The Ice Man can handle the cold, but not the market
A review of a beautiful, albeit flawed man and his method, and what it means for human freedom
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The Cambridge English dictionary defines unmoored as “no longer tied in place.”
I love this word because it is such a perfect way to explain the predicament most of us face in modern society. If you are a normal person, you constantly feel unmoored. You think you have a grasp on what reality is, and then suddenly it’s gone. Reality shifts. “Wait, I thought I was tied to it, and now it moved on me.” And just when you have adjusted and you start feeling comfortable with your new version of reality, there it goes again. And once more, you are unmoored.
Gurus like Wim Hof help you realize that you are tethering your “existential rope” to the wrong objects, and that’s why you always feel this way. The external world isn’t a reliable dock for your dinghy. When you follow the Wim Hof method you learn how to tie yourself up to something a little more sturdy, your own will. For some people, it’s the first time they learn how to tap into their will and exercise it. That’s the reason it’s so powerful. That’s the reason he has a passionate following.
If you desire human freedom, it’s important to not be unmoored. You have to understand what is real and what is not. Those who seek freedom take responsibility. It is entangled with being free. One takes responsibility by exercising their will. If you would like to become intimately familiar with your will, read further.
Ice Man the man
Wim “Ice Man” Hof is a lifetime yoga practitioner, cold exposure world record holder, and father from the Netherlands. In early adulthood, his wife committed suicide, leaving him with four children to care for. She had been suffering depression and jumped eight stories to her death. Hof then did what so many grieving people do. He went searching for answers.
But he found his answers in the cold. What started as a grief therapy - submerging himself in freezing lakes - grew into setting insane records for cold exposure, such as climbing mountains in only his shorts (he managed to go partially up Mount Everest with no shoes or shirt on), swimming under frozen waters, and sitting in blocks of ice for hours. Thus he became the “Ice Man.” Now he sells his “method” as the Wim Hof Method, where he combines breathing exercises, cold training, and yoga and fitness tips.
Whereas few Westerners had heard of him a decade ago, he is now a global phenomenon, in part due to a couple of skeptical journalists who tried to out him, only to become converted themselves. Wim might be a full on witch doctor. He’s an incredibly charismatic man, which is both endearing when he’s talking about his passions, and frustrating when he starts making claims that are clearly unsupportable. When you listen to Wim, you have to be careful not to get as carried away as he does. You know, like you would with any cult leader.
Becoming a primate
“Doing Wim” is basically two things: daily exposure to cold and daily breathing exercises. Most people achieve this by taking a cold shower every day (a few really hardcore folks take daily ice bath plunges) and a few rounds of deep breathing followed by a long breath hold.
When you take a cold shower every day, this is what you will discover:
there is a voice in your head that will beg you, plead with you, scream at you, every single day your entire life, “please please please just skip the cold shower today.” It never goes away. If you don’t know you have this voice or you don’t know when the voice in your head is that voice, this discovery alone is worth the attempt.
there is another aspect of you that is far more powerful and if you exercise it every day by forcing yourself to turn that cold water on and step in, the pleading voice gets quieter
your psyche may hate the cold but your body loves it. What I mean by this is that you will start to have another experience once the voice quiets down, where your body responds positively to feeling the cold. It has to be experienced.
And if you stand in that cold water long enough you will experience what it means to be a primate. There is a moment where your adrenaline is still high but you are completely calm and completely in control. Your mind clears entirely. And you simply exist. You are conscious of your primal nature. When you get out and look at your eyes in the mirror, you will see something you didn’t know was there. This has to be experienced. There are not words.
Why exercise something you do unconsciously
You breathe in and out all day every day until you die. It seems silly to “practice” this.
What makes breathing interesting is that it is perhaps the only bodily function that you can both direct - as in, take control of it - and do nothing and it will continue without you. In other words, breathing’s default setting is auto pilot, but you can take the controls and “do it yourself” for a bit. That makes it interesting.
It gets really interesting when we watch it. As a few deeply spiritual people have known for centuries, if you simply observe your breathing, focus on it and let go of all your other thoughts and feelings… and you do this for an extended period of time… you will become somewhat hypnotized. You can put yourself into a very relaxed state simply by observing your breathing. This reduces your stress. It silences that voice - that same voice that begs you not to take a cold shower.
The benefits of stress reduction are well documented, so simply “being with your breath” as a guru might say, if practiced often should have an improvement on your health. Less stress leads to better health. That’s the real secret to Wim Hof breath work. If you follow along with his breathing exercises, you will have to focus on your breathing. It will focus your consciousness into a more relaxed state, and your psychotic ramblings will go quiet.
There are actually quite a number of breathing exercises that have developed popularity. Many of them have been scientifically tested to show benefits. But what makes Wim so much more… fun… is that it’s a short cut into deep meditation.
