ice ice baby

A trip to planet Wim Hof

Is Goop-endorsed cold therapy bunk or actually restorative?

This is Wim Hof, the "Iceman," a father of four, and creator of the Wim Hof Method, a health trend featured on episode 2 of Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop Lab.

He's broken 26 Guinness world records, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in a pair of shorts, and sat submerged in ice for a record 113 minutes. He credits these spectacular feats to a regimen combining breathing, meditation, and cold exposure.

The Wim Hof Method has a cult-like following. "Hoffers" link it to a long list of mental and physical health benefits, but there's no science backing up these claims.

I was skeptical, so... I tried it.

Step 1: learn a new way to breathe.

The method involves cyclic hyperventilation and breath-holding.

Some view it as meditation.

STEP 2: TAKE THE PLUNGE

"Hoffers" are encouraged to expose themselves to the cold and breathe through the pain.

By managing the body's response to environmental stressors through breathing, people can better cope with daily stress.

“The only way to get through it is to sit with it and breathe through it.

"It does something to you. But what's on the other side of that is something remarkable."

-Michael Christoforo, a Wim Hof instructor

As one workshop-goer put it:

"I've never felt more alive."

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The method doesn't come without risk. The breathing technique reduces levels of CO2 and ups the pH in the blood, a shift that can cause confusion, dizziness, and fainting.

Frigid water often prompts an involuntary gasp, a move which can cause people to drown. Cold plunges also trigger the body's fight or flight response, and in some cases, can induce "cold shock" and heart arrhythmias.

Potential Benefits:

Some small studies show the method enables people to voluntarily influence their autonomic nervous system and immune system -- bodily functions previously thought out of reach of the human mind.

But more randomized-controlled trials are needed before we can understand how the method impacts the mind and body.

The method is about reconnecting with nature and finding a sense of control, Wim Hof tells me.

These goals seem more grounded in reality than any hopes to treat cancer or fight disease.

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