Wim Hof may be single-handedly responsible for the cold plunge revolution currently underway in mainstream wellness. If you haven’t tried cold exposure yet, Wim Hof’s latest scientific studies will have you taking the plunge.
For many years now, the Dutch motivational speaker and extreme athlete has been the focus of every biohacking conversation we’ve heard, both here in LA and across the podcast universe. Then, in early 2020, The Goop Lab brought “The Iceman” to Netflix and the conversation really got going. The movement towards self-care and holistic health exploded during the pandemic and countless breathwork apps, cold exposure spas, and at-home plunge tubs followed. Read Next: Is The DIY Plunge Pool The New Hot Tub? Wellness At Home In 2021
Yet, the real impact of the Wim Hof Method (WHM) has been building behind science laboratory doors for over a decade — and the results may surprise you. As Hof recently shared to Instagram, “Brain scans from this study demonstrated that I was able to activate parts of my brain at will that had been thought to be inaccessible to humans. This offers a new perspective on how we might be able to deal with psychosis, fear, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder independent of drugs.”
These unique brain scans are helping the medical community bridge the gap between holistic health practices and potential medical treatment application. Could WHM for mood disorders be a medical treatment of the future?
The Wim Hof Method: More Than An Icy Cold Shower
There have been plenty of studies into the physiological benefits of cold therapy over the years — nothing new to mindfulness practitioners and nordic populations. But the WHM specifically combines cold exposure with breathwork and commitment (essentially meditation plus consistency).
It’s what Wim attests to be the reason he’s broken a number of records related to cold exposure including: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, and standing in a container while covered with ice cubes for more than 112 minutes.
While jumping in an ice bath or turning your shower all the way to the blue dot every so often will certainly produce some benefits, finding your way to all three pillars of the WHM promises:
+ Increased energy
+ Better sleep
+ Reduced stress levels
+ Heightened focus and determination
+ Increased willpower
+ Stronger immune system
Take note: it’s not simply the physical exposure to cold that may produce the largest benefit, but the use of holistic practices of deep breathing and mindfulness during that exposure.
Wim Hof has long been focused on spreading this practice around the world, but, perhaps even more importantly, he’s also been invested in bringing scientific study into the process.
Scientific Proof Of The Mind-Body Connection?
The first study conducted on the WHM in 2012, by the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, was inspired by the records Wim himself had been breaking for resilience in prolonged exposure to extreme cold. The findings published proved Wim could influence his autonomic nervous system, and ultimately his stress response and immune function.
The major tenets of scientific study since then have focused on the anti-inflammatory effects of the WHM and connection to innate immune function and pain; voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system for stress response mediation; and, most recently, brain activity. Wim recently shared this 2018 study conducted with Wayne University in Detroit, that included the first-ever brain scan used to provide compelling evidence for literal mind over matter in the WHM.
A few highlights and studies worth a deep dive:
Brain over pain | Results showed activation of areas in the brain associated with pain suppression, self-reflection and well-being, in particular e periaqueductal gray area (PAG), a region that plays a critical role in autonomic function, motivated behavior and behavioral response to threatening stimuli and thought to be inaccessible to willful mediation.
mind over Inflammatory Response | By studying the increase in plasma epinephrine levels during cold exposure, this study showed those who practiced the WHM could activate their sympathetic nervous system by will and reduce the inflammatory response to endotoxemia. It demonstrated “that the immunomodulatory effects of the intervention can be reproduced in a standardized manner, thereby paving the way for clinical trials.”
voluntary immune response | Results suggest that the WHM does not only enable healthy individuals to voluntarily initiate the immune response in acute inflammation but also in chronic inflammation related to immune-mediated inflammatory conditions. The study primarily investigates the safety of practicing the method for this group of patients, yet also looked at changes in inflammatory markers and patient-reported disease activity and quality of life.
Paving The Way For New Frontiers in Mind-Body Medicine
These studies are just the tip of the iceberg, as it were, as more studies continue and make way for clinical trials. As Wim describes, understanding how the WHM can influence brain activity “offers a new perspective on how we might be able to deal with psychosis, fear, anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder independent of drugs.” And the consistent findings into inflammatory response mechanisms and the WHM could potentially be used to treat various autoimmune diseases. Just imagine what’s next!
Holistic practices like these are often lauded for feel-good benefits that impact one’s overall wellbeing. But when Wim Hof stepped into the fMRI to have his brain scanned for the first time, it sent a seismic shift into the potential of such practices. Functional medicine and studies like this are breaking down barriers to what one might call “Western medicine” and “holistic health”, to simply view every opportunity and option as something that can benefit everyone.
Ready to take the plunge? It might just be time to discover the Wim Hof Method for yourself! Talk to us about what you’ve tried in the comment below.