Secrets of The Iceman Revealed, Wim Hof Interview
By Adrienne Harvey, SrPCC, RKC-II, CK-FMS
Dragon Door: How did you first figure out that people could drastically improve their physical performance with your breathing exercises? For example, the people who can do many more pushups after practicing your breathing exercises just once?
Wim Hof: It’s all about trial and error. At first I was looking for myself. For years I did the pushups by myself every morning. It just felt good, I would oxygenize myself with about thirty breaths, then it was amazing what I could do afterwards. I was just doing it on my own. Most of the people who I told about it thought that I was half crazy! But because of television and scientific studies, people began to see that what I was saying could be scientifically proven.
So, I made a method out of the exercises and more people were able to do and feel it. I came up with the phrase "feeling is understanding" and began to teach workshops. More and more people tried it and they all felt the same—it is astonishing what we can do with the breathing techniques derived from exposure to cold. It's logical that we breathe differently, more deeply, and more effectively when we are in the cold. And these same breathing techniques also work on their own without the cold. When people do the exercise with the thirty breaths, then they are able to tap into the muscle tissue and oxygenize it. Thus it becomes alkaline, improving neurotransmitter performance. This is a way to show people that that the exercises work. And it doesn't just improve muscular performance, it also boosts the effectiveness of the immune system, so bacteria and viruses are less harmful.
Dragon Door: How is the autonomic nervous system related to the immune system, and how does your method improve the function of those systems?
Wim Hof: The breathing techniques really get you into the autonomic nervous system, which is directly related to the innate immune system. The autonomic nervous system works without your conscious awareness, for example when you’re walking in the forest and are directly confronted with a snake. If you are just one meter from the snake, then the autonomic nervous system—which is related to the brain stem, the primitive reptilian part of the brain—will react in the presence of danger. Your conscious will is not acting, but the survival mode of the brain activates adrenaline because we sense the danger.
Bacteria, viruses, and bacilli are dangerous as well. But we don't see them and normally we have no control over the autonomic nervous system. The brain stem—the reptilian brain—can shoot out adrenaline through the body when it is most effective. We can get into this effective mode because of the controlled adrenaline—which we can also control with our breathing exercises. When the adrenaline is activated but controlled within our bodies you can feel a sort of high while you do it. This shot of adrenaline gets the body in its most effective state to take on bacteria and viruses. At a research center, we’ve shown this with a group of twelve people and more recently with forty eight people. They were all able to resist the bacteria's effects on the immune system. So, the release of adrenaline from the autonomic system has now come within our control to fend off any kind of danger—virus, bacteria, inflammation. Those are all dangers for our system in the long run and cause inflammation in our bodies. Adrenaline directly suppresses the inflammatory markers, but you need to learn to control it. Our breathing techniques are very effective for this.
So, this was a long answer but it is more complicated than simply saying that before now we didn’t have conscious control over the autonomic nervous system and the innate immune system, but now we do. The breathing techniques really go as deep as the autonomic nervous system, and the innate immune system—that’s what brings them under control. Instead of being alienated and disconnected from this control—and having a lot of trouble with inflammation and stress in our lives—we now have control over our adrenaline and cortisol. And I just found it by exposing myself to the cold, breathing more deeply because of the cold, then observing and influencing the adrenaline. Suddenly I was able to stay in the cold, the heat, or oxygen-deprived situations like walking and running wearing only shorts in the death zone of Mount Everest. We are all capable of learning how to control releasing adrenaline, and thus being able to fend off danger far more than ever before.
Dragon Door: Compared to traditional meditation systems and traditional practices, you are able to see benefits in your training very quickly. At your workshops, people are reporting results in a matter of days instead of years. How does that work?
Wim Hof: We have learned to tap into the deeper parts of the brain which is usually the result of a long practice of deep meditation. Deep meditation teaches us to tap in to the deeper parts of the brain including the limbic system and the brain stem. But, we can do this with these breathing techniques in just seven minutes if we manipulate the breath without force, and create the right chemical conditions in the body. By doing these breathing techniques, you will remove carbon dioxide from the body and bringing temporarily a higher pH—alkalinity. This makes you able to hold your breath longer. The need to breathe is related to the amount of carbon dioxide in the body.
If we lower the carbon dioxide in the body, then suddenly we do not need to breathe which takes us into the deeper parts of the brain. It is all related to our breathing patterns. By practicing these breathing techniques, you are chemically breaking the pattern of the breathing in the brain. Thus the energy is disconnected from the activity of the neocortex, and it will move to the limbic system and the brain stem. After doing the breathing techniques with the retention of the breath, people feel at peace, no passage of time, and the different parts of the brain work together with the body.
In The Way of The Iceman
, I was reading about the endotoxin experiment at Radboud University. During that whole experience it sounds like you only felt the minor effect of a small headache. What happened next as you were able to override that immune response?
So, I was the first one to do the experiment, and I began to try and tune into my body because I did not know what would happen when they gave me the injection. I just did my best and began to do my breathing. Before I knew it, it was two hours later and I asked them when it was coming! The doctors told me that it had already gone an hour ago. I still thought that it had to come on!
After the experiment, I felt like all the years I believed that we are able to tap into our systems was finally recognized. And this was an objective study by doctors, so I felt absolutely victorious. I cried and thought about the implications this could have for humankind. We have been victims for hundreds of years battling viruses, bacilli, and bacteria and now we are on the right track to help people who are suffering unnecessarily of these ailments and these diseases. I felt victorious!
I noticed also in your media kit that you mentioned improving endocrine system function, how does that tie into the other systems?
