All day long I dread the 2 minute ice-bath that’s looming over us. For better or for worse, it’s going to happen at 5 o’clock this afternoon.
Peter and I are participating in a 5 day boot camp with 26 times world record holder Wim “Iceman” Hof in Angahook Victoria. He has been preparing us for the ice experience with hours of deep breathing exercises and a fifteen minute horse squat (a yoga pose). He believes that we can do it and he has worked hard to ‘de-condition us’ by being spiritual and rude at the same time (as only Dutchies can do), singing and playing the guitar for us, telling tales of how he climbed Mount Everest in his shorts and sandals without oxygen tanks and how he ran a marathon in shorts and bare feet not far from the North Pole.
It’s not just about conquering the cold, it’s about taking control of our autonomic nervous system, and Wim uses extreme physical conditions to master his mind. For instance he also completed a marathon in the Namib Desert with no water in searing temperatures. All this without any ‘formal preparation’ mind you! ‘JUST DO IT!’ are his favourite words. He promises that even the most unfit amongst us (like me) will be able to do a half marathon or scale Mount Kilimanjaro on our return home.
After watching group 1, 2 and 3 take the plunge into the freezing cold water and hearing their screams of torture it’s my turn. I am as prepared as I can be (NOT) and tell myself that surely it can’t be as bad as migrating to Tassie in my teens, giving birth to 6 babies in my twenties, studying and starting a business from scratch in my thirties, and being plucked off the road more dead than alive in my forties…this must be my fifties challenge and it should be easy by comparison. So when Wim yells out for group number 4 to jump into beckoning ice-bath I turn my brain on zero, strip off my layers of winter woollies and jump in. EEEK! I was wrong! I feel my nervous system explode from the cold shock and before I take my first deep breath my arms and hands have disconnected from my body.
In the distance I hear Wim yell to put our hands on our thighs but I am not capable of moving, I am literally too frozen and it takes all my concentration to keep breathing the way Wim had taught us hours earlier. Now I regret not sticking to the 10 week preparation online course of daily cold showers and breathing exercises. I gave up after the first day, unlike Peter who diligently got up half an hour earlier every morning to do his Wim Hof routine. Instead I chucked the whole thing in the too hard basket. I mean, choosing between a 10 minute cold shower or spending that time between the warm sheets for extra R & R seemed like a no brainer to me at the time, and besides, there was always tomorrow!
All the tomorrows that never came are biting me in the bum now, literally, as the cold seeps up my insides without me being able to stop it. Reality as I know it has come to a complete halt as the seconds slowly tick away. Is somebody actually timing us? The ice is meant to turn off my monkey brain, but I am worried that the cold is going to freeze up the metal in my hips and lower back… and then I won’t be able to move for days! Finally I hear Wim announce that 2 minutes are up and I eject out of the icy water as if I am a four year old, not 54. A minute later my arms decide that they want to belong to my body. They start tingling all over and my backside is warming up too. I suddenly feel jubilant: if I can survive a 2 minute ice bath I can do anything I put my mind to! And that is exactly what I have come here for: to uncover the ‘iron woman’ that’s been hibernating somewhere inside me, cowering in the shadows. I want her to come out so I feel alive, fully conscious and savouring every moment of the few short years left in my body.
I know I am off to a rocky start but if the Iceman can’t help me achieve this, nobody can. Wim is crazy, but not stupid. He is the sort of crazy you see in a rare genius. Wim embraces the cold and allows it to become his teacher (he is a few years older than I am so there is still time for me to catch up) He holds over 20 world records including being in an icebath for 1 hour and 52 minutes without dropping his core temperature. One time when he was submerged in the ice tank during an Oprah show he got distracted. Suddenly the doctor who was monitoring his bodily functions warned him that he was in mortal danger because his core temperature had dropped to 32 degrees. Wim immediately refocused and was able to raise his body temperature back to 37 degrees easily, to the astonishment of the scientists, who at that time still struggled with the idea that it is possible for a human being to have control over his Autonomic Nervous System (which includes your hormonal, immune and nervous system). Wim proved them wrong and now scientist have added a whole new chapter on Wim’s method in their medical textbooks. We are allowed to study the chapter with our own eyes in our spare time at the boot camp.
