Making Friends With the Cold - Are You Kidding Me?

I am a Seeker, and as soon as I identify a challenge, a roadblock, or a problem in my life, I will look for answers and solutions. 

One of my daily challenges is physical pain. I have experienced various levels of physical pain all my life. I honestly can't remember a time when pain was not a factor in most of the things I have wanted to do. 

In recent years, my perception of my pain has shifted. Now instead of finding ways to manage my pain, I am finding ways to make friends with it, to learn from it and then at times, even release it. My new perspective has resulted in me discovering things that otherwise may not have shown up on my healing radar before, like for example, the Wim Hof Method.  

After discovering Wim Hof, otherwise known as the IceMan, I wrote a blog about him and his incredible ability to think outside of our society's medical beliefs. I was comparing his beliefs to what I believe Jesus was trying to teach us. I saw an interesting parallel. (Read here)

Wim Hof is best known for his astounding feats of cold endurance. He can remain in ice for 1 hour and 52 minutes and has climbed Mount Everest in a pair of shorts. He was injected with a virus that would have made most people very ill but he did not even break out in a sweat. 

So, What is the Wim Hof Method?

The Wim Hof Method is based on the principle of believing in the ability of our body to adapt to extreme temperatures and survive within our natural environment. It is seen as a natural path to an optimal state of body and mind. Wim Hof says that our brains have the power to guarantee us happiness, strength, and health. He believes that we can train our minds to connect with the autonomous nervous system (until recently medical science has said this is impossible) and strengthen our immune system. By wearing clothes all the time and avoiding the cold, we have weakened our body’s mechanisms related to our survival and basic function. Wim Hof has proven scientifically how we can strengthen our immune system and improve our health. 

Meeting Sue Regan Kenney

My blog got tagged to a lady named Sue Regan Kenney. She went to Poland to train with Wim Hof. She spent a week learning his breathing techniques, plunging into ice-cold water for extended periods of time, and hiking a snowy mountain in summer attire. Sue has done many physically enduring things. She wrote a book called My Camino. It is about her hiking the Camino de Santiago, one of the most celebrated pilgrimages in the world called. She hiked 780km across the north of Spain, alone, in the middle of winter. Sue is also a Barefooter which means she spends most of her days walking barefoot. She shares all that she has learned from that experience in her book called, How to Wear Bare Feet. Sue is now a certified Wim Hof Instructor. 

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Right after being tagged on social media, we met online for a chat and I felt an instant connection. I also found out that Sue was hosting a Wim Hof Fundamentals class in a few weeks. Sue invited me to attend. At first, my head thought, "No way" but my heart immediately knew I was going. I registered online and felt very excited and hopeful about what I was about to learn.

Just like most workshops I attend, I walked in by myself, fully expecting to meet great people and learn valuable information. Sue began by explaining that the Wim Hof Method is based on three components.

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Three Components of the Wim Hof Method

  1. Breathing techniques

  2. The Training of mindset/focus 

  3. Gradual exposure to the cold 

Wim Hof Breathing Techniques 

Our autonomic nervous system regulates our breathing. That is why we consciously don't have to think about or remember to breath all the time. The amount of oxygen you inhale dramatically influences the amount of energy that is released into our cells. Therefore the way you breathe significantly impacts the chemical and physiological functions in your body and your state of health. 

As I sat listening to the science behind the Wim Hof Method, I felt like I was back in my university Human Physiology class, I had no idea I was going to be learning the physical reasons why these breathing techniques are so effective.

Sue then led us through the breathing pattern. She kept encouraging us not to let our heads get in the way. She reminded us to stay out of our own way and just let our bodies do what it is naturally capable of. When I made a point of simply witnessing my breathing, I felt not only an amazing sense of calm, but I realized that I was capable of holding my breath much longer than I thought I could. It felt very empowering. 

Wim Hof's Mindset and Focus 

Our bodies and our lives are an indicator of what is going on in our minds. Training our minds is one of the most important things we need to do to create the life we want. That is why I teach this so explicitly to my students at school. I was so grateful when I realized that this too was a part of Wim Hof's method. A committed and robust mindset is essential to realize your inner strength and abilities. Concentration is also an essential part of achieving our goals. Part of the workshop is speaking to having a committed mindset and increasing your ability to stay focused on what it is you want to accomplish.

Wim Hof's Gradual Cold Exposure

So many of us have learned to fear, hate, or run from the cold. If we're sick we are told to stay inside, stay warm, don't get cold! In the WHM, the cold is vital in strengthening our body's ability to create and maintain health. After gradual cold exposure, the blood pressure goes down with improved functioning of the cardiovascular system. Cold is an essential part of accessing the autonomic nervous system as well as enhancing the immune system's ability to keep you well. 

