The other day my friend Brian sent me a text: “Do you know anything about Wim Hof?”
I wrote, “I’ve heard that it will destroy your hard drive. Do not click on it!”
He texted me back with an emoticon of a yellow face that seemed to be laughing or choking and either looking exasperated or pretending to understand a joke but not actually getting it. (I struggle with emoticons.)
Whatever it meant, I gathered that Wim Hof was not a computer virus.
Was it a brand of European nonstick cookware? A breed of sheep? Before I could ask, Brian texted me again: “This would be great for your health.”
Well, that was a clue. Wim Hof was probably a variation of Pilates, or maybe a diet, no doubt one that involved eating fermented vegetables.
Nope. After googling the term, I learned that Wim Hof is not a what; it’s a who. Wim Hof is a Dutch daredevil — nicknamed “the Iceman” — known for his ability to tolerate impossibly cold temperatures. In fact, Hof holds nearly 2 dozen world records for such feats as staying submerged for an hour and 52 minutes in an ice bath, hiking Mount Everest in shorts, and getting the largest documented crowd of people to say, “Good grief, put some clothes on, you idiot.”
But Brian wasn’t talking about Wim Hof the man; he was talking about Wim Hof the program. The Wim Hof method, using breathing exercises and extreme cold, purportedly increases the oxygen in your body, thus flooding you with a sense of well-being, helping you sleep better and, I presumed, turning you into one of those high-energy, chipper folks who don’t seem able to focus on what a terrible world we live in.
The method is said to cure disease, apparently by causing it to freeze and fall off. Some people also claim that it fights obesity by activating heat-generating “brown fat” and getting rid of lazy old “white fat,” which just sits around watching TV.
The breathing exercises interested me. I’m a firm believer in breathing. Without it, I don’t think I’d be alive today.
The cold, however, was a different story. Thanks, but — as Hof might say — nee, dank u.
Hof says that swimming in frigid water might sound awful, but it’s actually invigorating. I won’t argue with that. I fell through the ice on a skating pond when I was 9, and I felt invigorated for days afterward, though at the time I misinterpreted that sensation as relief at not having died.
I just couldn’t see myself climbing into a bathtub full of ice water —one of Hof’s recommended exercises — without a gun pointed at me. The whole concept, rather than appealing to me as a path to greater well-being, felt backward. As my mother used to say: “It’s like beating your head against a wall: It feels so good when you stop.”
But that’s just me. Lots of people swear by Hof’s regime. On the Internet I found tons of pictures of devotees — groups of shirtless, shorts-wearing men hiking through high snowy peaks, smiling through their icicle-covered beards as if to say, “Look at us! We feel great! (Please send help!)”
And I appreciated Brian’s thinking of me. Who, after all, doesn’t want to improve their physical and spiritual health? But here I was, on a wintry Vermont morning, sitting five feet from a crackling wood stove, cozy in warm socks and a sweater, a mug of hot coffee at my elbow.
How could I possibly feel any better than I did at that moment?
I’m not knocking the Wim Hof method for others. I’m sure Brian will be leaping into rivers all over Addison County, and he’ll no doubt feel amazing. (Then again, he’s already one of those annoyingly upbeat people, so it’ll be hard to tell how much credit Wim Hof deserves.)
I, on the other hand, have my own wellness technique, at least at this time of year.
The Jessie Raymond method involves dressing warmly and sitting close to a wood fire. Beginners may want to knit or read; at the elite level, they’ll learn to write lists of excuses not to leave the house for 48 hours.
Granted, unlike the Wim Hof method, mine doesn’t do much to activate your calorie-burning brown fat. But at least you don’t have to stop doing it in order to feel good.