Who is Wim Hof? Here are pieces of a well written article by Scott Carney, an investigative journalist and author who started off as a critic of Wim but soon changed his mind……Wim Hof’s abilities have come at a heavy price. Born in Holland in 1959, on the eve of Europe’s hippie revolution, Hof spent his early years in the middle of a working-class family of nine children. While the rest of the Hof family learned Catholic liturgy, Wim became fascinated with Eastern teachings, memorizing parts of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and scouring the Bhagavad Gita and Zen Buddhism for wisdom. He was keen on exploring the connections between the body and the mind, but none of what he read was quite what he was looking for.
Then, in the winter of 1979, when he was 20 years old, he was walking alone on a frosty morning in Amsterdam’s picturesque Beatrixpark when he noticed a thin skin of ice on one of the canals. He wondered what it would feel like if he jumped in. With juvenile impulsiveness he has never quite shed, he took off his clothes and plunged in naked. The shock was immediate, he says, but “the feeling wasn’t of cold; it was something like tremendous good. I was in the water only a minute, but time just slowed down. It felt like ages.” A wash of endorphins cruised through his system, and the high lasted through the afternoon. He went on to repeat the exercise every day since. The breathing technique emerged naturally. He started by mimicking the rapid breaths people take instinctively when they plunge into icy water, which he says are similar to the breaths a woman takes during childbirth. In both cases the body switches to an instinctual program. When Hof dunked under the ice, he went from rapid breathing to holding his breath. That’s when he began to feel changes in his body.
The way Hof explains it, humans must have evolved with an innate ability to resist the elements. Our remote ancestors traversed icy mountains and parched deserts long before they invented the most basic footwear or animal-skin coats. While technology has made us more comfortable, the underlying biology is still there, and the key to unlocking our lost potential lies in re-creating the sorts of harsh experiences our ancestors would have faced.
Hof trained on his own in obscurity for 15 years. Hof did odd jobs, including working as a mail carrier, and took gigs as a canyoneering instructor in Spain during the summers. Money was always a problem, and his wife—a beautiful Basque woman named Olaya—began to show signs of a serious mental disorder. She was depressed. She heard voices. In July 1995 she jumped off the eighth floor of her parents’ apartment building in Pamplona on the first day of the Running of the Bulls.
……Confronted with loss and a broken heart, he put all his faith into the one thing that set him apart from everyone else: his ability to control his body. Olaya had never shown interest in Hof’s methods, but he felt he could have done more to help her. “The inclination I have to train people now is because of my wife’s death,” says Hof. “I can bring people back to tranquillity. Schizophrenia and multiple-personality disorder draw away people’s energy. My method can give them back control.” It was his call to action. But he still needed a way to announce himself to the world.
His opportunity came a few years later. As winter settled on Amsterdam, a local newspaper ran a series of articles about odd things people did in the snow. Hof called the editor and explained that for the past couple of decades he’d been skinny-dipping in icy water. The paper sent a reporter, and Hof jumped into a nearby lake he frequented. The next week a television crew showed up.
In one famous segment, Hof cut holes in the ice and jumped in while a Dutch news crew filmed. He was drying himself off when, a few meters away, a man stepped on a thin patch and fell through. Hof charged out onto the lake jumped in a second time and dragged the man to safety. The news crew caught the exchange, and soon Hof wasn’t just a local oddity, he was a local hero. Someone dubbed him the Iceman, and the name stuck.
After that act of heroism, Hof became a household name across the Netherlands…..
The rest is history and today I count myself lucky that this man, who has pushed himself to the limits many times in order to come back wiser, is my humble teacher. Wim doesn’t hold back anything. He fights for everyone’s right to be HAPPY, HEALTHY AND STRONG, and this can be achieved within minutes, regardless of your history. He wants to share his method with everyone, and because it’s so simple Wim won’t rest till the world is a better place. He will do whatever it takes.
