Reality itself seemed uncertain. People handled this in various ways, not all of them healthy (yes, my alcohol consumption increased noticeably). Most of us know that escapism is not the way to go; facing your fears and worries head-on is the only way to overcome them. But that’s a difficult step to take, or at least it was for me. I managed to do it, though it left me wondering what else I could do to take back control of my life.
Last weekend I attended a workshop which accomplished exactly that. And I must say, it left me in awe. Over the course of just a few hours with a small group of people, I learned, step by step, how to regain control. The experience left me prepared to address and override fear, stress and anxiety.
Wim Hof Fundamentals
The workshop was called Wim Hof Fundamentals, and it was held in a yoga studio near Old Town Square. My friend Max Munson was running it and invited me to participate. I had heard of Wim Hof, and seen him occasionally on YouTube and Instagram, but never given any thought to his philosophy and accomplishments. It turns out that Hof, otherwise known as “The Iceman,” holds 26 world records, including one for the longest amount of time submerged in ice (one hour, 53 minutes). Countless articles have been written about him in magazines and medical journals. He created a system called the Wim Hof Method that teaches people how to tap into their autonomic nervous system. It employs breathing exercises, mental focus and cold exposure to improve your physiology. Simply put, the Wim Hof Method is a way to keep your body and mind functioning in their optimal natural state.
I showed up at the workshop not knowing what to expect. I had heard there would be cold involved – certainly not my thing! But Max and his wife Marcela put us at ease, explaining the theory behind the method and how incorporating it into our daily lives could make us ”happier, healthier, and stronger.” The method is founded on three pillars: breathwork, mindset and cold exposure.
The breathwork (three or four rounds of 30-40 deep breaths) resets your metabolism, Max explained, purifying the blood, making your body chemistry more alkaline and helping turn off your noisy “monkey mind.” It also increases your tolerance for pain. For me, it brought an amazing kind of vibration, a feeling like I was taking off, about to float away.
The mindset aspect is not only about developing mental focus. It’s a practical approach to dealing with the difficult tasks and decisions that we confront every day. Typically, we shy away from them, putting them off while we deal with the easier things. The Wim Hof mindset is about dealing with the difficult things first. It turns out that Mark Twain was onto something when he suggested eating a live frog first thing in the day!
Cold exposure is what Wim is best-known for, and understandably so. After all, who wants to be submerged in ice water? And yet Wim is seen all over the web doing just that, lounging in some icy lake or barrel or bucket everywhere you look. Before the workshop, I didn’t understand how that was possible. Max explained that with the proper breath control and mental focus, anyone can do two minutes in an ice bath – and it’s in those first two minutes that you gain most of the physical benefits.
I was convinced… almost. First I watched the other participants do it. They not only survived, but seemed to enjoy it. As I did not have my swimsuit with me, I finally just put my arms in the ice. Even this brief exposure left me energized and stress-free! It turns out there are huge benefits from regular cold exposure, such as improved metabolism, a strengthened immune system, reduced inflammation, better quality of sleep and, most importantly in this day and age, decreased anxiety and stress. Even depression can often be treated effectively with cold exposure (there is a noticeable increase in the production and release of “happy hormones” during cold exposure).
After a little over four hours of instruction and practice, the takeaway for me was: Hell, Yes! Starting every day with the Wim Hof Method leaves me ready to take on whatever the day has in store for me. Sitting in ice isn’t practical, so I take cold showers. But even after just 30 seconds of that, I feel invigorated for hours afterwards. I appreciate the time that I devote to breathwork for the physical benefits it brings, but even more for helping get me out of my own crazy head (for a while, anyway). I now have more control in my stress-laden entrepreneurial world, and to be a little kitschy, feel happier!
Warming-up the Wim Hof Way
If you are interested in strengthening your immune system, improving your mental health or just lifting your general sense of well-being, I can wholeheartedly recommend this workshop. There are several certified Wim Hof Method instructors like Max in Prague – you will find them listed on Hof’s website, wimhofmethod.com. He also has a helpful book called The Wim Hof Method.
If you have any questions about my experience, go straight to the source by contacting Max at firstname.lastname@example.org.