As Sue was explaining the value of cold exposure like ice baths, cold showers, and spending time in colder temperatures with less clothing, I thought back to when I first heard about Tony Robbins. I remembered him saying that every morning he jumps into a cold pool of water. Even without knowing the science behind it, it felt like a good idea to me.

As we took a break for some food, Sue suggested it is not ideal to do a cold bath on a full stomach, so she recommended we eat "just enough." She reminded us what the Buddha said, even enough is too much. I appreciated the reminder to consciously eat to fuel my body not to entertain my taste buds.

As Sue prepared the tub, some participants confessed they were feeling a bit nervous. I was delighted to say that I did not feel nervous at all. Every cell in my body knew this was a good idea.

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Before going outside, Sue had us doing a moving and breathing exercise that we would need to do after we got out of the ice bath. She called it the horse stance. I knew it right away from when I took Tai Chi. In the Taoist Tai Chi classes I took, it was called "move hands like clouds". There was a certain way we were to breathe while doing this move repeatedly. She also asked us to partner up. Our partners would be responsible for assisting us in and out of the tub as well as ensuring we did our "horse stance" exercise after getting out until we were sufficiently warmed up. 

Sue requested we go in order from the shortest to the tallest. So, guess who was going first? I was actually grateful. No time for my head to talk me out of this. We all went outside and helped fill the tub with bags of ice. Sue checked the temperature. It was about 7 degrees C (about 45 degrees F). I was thinking about how my pool at 70 F can seem a bit too frigid. This was going to be a lot colder than that!

Before going in, Sue had me connect back to my breath, to connect to mindset and then step in. When I stepped in, she told me to drop down into the water as quickly as possible. As soon as my chest was submerged, I felt shocked, and suddenly it felt like I could not breathe. Sue had me follow her breathing patterns, and as I copied her breathing and watched her smiling at me, I instantly started to calm. 

I noticed how the cold seemed to lessen right away. It reminded me of my morning dips in the pool. This past summer I was making a point of swimming in colder water. I used to torture myself by slowly walking into the pool. After watching one of the Wim Hof documentaries, I used his phrase all summer before jumping into the deep end, "I am stronger than the cold." I would feel that instant shock after jumping in, but within seconds I felt very powerful and would end my swim with new invigorating energy. 

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The suggested goal was to sit in the water for 1 minute and 30 seconds. We could choose to go to as long as 2 minutes if we wanted to, but that was the longest Sue would allow us to remain in the ice water. I lasted 1 minute and 30 seconds. When I got out, I was surprised that I did not feel cold. I felt energized. I usually can't walk barefoot very well, but I even managed to walk across the gravel to get my towel with minimal "sensation."

Sue had invited us to use the word sensation instead of pain. We tend to think that pain is bad, and we often find ways to get rid of it. If we shift our minds to sensations, now we can stop and pay attention. We can learn to listen to these sensations so we can notice what we need to be paying attention. Then from this level of consciousness, we are equipped to do what is best for our body. In this case, the sensations told me that I was standing on gravel. I decided to move to stand on the concrete.

By the time the last person came out and did some movement and breathing, we were all smiling, laughing, and joined in a group hug. This was the first time I met these people, and only after a few hours with them, they felt like good friends. There is something about moving through challenges with other people that brings you together — a powerful sense of community.

We all went back into the yoga studio to recap and share our experiences. Everyone felt profoundly impacted by the workshop. When it was my turn, I shared how amazing I felt in that moment. In one afternoon, I connected to my breath and learned a powerful breathing exercise, I experienced the peace of calming my busy mind, I was reminded to eat more consciously, I did something I never thought I would ever do and I powerfully connected to strangers. 

In reflection, I realized I had spent the day communicating and connecting deeply with my body, further developing my mindset, pushing my body past my perceived limits, and becoming more conscious, all within the context of a loving community. These are all essential components of mental wellness. 

After our sharing was over, we all received our certificates. Some of us took the time to celebrate with photos. 

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I left the workshop feeling great. Then the next question, "How long will this last?" As anyone who has attended workshops knows, one of the biggest challenges is integrating what you learned back into your life. How will I integrate breathing exercises and cold exposure into my daily schedules? Then came my first mind set challenge… a voice that asked, “Will this really make any difference?”

Immediately I was able to dismiss this negative, sabotaging voice in my head. I am familiar with managing this voice. Fortunately, nobody has to prove to me the value of what I learned. I have learned to “feel” as well as rationalize what is best for me. I knew something guided me to this experience. I continually ask for what I need to manage my physical pain and to keep my body at optimal health and mobility. I asked and so I received.

One of Wim Hof’s expressions is,

"Feeling is understanding" 

As I drove away, I smiled to myself and thought how very true.

Jill McPherson4 Comments