Wim’s charismatic leadership makes it easy for us to be ourselves. STOP DOING and START BEING he tells us. Wake up from your ignorance! Open up to the light that is inside you! Happiness, health and strength are yours to enjoy! If you don’t feel good, go inwards! If you don’t feel happy, go inwards! If you feel isolated, confused or lonely, go to Mother Nature which helps you to connect with the innate intelligence of your own body!
There are about 61 of us, mostly males (talk about noisy!) and a handful of females. There is a doctor, several others with a medical background (including Pete), therapists and life coaches, IT people, builders, gym owners, surfies, mums, dads, CEO’s, martial art experts and teachers all trying to overcome their own private Mount Everest in their backyards. Before long I am talking to people with cancer, depression, anxiety, addictions, auto immune conditions and chronic pain, abuse patterns and relationship issues. Yet the atmosphere is cheerful and optimistic, we all feel that the harsh exercises and training will be a catalyst for the lasting and positive changes we have been longing for.
The power blackouts (we are using too much electricity), the hard bunk beds, the freezing nights , the groups of half naked blokes doing push-ups, planks and pranks in the cold all adds to the eeriness of the situation, especially since Peter and I had flown in from summery civilized and polished Paris the day before. I think we all feel that anything is possible here, in this wintry, remote part of the world, under the protective wings of Wim Hof.
The following day Wim shares more secret methods with us. We do power breathing to open up our pineal gland. It turns out to be quite a dramatic session, with males falling down like chess pieces only to recover minutes later. It’s like being on a maternity ward, but instead of women giving birth to babies, now the men are giving birth to themselves. Yes, even Peter, who is normally so sceptical and fact oriented, has a dramatic experience where his third eye opens up. He might tell you what that was like himself one day.
We come back to earth by doing a 35 minute horse squat on the beach (we meditate and connect with our subconscious the whole time, so we don’t feel our thigh muscles scream out) a voluntary dip in the ocean and a walk back to the camp. Even though I am pleasantly surprised by what I am actually capable of, I am starting to dread the inevitable ice bath more with every step closer our temporary home.
After a late lunch we are once again surrounding the plastic makeshift ice pool in our swimmers. This time we have to last 4 minutes. As usual I am more interested in how everybody else is doing their power breathing rather than doing my own, so I am ‘unprepared’ as I jump into the ice bath, much to the concern of Peter, who is there to get the whole session on camera so I can send it to my kids.
After the initial shock (I don’t think any amount of cold showers prepares you for this) I am surprised to feel my body take over and doing its own thing, just as Wim predicted. My hand rests obediently on my thighs and they stay alert this time. I feel a miniature ball of warmth in the core of my body. Part of me is doing the breathing exercises and another part becomes more and more curious as the ‘iron girl’ comes out of hiding and starts directing the energy around my body. I am hypnotised as she sends a current of warm energy through the right side of my body and exits it through the sole of my foot. It now makes sense how Wim claims that the cold is righteous. The cold/Mother Nature is always right he says. It wakes us up and alerts us to which parts of or body needs healing/help. However the ice water also gives me a shocking headache which stays with me the rest of the night.
The following evening history repeats itself. I am still scared of the cold, but so is everybody else. We are pushing our limits again, by going in for 8 minutes. The group energy helps me to ignore the monkey mind that’s squealing as loud as ever, but I have become expert at ignoring it. I actually almost enjoy the ice water and feeling my Autonomic Nervous System fire up. Once again there is a warm rush of energy on the right side. It makes sense now, because that side suffered the biggest impact from the MVA of 10 years ago and there is obviously still more healing to be done. Again my head pounds in the ice bath which is a bit of a worry, but I am too proud to ask Wim about it. Instead I ask the kids on the phone later if they think I have a brain tumour (as normal I let my imagination run riot). Their answer is simple: “That’s typical mum, you know how you always worry about everything. Your main problem is your head!” Thanks kids…. I would be lost without you!
