Wim Hof Method is taking over the world! You have probably heard the famous quote “Breathe in, letting go!” or “The cold is my teacher” by Wim Hof, but who is Sebastian Kneipp and in what way are those two connected? Let me tell you from my personal experience.
Wim Hof – right on!
Wim Hof is a Dutch weirdo and practitioner of extreme endurance records in the cold. I became familiar with him after his visit to Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast that I started following as early as 2010. I was mesmerised by Wim Hof’s persona, his eccentricity, but even more by the simplicity and effectiveness of his method. Of course, I tried the breathing part and it felt great, but I didn’t try the cold showers, and forgot the most important part – commitment.
I dabbled in the method from time to time, before going to swimming in the cold pool and when I felt down, but it wasn’t until several years ago when I got sick that I realised its potential. One night I was shivering and my fever was rising like crazy. My brain filled with images and sounds from the past and it felt like when I was child and hallucinating from the violent fevers. Then something told me to sit up and start breathing. I was breathing not only with my lungs but also with my mind in determination to win over this thing that was winning over my body. I breathed deep and deeper until I almost passed away. I remembered that as a kid I was trying to hold my breath for a long period of time, but only succeeded to go to 1 minute and 15 seconds at most. In the last session of many I looked to the clock and saw 3 minutes 30 seconds. I didn’t have time to wonder at my new record, but at the feeling of happiness, my fever was completely gone and I didn’t even feel sick anymore. I became a Wim Hof believer, because “doing is believing”, like he says.
Several moons passed as I dabbled in the Wim Hof method, but didn’t try the cold showers, I thought that breathing was enough, and I wasn’t disciplined. It was the isolation and the global fear of the invisible enemy that brought me back to the method. This time I did it right, breathing, cold showers, meditation and exercises. My results kept rising, and I felt great, no depression in isolation, motivating others and fulfilling my time to the fullest. Of course, there’s still much to learn and to achieve for me personally, but I am truly grateful to Wim Hof and his findings.
Where does the method come from and how I came familiar with it
Then I begin thinking about the roots of the method. I remembered the sight of the kids, even kindergartens, in Russia outside in their bathing suits, rubbing snow on their bare skin, to improve immunity. The Russians and other nations that live in cold environments are also known for their baths in the frozen lakes.
The positive effect of the cold and cold water is known to early civilisations. Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations practised it, in Ancient Greece it was called the Water Cure and Romans bathed in frigidariums. Cold shower therapy is also used in ancient indian Ayurvedic medicine and classic yoga practices that recommend cold morning showers.In the modern world and in the US athletes heal their inflammation from excess exercise by extreme cold using cold baths and cryotherapy. In the past in Europe the popularity of so-called Hydrotherapy was spread by Sebastian Kneipp and his book My Water Cure (1886) that was reprinted more than fifty times and in many languages.
Being from south of Europe (although that’s a whole nother story where my country fits in the european context), I remember it was 1997 and I was away at the time, a student at the University of Bologna in the small Italian city of Cesena and I have missed some of the important happenings in my country of Macedonia and its neighbouring countries. Such were the serbian protests against Milosevic and the end of an nationalistic era. Youth of my country was inspired by the serbian example, but only from the point of massive protests or throwing eggs at the government buildings. The serbian protest were anti-nationalistic, and our were large student and high school nationalistic protests of macedonians against faculty lectures in albanian language. Then many people lost their life savings in banks as a result of pyramid schemes that cost some of them even their lives. And lastly several people were killed and many injured because they lifted a flag of Albania in Macedonia. It was a boiling point and many people expected that after the war in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, we were the next and the last war-appointed place in the long string of ex-yugoslavian wars.
In those circumstances my sister was graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Skopje with her installation/exhibition entitled Walking on Cold Water According to Dr. Kneipp, installed within the Institute of Physical Rehabilitation in Skopje. But why Dr. Kneipp and why there?
It was several years ago that I spent my whole summer in the Institute of Physical Rehabilitation healing my arm that was broken, operated upon, merged with a metal plate and fourteen screws, and in the process they screwed up the nerve that was controlling movements of the fingers. Besides that, my elbow was an immovable joint from being too long in the casket. So, being fourteen years old, the medical personnel thought I would heal in no time – except for me it was eternity, whole summer spent in hospitals, instead with my friends or preparing for the highschool exam, I spent my time learning how to write with the other arm.
In the meantime I visited the Rehabilitation centre where first they attached electric current to my arm and stimulated the nerve and the muscles. It was painful and uncomfortable. I clenched my teeth and looked the other way. In the small room there was the hospital bed I was on, electrical appliances for torturing patients, a table and two chairs. On one chair there was the nurse, and on the other a mother with a baby. The two women talked, and the baby was crying. It was obviously paralized, born that way, as I got to know from the mother, and it wasn’t getting better. But, she had hope and was doing anything she could. The nurse took the electrodes from my arm and I left the room without a word, ashamed of myself and with a great sense of guilt that I had been feeling sorry for myself.
The next room looked like a kindergarten, and indeed there were many figurines and 3D geometric shapes, that you were supposed to play with, in an orderly and preprogrammed way just to stimulate your nerves. There was a girl there that I liked. She was around my age, she looked me back, but both of us immediately looked the other way. She was doing the same exercises, and I looked at her hand. Her fingers were small and underdeveloped, like fingers of a baby on a child’s hand. She noticed my look and her gaze changed immediately.
