My semester abroad in Sydney turned out completely different than expected. A journey of gaining a new body awareness through the Wim Hof Method and meeting the Ice Man in person.
Arriving in Sydney
Not long ago I arrived in Manly, a beachside suburb of Sydney in Australia, located at the northern beaches. I moved into a house just a few minutes away from the ocean and the little town centre. Strolling around the house I discovered something that I never expected would change my life. A white chest freezer with a little stool in front of it. Out of pure curiosity, I lifted the top and there was just water in it with floating chunks of ice. Why would anyone have a broken icy chest freezer in the house?
Ice bath in the snowy mountains in Australia, 2019 Pic: Will Solis
Not paying too much attention to my discovery, I went to a yoga class at Power Living in Manly. I rolled out my mat and had a look around to see who else was practicing with me. My gaze wandered across the mats and got stuck on a man in the corner. A tall, blond young man with two large tattoos on his chest and thighs, radiating powerful energy. The class began, 60 minutes of Power Vinyasa Yoga to calm the mind through demanding asanas led by breath. I opened my eyes after the Savasana, the end relaxation, let my eyes wander over the faces in the room, but the young man was no longer there.
On the way back I walked along the beach, up the stairs back to the house in a street with a stunning view at the International College of Management (ICMS), where I enrolled to study one semester of journalism. The waves looked as though they would be fun to surf. I went to my room to put my wetsuit on, took a sip of water in the kitchen and suddenly he was standing in the kitchen. The man from the yoga class, now smiling at me saying: “Hi, I am Johannes, your flatmate”. Slightly overwhelmed I introduced myself as well and he invited me to go to Shelly Beach later for ice baths, cacao and acro yoga. After some good waves at Manly Beach, I made my way to Shelly beach to meet up with him.
There was a group of people at the small, sheltered beach cove with shimmering, clear turquoise water. They were dancing, playing the drums, drinking cacao and plunging into little pools with ice cubes in it. My head still didn’t make the connection to my discovery earlier. I was just watching with fascination at how calm the people remained sitting surrounded by ice without any shivering or discomfort. They were staying in the cold water about for 2 minutes, coming out with an uplifted energy and began to move in a squat position, pushing their arms side to side to heat their bodies. I was excited but still not comfortable enough to try it myself. Johannes gave me warm cacao. But it didn’t taste like one that I would have at home. It had a deep chocolaty, lightly bitter and very smooth taste. It is ceremonial grade cacao from Keith’s Cacao made in Guatemala by the chocolate shaman Keith.’ explained Johannes. Ceremonial Cacao is roasted lightly and contains Theobromine that potentiates the release of dopamine, the ‘pleasure’ hormone. After a few sips, I could feel it. I felt happy and my heart more open to connecting to the people around me.
As the days went on I slowly began to settle into Sydney, adapting the Australian lifestyle more and more. For me, that meant doing Yoga early in the morning, surfing, hanging around at the beach and drinking coffee besides studying. One morning I went into the basement to get my surfboard, next to the mysterious chest freezer. But this time it was open and Johannes sat in it with his eyes closed, breathing quietly between the chunks of ice. I waited until he came out of the water to get to the bottom of the mystery of ice bathing. However, when he was out the first thing he did was jump on the trampoline
cacao and celery juice we sat down at the kitchen table to finally dive into the ice topic.
Johannes on the trampoline in our Manly shared house, 2019
“Okay, Johannes you are a health nut, I mean who drinks celery juice for breakfast with a cup of Cacao instead of Coffee. After doing yoga at 6 am and freezing your body. Why do you do all of this?’’, I asked.
“These simple, but powerful practices brought me back in touch with myself. I have a daily routine of breathing and cold exposure to be on top of myself on a daily base. You should try it’’
A few days later I was sitting in the car with Johannes driving up the east coast of Australia to Coffs Harbour. He taught a Wim Hof Method Fundamentals Workshop and I was going to experience my first Wim Hof breathing and ice bath. On the way we packed up the car with heaps of ice bags, the cold air from the back made me shiver a bit, though it made me even more excited for the upcoming experience. We arrived at a house in Coffs Harbour that had been turned into a yoga studio. Johannes filled inflatable pools with water, put up posters with information about cold exposure, breath
work and rolled out yoga mats.
The first participants came into the room, sat quietly on the mats and waited for the Wim Hof workshop by Johannes Egberts to begin. 20 excited eyes were starring at Johannes as he welcomed everyone and started the workshop. First, we formed a circle so that we could all see each other. Everybody introduced themselves and had a different reason for being there. Some told fascinating stories. A man in his fifties got very sick and started to practice the method and it gave him hope and strength to keep on fighting. Some shared of their struggles with medical conditions, depression or trauma that brought them here. Some came out of pure curiosity and excitement to learn about something unknown. The workshop created a safe environment for everyone to open up, share and experience the capability of their bodies
I revealed that I have Hashimoto Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease of the Thyroid causing inflammation in the body, fatigue, depression and many other symptoms. An autoimmune disease is when the immune system confuses something natural in the body as an invader, then it attacks and attempts to destroy it. The body starts to attack itself from the inside out. This is where the Wim Hof Method could potentially bring relief. People suffering from chronic inflammation have used this alternative approach to manage unwanted inflammation and suppress an overactive immune system. Over the past years I tried medication, different diets and sports but nothing made me feel completely healthy.