We have all kinds of glands—thyroid, pineal gland, adrenal glands—and the adrenal axis, which is the most important for survival. The pineal gland is connected to the hypothalamus, so this is the directory—and we are now able to consciously tap into it within 10 minutes. Then we can influence the presence of adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine, and potentially also endorphin, serotonin, dopamine, melatonin. Based on my experiences with people, we can consciously activate it to release emotional trauma.
My theory is this: If people do the breathing techniques for a half hour or three quarters of an hour, it gets to the tissue and the chemical translation of stored up emotional trauma. When it has not been worked out, trauma has to be stored somewhere in the body. We have gotten into the endocrine system, and I want to do more studies about it. I am confident that we will be able to tackle trauma like failure, anxiety, post-war syndrome, and depression because we have learned to tap into the endocrine system directly—and that's amazing! Previously we had thought that the autonomic nervous system and innate immune systems were inaccessible, but were able to scientifically prove that we can access them. Now, I think it is just a matter of time until people can get more control over their mood, mental disorders, and anxiety.
Dragon Door: Earlier, you mentioned that some new studies are coming out very soon, do you have any new scientific experiments planned for the near future?
Wim Hof: Yes, in two weeks I will be in Michigan doing studies on the brainstem and the cold together with the university. And we will also be doing a very controlled study about is the influence of the cold on the capillaries of the body also related to the brain stem.
And right now in Hannover, Germany, we are working on a study about brain activity and the WHM. In Amsterdam, there’s a study happening right now about rheumatoid spondylitis. And another with great findings that involved forty either people at Radboud University about pain and inflammation.
In New Zealand we are doing a study on endometriosis, inflammation of the uterus, that prevents women from conceiving. But, our breathing techniques can bring down the inflammation which is amazing but it all needs to be studied and published. We wait for the science. I have learned to be patient with the world of scientific publishing, because it is how we can reach the most people. We want to bring back a belief and a confidence in our own inner power.
Dragon Door: Many of the people who read Dragon Door books are health and fitness professionals. They are usually working with people who want to get stronger, improve their sports performance, or improve their body composition. In The Way of the Iceman you mention brown fat in relation to cold training. How is brown fat activated? How does it effect our metabolism and body composition?
Wim Hof: A man who is fat is not able to function in nature. But now we have changed our nature—we have buildings, houses and secure environments, and wolves are no longer attacking us. But our physiology is still prehistoric so it doesn't know how to handle all this comfort and food everywhere. It doesn't know how to handle a non-stimulating environment. We no longer have to run or be alert all the time. Our extra energy is not being combusted, so it is being stored.
Brown fat adipose tissue is capable of transforming nutrients and fat into direct energy. This used to help us warm up when we were outside and barely clothed. We needed to directly transform energy to have heat. But now we have clothes and warm environments, so we have lost the capability to turn fat into heat energy. So, why not consciously make use of our prehistoric physiology? We can use it with regular practice in the cold. Even cold showers can do it. Brown fat adipose tissue has a lot of mitochondria to produce energy as heat by combusting and transforming white fat. The cold is actually a friend, it can reignite the brown fat adipose tissue in effective quantity so it can consume the excess white fat. We were built to run, but we have to reignite and stimulate this part of our physiology.
Dragon Door: How many world records do you currently hold?
Wim Hof: Twenty six!
Dragon Door: Are you thinking of setting any new ones soon?
Wim Hof: Yes of course, but not just me—I will do them with groups of people to show that anybody can learn to do what I do. Next January, I want to lead 30-40 people to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro while just wearing shorts! Men and women, old and young, even with conditions. Our idea is to do scientific research before, during, and afterwards to measure all the data. We want to measure and show how we are able to influence our physiology and that we are able to climb up Kilimanjaro which is 6,000 meters (almost 20,000 feet) tall in a record time. It's really cold up there, so we will need to create a whole lot of energy to stay warm, and to also generate enough oxygen to prevent acute mountain disease.
In an earlier study we’ve shown that you can influence acute mountain sickness by doing the breathing exercises. People reported significantly lower acute mountain sickness because of practicing the breathing exercises which we did repeatedly at Kilimanjaro. I believe that this is because of red blood generation and I want to scientifically measure this.
Dragon Door: That's extremely interesting since red blood cells are so integral to the acclimatization process. Normally people have to wait around at higher altitude camps for that to happen.
Wim Hof: Yes, the climb usually takes five to seven days, and there’s only a forty percent of success for people with equipment who are fully dressed. I want our group to have 95-100% success. We will show that these principles really work. By the way, this will be my fifth time to climb Kilimanjaro. The first time I climbed alone, all the other times I have climbed with groups. My climbing groups always have included people with rheumatism, asthma, cancer, Crohn’s disease, depression, cardiovascular problems, vertigo, and they all climbed in record times.
We are able to do so much more than what we think we can, and we want to help people believe and feel again. We have a hidden, natural power to do so much more towards our mood, our health, and our strength. And it is all free—it is just breathing, consciousness, and a little bit of cold. The vascular system—all the capillaries, arteries, and veins—within us is 80,000 miles long and all of it can be stimulated with cold showers. Take the cold showers because they are good for you. It is so simple.
When we change our consciousness, we are able to get into even the deepest levels of our physiology—into the very tissues, the emotions, all of it. Try and access the fantastic within yourself. Become more than human. I feel super and I am human... SUPERHUMAN! Keep it simple, just do it. I don't want to ever force my view or vision on somebody because it is not dogma, it is always science. I want to show that we are built to do so much more than we have been taught—and that we can gain our happiness, strength, and health.
We are able to neurologically redirect ourselves and take back our hormonal systems, our endocrine system, the vascular system, lymphatic system, and immune system. We have the right to be happy, strong, and healthy. Together we have to help people wake up to their own capabilities—this is love with no speculation.
Wim Hof is the author of The Way of The Iceman now available from Dragon Door in paperback and eBook format.