I got out of that room feeling even more depressed. Then they sent me to the “paraffin room” and I wondered what was all that about. In the waiting room there were no more babies and kids, but old and wrinkly people that looked at me like I didn’t belong there. I was called and entered a room with a big aluminum pot. A nurse was mixing the contents of the pot with a long wooden paddle. What the hell was that all about, I wondered. Was she going to boil me and eat me like the children in the Hansel and Gretel story? No wonder there weren’t other children outside that room! Well, soon enough she pulled a big, soaking wet and boiling hot towel and wrapped it around my hand. It hurt like hell! I wanted to scream and swear at the nurse, but then the image of the paralized child appeared before my eyes. I decided to keep my mouth shut and wait for my arm to boil or whatnot. Then they unwrapped the cooked meat and put my elbow under an infrared light and that was it.
The last room looked like a physical education hall. “Do they expect me to jump some hoops or whatever?” I thought to myself. A nurse came and sat me in a chair, put a whole lot of powder on my hand and started massaging my arm. Well, that wasn’t so bad. “What did you do to your arm?” she asked me. I was thinking of my options. The truth was unbelievable, but I was too lazy to invent something more believable like “I fell down the stairs.” I supposed that I’ll be spending a long time there so she’ll probably know the truth anyway.
“We were armwrestling and my arm broke,” I said. “Who was the other guy,” she asked in wonder. “A friend from school” I answered. “Well, listen” she stopped massaging my hand and looked me straight in the eyes. “As soon as you resolve this arm thing, you go back to that friend of yours and you break his leg!” I laughed, but she seemed quite serious.
The lessons learned
I spent the whole summer in that place, and visited many other rooms. My sister sometimes came with me and wandered the long hallways. That’s how she got to know the place and discovered the rooms for the hydrotherapy according to the 18th-century Bavarian priest, Dr Kneipp. Later on, she discovered an 1926 croation translation of a medicinal book of alternative medicine called The Female Doctor in the House by Dr. Med. Jenny Springer. In the book there was a whole section on the practices of Dr Kneipp and the use of cold and hot water and its benefits. She included those pages in her exhibition that was held in the rehabilitation center and attracted a lot of people by the series of female nightgowns that were floating like ghosts in large, water-filled concrete basins; the white nightgowns were imprinted, in the area of the chest/heart, with drawings of Dr.Kneipp’s healing methods.
One day I was walking home and like it was nothing, my hand straightened itself all the way like it was something normal. After that the healing was easier and quicker. I got into highschool and didn’t break my friend’s leg. The nurse was apparently joking, but also told me another peculiar thing. “Make yourself an arm of plywood, tie your hand on it and sleep that way.” It apparently helped me since I didn’t wake up with a clenched fist and cramped up hand. The other nurse with the electrodes torture machine told me that I had to practice, not to leave the movement of the hand to the machine. Every time it lifts my hand I have to move it also. Even if my hand doesn’t move, I was supposed to move it in my mind. And so I did. In the beginning, the movement was only in my mind and then like a miracle it materialised itself into reality and my hand moved. Oh, what happiness the small thing in life could bring to us!
Several years later, in 1997 when I finished highschool and my sister had her exhibition I didn’t think much about the rehabilitation center or Dr. Kneipp. But as I started practicing the Wim Hof Method I realised it drew much inspiration from the practices of the Bavarian priest and older cultures that practised the deep breathing pranayamas, the yoga asanas and especially the cold bath.
It indeed has a lot of benefits, especially when you combine the cold water and the hot sauna, the cold opens the peripheral capillaries and brings the heat to the organs, and the hot opens them up and circulates the heat and the blood back to the surface. It may seem like an old practice that bases its findings on the antique and middle age humoral theory, but it’s benefits are more than visible in everyday life. When the cold hits the skin it’s like electricity that energizes your body. You’ll feel vital, energetic, happy and full of life!
Cold showers benefit not only your circulation and your emotional state, but also it strengthens your immune system and, contrary to the common beliefs, they keep you warm in the winter. It takes a lot of willpower to make yourself plunge into the cold shower, and just by doing that your self-belief and inner strength rises. The antidepressant effects on the mood, the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system in combination with the deep breathing are already well and scientifically proven. You can check the facts and the scientific studies online.
Wim Hof, Dr. Kneipp, whatever it takes, but try to be balanced
Wim Hof gets quite a lot of attention, especially today, but we shouldn’t forget the age old practices, and personalities like dr. Kneipp. Life and health is not an isolated thing, although we are forced to live in isolation today. Dr. Kneipp proposed hydrotherapy as a means of bettering one’s health, but also in combination with other methods like using botanical medicines, exercise, nutrition and balance. All of these things could be practised at home, and are useful tools in these times. Maybe the most difficult is the last aspect of balance. Indeed, whenever I personally felt doubt or wasn’t trying enough for whatever reason, my Wim Hof Method results were declining. We shouldn’t forget the age old saying that in a healthy mind lies a healthy body and that the mind is the first thing we should take care of before plunging ourselves into the cold. Or maybe the cold could reset the mind and help the body? Well, like Wim Hof says “doing is believing”, so don’t believe, just do it!