Could the Wim Hof Method have the key to get my body back into a strong, healthy and happy state? Or at least hand over some control back over my body functions?
In the first place I had to learn what the method was. As far as I knew it was a practice based on three pillars, breath work, cold exposure and commitment created by Wim Hof.
Wim lives in the Netherlands not far away from where Johannes grew up. Johannes began to tell his story of how he got to practice and teach the method. He got himself into a lot of trouble as a teenager and left school at the age of 14. Shortly he found himself in a youth rehabilitation camp led by ex-soldiers in the Black Forest in Germany. It was winter, and the teenagers went through extreme challenges to regain control over their feelings, take responsibility for their actions to fit back into society. The teens bathed in ice-cold rivers, walked for hours through the snow and learned survival skills.
These days, the cold exposure and breath-work have become a tool obstacles life brings and overcome the past. Johannes now travels the world teaching the Wim Hof Method to people of all walks of life.
Johannes doing an ice bath in Newcastle, 2019
He’s taken thousands of people into ice-baths and leads adventures in
nature to help others discover their potential.
I started to get more and more excited to finally start my first practice. We all laid down on our mats and Johannes started guiding us through the breath-work the first part of the three pillars.
He started to take us into the first round: “Fully in and let it go’’. Supported by powerful
music I breathed in deeply through my nose, expanding my diaphragm and opening
my mouth to let some air out. 40 to 50 breaths before maximal breath retention. After
the first round I could hold my breath for more then a minute.
The body has an equal state of oxygen and carbon dioxide in it’s normal state. By applying this breath, more oxygen floods into the system and the carbon dioxide level decreases. As soon as we start holding the breath it slowly starts coming back to equilibrium and after a while, the carbon dioxide level is higher and the urge to breathe in kicks in. With more practice and rounds the ability for breath retention increases.
We did 5 more rounds and after the last one visuals started to show up in my head. Colours, geometric patterns and even some images of the beach and water. Suddenly a deep sadness came up, I started crying and shortly calming down after. I started to move my fingertips and toes and came back to a seated position. I felt relaxed and present and that I just released a feeling from my heart but there was no concuss why and what exactly.
The workshop went on and we got to the second pillar; the cold exposure. We learned that it has numerous health benefits. It has been proven a powerful tool for mood improvement and healing depression, strengthening the immune system and alleviating
journey of discovering the capability of the body and mind. Scientist also found out that it can speed up the metabolism, reduce swelling and soreness of the muscles and help fight inflammation. Autoimmune diseases are caused by inflammation, inflammation is caused by stress. My brain kept spinning analysing my lifestyle and stress in daily life. People frequently taking ice bath or cold showers could improve the quality of their sleep and get more focused. Benefits are ranging from higher energy levels to a relief of the symptoms caused by autoimmune disease.
Now my concentration was gone. All I wanted was to take my first ice bath.
Pic: Will Solis
There I stood facing a little pool with ice cubes and a little yellow duck with frightening 1 Degree on it floating inside. I always hated the cold. It gives me pain and just feels uncomfortable. But well, if you never try something new or fight your fears, you will never know or get out of your comfort zone. “In you go” said Johannes and I stepped into the pool. Huh, cold, I started shivering, slightly hyperventilating. I told myself to surrender to the feeling, not giving it any judgement. Yes, it feels cold but without labelling it as good or bad. I stayed in the water for 2 minutes. Having goosebumps, red skin, trembling a little but feeling more energised than ever before. I started jumping and doing horse stance. The movement I have seen before moving from side to side, screaming out Hu Ha to heat the body.
I felt stoked to have stepped out of my comfort zone and jumped into the ice. This could introduce the third pillar of he method the willpower. To stop just auto-piloting the body through daily life and take control of the body and mind. To become more healthy, happy and satisfied and cope with stress and conflicts.
After everybody jumped in, we drank a Cacao and shared in a circle what we experienced today. For me, it was a new awareness of my body. I can go into the cold, my body can warm itself up and my mind and breath can get me through
any challenge. Everyone shared one word and for me, it was energy. We all hugged each other. It is a special connection that people are creating at the workshop. It is coming from a place of pure support and love. And I felt my body and mind fuelled up.
We drove back to Sydney and the next day I went to University and work. I started to integrate cold exposure into my daily life. I can tell you, switching from nice hot showers to cold is willpower and commitment.
Taking the practice into nature
I stood in front of a wall of snow and ice that was reflected in the ice-cold river water. My thoughts jumped back and forth in all directions. What are you doing here? Why did you come up with the idea of going to the Snowy Mountains in Australia instead of just lying on the beach in the heat?
