Hello and welcome back to The School of Greatness!
In today’s episode, I interview Wim Hof, the Dutch daredevil commonly nicknamed “The Iceman” for his ability to withstand extreme cold. Wim describes his ability to withstand extreme cold temperatures as being able to turn his own thermostat up through breathing exercises. He’s also a coach, an author, a speaker who trains people around the world in his cold endurance methods. He holds 26 world records, including a world record for the longest ice bath. He’s even climbed to an altitude of 22,000 feet on Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes!
Wim has also reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in his shorts within two days as well as completed a full marathon above the Arctic circle in Finland with temperatures close to minus four degrees Fahrenheit. He broke the ice endurance record twice, with The Guinness World Record now set for one hour and 52 minutes and 42 seconds.
In this interview, we break down how to master breathing — how to master your breath as an extreme athlete and from any extreme mental performance point of view. If you have any stress in your life, anxiety, fears, doubts, concerns, or uncertainty — I’m telling you, this episode is for you!
Let’s jump right into today’s episode with Wim Hof, the Iceman!
Wim’s Origins with Breath
While breathing is something each of us does every day, few of us take time to understand or study the power it holds. Wim’s journey began because he had been studying every religion, tradition, culture, language, and philosophies — but none brought him the sense of connection he was searching for as he yearned for something ‘greater’ than himself — something more.
Until he found cold water.
“The cold water is merciless but righteous, it brings you directly into contact with a deeper part of your own physiology and the way nature meant it to be. Then I knew from the inside — this is it! I don’t know why, but this is it. Feeling good is being connected.” – Wim Hof
After his first experience and this deeper connection, he tried it again with the same result and decided to pursue it all winter long through freezing temperatures in the icy water. By breathing deeply in the water, Wim trained to become able to stay under the ice for seven minutes!
Wim’s deep breathing was changing his body’s chemistry, thereby becoming stronger and more alkaline, helping his body adapt to all situations — the cold, heat, Mount Everest, grief, any stressful situation.
So began his journey to break 26 world records.
Lessons from a Near Death Experience
Wim’s Guinness World Record attempts haven’t always been smooth sailing. While attempting to set a new under-ice swimming record of 50 meters, catastrophe struck.
“In the polar circle the day before the actual record, I went in, I had no goggles on and I lost my way because I lost sight. [My] cornea [froze] and I [couldn’t find the second hole]. I did 113 meters. I couldn’t find it all.” – Wim Hof
Exhausted, narrowed vision, and swimming towards unconsciousness, he felt no pain or agony — just peace. If it hadn’t been for a diver bringing him back to the 50-meter hole, he most likely would have died.
Wim had to return the next day and overcome his near-death experience and break the record. His perception of death had been transformed into a powerful understanding:
“I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid not to live.” – Wim Hof
Wim uses this to empower others to overcome their own fears now.
Helping People Overcome Day-to-Day Fears
Wim is a man on a mission! At every turn, it feels like someone we love is dealing with the fear of some kind, potentially created from an array of mental issues like greed, emotions, PTSD, trauma, depression — all of which Wim believes can be tackled by learning to deal with fear.
“By learning that we are able to control the directory of the brain — that is, the primitive brain that makes you able [to] subconsciously act good or calm in any situation — If you can learn to control any situation, the way nature meant it to be, that is controlling the primitive part of the brain. Then fear subsides and you learn to control it.” – Wim Hof
Wim never claimed to not feel fear — he feels it like everyone else. He’s just found a way to push through with his breathing.
Dealing with Sickness
Wim’s breathing techniques don’t just help him through fear, they aid his immune system too. That’s not to say he never gets sick, but instead of being holed up in bed, he only experiences cold and flu-like symptoms. Wim has advice for those of us who can take a week to recover.
“Just do this breathing. [Breathing] was shown [to work] in a comparative study, because they created flu-like symptoms by injecting a bacteria [into my body] and within a quarter of an hour, it was all suppressed.” –Wim Hof
This is incredible! This was done in a controlled environment with doctors monitoring Wim the entire time, and instead of terrible flu symptoms including body aches, he only had a mild headache!
The power of breath is quite remarkable — I wondered what Wim’s morning routine might be to practice his own teachings.