Buckle your seat belt Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye bye
For most practitioners, it takes a long time to get into the state of being where their mind is completely quiet and they can contemplate something using “higher” forces. Now, this gets a little mystic because I lack the words to explain what happens, but you can think without your neurotic mind narrating it all. And when you go deep into meditation that is what happens. You might say the intellect is free to contemplate a difficult topic. That doesn’t mean you will come out of it having solved the mystery of quantum entanglement. It means that there are things on your mind that you need to work out, and the psyche simply would prefer to keep the drama going. Meditate deeply (for Christians, deep prayer seems to have a similar effect) and you are “free” to work out the problem without your psyche’s interference.
Wim Hof breathing gets you to that state quickly. The method:
Breathe in deeply, expanding your belly first to allow the lower lungs to expand, and then into your chest. This maximizes oxygen in. This should take 2-3 seconds.
Exhale immediately without effort for a couple seconds.
Repeat this for 30 breaths.
On the last breath, after you exhale, simply stop. Do nothing. Do not inhale! It’s useful to have a timer so you can see how long you held your breath. With practice, exceeding two minutes is common.
When you feel the urge to breathe, do so by inhaling fully (again into the belly first). But this time, hold the breath in for 15 seconds. Exhale. The round is over.
Repeat this for 3-5 rounds total.
What you will find out when you do this regularly is that you feel better all the time. Part of that is the reduction of stress from just being with your breath. Part of it is putting your body through a cycle of increasing the oxygen level and then slowing your metabolism.
But there’s more going on here. You are going into frequent deep meditative states. And although they seem short in duration, they are not. Most of the time when you meditate you only get that deep for a few split seconds at a time before another image or feeling grabs the focus of your awareness. With Wim, in order to hold that breath, you learn - almost train yourself - to get into that deep state and hold it several times a day. What’s happening when you’re in that state?
You become moored. You’re not adrift anymore. You know exactly who is in charge.
As I alluded to in the introduction, this is particularly interesting in the battle for human freedom. When you are unmoored, you are a sitting duck for the establishment. They can feed you any line and you’ll feel compelled to follow it and justify it. Even when they contradict the thing they said just last week, you scramble to find a way to latch onto it. They get you floating adrift looking for anything firm. This is how you end up looking for easy answers. Wim Hof Method is a lot of things, but it is not easy. On the other hand, thinking you can change the world by the simple act of voting is very easy. If you believe that, it’s a sign you might be unmoored.
When you are moored to your own will, nothing they say or do can shake you from knowing what is real and what is not. If you are going to be on the side of freedom, that’s a really important quality to have. If you want to get to know your will better, give the Wim Hof method a try.
Fans of Wim will be quick to point out that I haven’t even discussed a single health benefit of the Wim Hof method beyond possible stress reduction. Practicing Wim is so powerful for your mind that the health benefits are far less important. But it’s true that you will feel healthier than you have in a long time. Let’s just say you won’t find that many Wim Hof practitioners succumbed to Covid.
Love Nature, not naturalists
While Wim Hof can improve your mental toughness and your health, he has a blind spot that is shared by nearly every yogi and guru I’ve ever read: Wim doesn’t understand how markets work.
Wim conflates all attempts to interfere with nature as capitalist excess. Like the cartoonish tree hugging hippie, you get the same sense of we gotta just leave nature alone man….. Whether he knows it or not, this is marxist tripe carried over into environmentalism decades ago. After it became apparent to all but the most insane leftist that industrial communism was never going to work, the clever marxists succeeded to hijack the nature movement. Conservation was replaced with environmentalism. Class warfare became environmental warfare. There are greedy capitalists that exploit the rainforest and noble shamans who help fight for indigenous tribes. That’s the entire cast.
In other words, it’s just as shallow as class warfare theory and just as wrong. And it’s just as effective at persuading the masses.
Contrary to marxist propaganda, there is no inherent conflict between the market and nature. Conflicts over the use or non-use of natural resources are often a tragedy of the commons, which by definition is a situation that exists without private property rights ensuring resources are managed instead of squandered. When a public land is bulldozed with no respect for the indigenous community, a thoughtful person might ask, who declared that land to be “public” and who authorized the “modification” of it and who exactly just paid for it?
This is why all new age wellness programs, even ones as successful as Wim Hof’s, can never bring you complete wellness. You cannot be whole if you have no understanding of how humans interact with each other and with nature in humanity’s efforts to increase satisfaction. You are only halfway there. You have mastered your inner forces without understanding the outer forces, why humans cooperate at all.
Wim Hof is a beautiful man who has improved the lives of thousands of people. But like all new age gurus, he can’t take you all the way.
How can you go all the way?
Has anyone ever tried reading Rothbard during their ice bath?
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