A couple of days later I notice an almost identical dark bruise on the sole of each foot, exactly where I had felt the energy exit my body during the ice baths. I feel pretty chuffed. I may not be as fit, nimble and able to withstand the cold as my half naked fellow students but my body is just as powerful in a different way. I deduct that the bruises are right on the reflexology spots for the small and large intestines. I hope that it seals a final chapter of suffering. I have had 4 lots of abdominal surgery in the last decade as a result of the MVA. Those years were some of the most painful times of my life; I felt so helpless, powerless and isolated. I am thankful for the lessons learnt as I was pushed to the brink of my nervous system but I am glad to say goodbye and welcome a new chapter, one where I can be in control of my health, and one where my head and body are able to talk to each other with complete trust and freedom.
To reach our goals, we continually have to stretch ourselves, train our minds and look outside the box. Rather than wishful thinking and waiting for good luck, we can actively shape our future by changing our daily routine. For instance consciously breathe in a little bit deeper than you are used to doing and experiment with cold showers or baths. Or go for a regular massage/bodywork session.
Controlled frequent exposure to the cold has many benefits. Cold therapy like cold showers or ice baths improves your metabolism. The ball of warmth I felt on the second day meant that my brown fat tissue metabolism was being activated. Brown fat rapidly heats the body, like throwing petrol on the smouldering embers. As we age we lose our brown fat and we start building up layers of white fat in unwanted places. Studies have shown that cold therapy has anti-obesity effect.
Cold exposure helps to move toxins from your lymphatic system; it’s a bit like cleaning out your house with a garden house. It trains your circulatory system. Blood vessels open with cold exposure, and then close again. This causes blood to rush back and flush the organs and glands which helps to remove toxins and boosts the blood circulations to the organs.
Longer cold exposure triggers the release of endorphins similar to opiates. This is like having your own inbuilt pharmacy. Now you can unlock the door to your bodies’ secret stash of natural painkillers. It is safer than obtaining them on the black market and it gives you the same high or sense of wellbeing, without any of the side effect. It costs you nothing other than a little bit of effort.
Cold showers may stimulate the brain to release noradrenalin, a chemical that’s helpful in overcoming depression. It also reduces inflammation and stress levels, improves fertility and sexual performance, boosts your immune system, improves your thyroid and adrenal function, increases your pain tolerance and helps you sleep better, amongst other things. It is challenging but worth it! Spring is just round the corner and we have some big surprises in store for you. I will keep you posted!
Reminder: REFLEXOLOGY WEEKEND WORKSHOP
With Grada Robertson
3rd and 4th of September
9.30 -5.30 @ 47 Wilmot Rd, FORTH
$400 per person ($100 per day to revisit)
Includes manual, relaxation, fun & food& new info
P:64283007 to reserve your spot
This is for beginners as well as existing therapists who want to deepen their connection with ‘life’ through the art of reflexology. Reflexology is a deeply relaxing and energizing holistic therapy that treats the WHOLE YOU rather than just the symptoms of disease.
The aim of reflexology is to release any blockages to health & happiness, and restore the free flow of energy and blood circulation throughout your body. To achieve this, specific techniques are applied to reflex areas on the feet that correspond to tissues, organs and systems throughout the entire body. Stimulating these reflexes encourages the body to heal itself, often miraculously, restoring and maintaining natural equilibrium, as well as promoting relaxation and a general sense of well-being. During this fast track workshop I will teach you how to:
- Reduce anxiety and stress
- Increase focus and clarity
- Encourage and restore the flow of nutrient and oxygen through the body
- Relax sore and tired muscles
- Induce overall relaxation and peace of mind
- Rebalance the hormones
- Stimulate and balance your metabolism.
- Boost your immune system.
- Use essential oils correctly
Also: Fearless Food Fermenting workshop by Caleb Robertson
When: Saturday 3rd of September
9.30 am -12.30pm @ 643 Forth Rd, Forth
RSVP 64283007 $110 per person
For more info on workshops, products, therapies and health info and stories, check out www.purplehousenaturaltherapies.com.au. or talk to our receptionists on 64283007