A loud male voice ripped me out of my thoughts: “Guys, put your swimmers on we are going to the water!’’ Now there was no chance to escape, well I could run away or just sit on the shore. My mind kept chattering.
The past weeks I had taken part in several workshops where I bathed in small pools with ice cubes, this was the next level. In nature, surrounded by mountains, no hot shower or cacao nearby. I was standing in the middle of a group of thirty people from different places in Australia, ages and life stages and everyone was getting ready for the cold river bath. With shaky legs and short breaths I tapped to the edge of the water. First the toe tips, feet, knees and oh my God it was freezing cold. Again the thoughts of running, of turning around, and then the hips, belly, ribs up to the shoulders. The breath was short,
very fast, almost hyperventilating. But then again quiet, calming down through the familiar male voice, “Deeply in and let it go. Steady, calm breath.’’
Snowy Mountains, 2019 Pic: Will Solis
We stood in a large circle, in the shadow of the ice wall behind us. Arm in arm, feeling the cold, slightly trembling, but all individuals full of energy. As a closed unit, we sat down up to our shoulders in the water. I closed my eyes and felt empty darkness that slowly began to dissolve. A cycle of energy and warmth began to unwind from my pelvis up to my head, unfolding into a scream. Around me, I heard several powerful cries, full
of release, joy and power. My toes had become numb, I barely felt my hands. Hand in hand we walked out of the river with small, attentivesteps. Everyone had a smile on their lips, an upright, energetic posture.
Pic: Will Solis
We stood in a circle in our bathing clothes and began to warm up our bodies with movements from side to side. Screaming, “Hu Ha Hu Ha Hu Ha’’ on every exhale. Taking a deep inhale in between, rotating the upper body with deeply bent knees. Thecollective moved faster and faster creating more and more warmth in the bodies. We hugged each other, put on warm clothes with trembling hands. Every face I looked into seemed to be satisfied and fulfilled with incredible life energy. We left the river and began our walk back. On the way, we formed a tunnel of hands through which everyone walked once. “You are beautiful, powerful, you are loved’’, words that the open heart and soul could now completely absorb.
After an hour we reached the cars and drove through the wide landscape of the Snowy Mountains back to the Matterhorn Lodge in Thredbo. Passing rivers with cold water, some snow-covered fields and closed ski lifts.
The group gathered in the living room by the fireplace and everyone began to write their experiences and feelings in a diary. There was a warm atmosphere, full of sincere support and acceptance. An environment allowing each individual to express their deepest beings and struggles and receive unconditional love and support.
Now we were all sitting together in a big circle. Views crossed paths full of warmth and affection for each other. Each person had three objects laying in front of a stone, a stick and a leaf. Clockwise everyone began to tell the meaning of his stick, for what remains within the body and mind, the rock expressing what rocked over the weekend and the leaf to what each one leaves behind. And everyone had a different meaning for the
objects, a different experience and insight of their soul. But all together had found a way to support each other and give the comfort that everybody was able to look inside, to observe weaknesses and strengths. We left the retreat with a strengthened and released mind and heart. With a more aware state of being. Back to everyday life.
Meeting the man behind the method
As the incredible opportunities here in Australia kept coming up, in the morning on the 8th of December I received a message that I could participate in the Wim Hof Event in Sydney as a volunteer. I knew that there would be a lot of friends and familiar faces, but it didn’t seem realistic for me to be part of it until now.
I arrived at the event and started running because I had discovered a participant of the Snowy Mountain Retreat. A special connection that can not be put into words.
I went into the hall of the Sydney Showgrounds. There was a stage with two big screens and an open area for the participants of the Wim Hof event. I had never met most people before, everyone greeted me with a warm hug and a warm smile. There was an immediate tribal feeling. We discussed the order of the event and the organisation. Everything was formulated very imprecisely, but everyone radiated confidence with a certainty to know what to do. In the middle of the briefing, Wim Hof stormed into the middle of the circle. “F**ck the organisation, let’s do it and have fun”. He danced in the middle of the circle, screamed out some words and greeted everyone warmly.
1200 people were waiting outside the door. Johannes went outside with his drummer friends and started to cheer up the crowd. We started dancing to the loud drums, moving in horse stance screaming, “Huuu Haaa’’ At first the crowd seemed insecure, slightly hesitant but then everybody began to move to the rhythms of the drums. Wim
greeted the people and went back inside to prepare for his performance on stage. 1200 people ran into the hall and spread out their yoga mats in front of the stage. Each section had a small group of volunteers and a Wim Hof instructor. Creating a tribal feeling and security for the participants.
The band started drumming loudly and Johannes got on stage. Clapping his fist to his heart, radiating and unleashing incredibly powerful energy that I could feel meeting him the first time. “We are the tribe, we are the tribe”. The crowd now fully motivated and excited began to beat on their hearts in rhythm to Johannes. A convivial atmosphere
spread. Then Wim Hof came on stage.
Wim is not just a crazy guy climbing Mount Everest in nothing more than a pair of shorts, sitting in an ice tub for 2 hours or running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot breaking 21 Guinness world records. He is a biohacking master showing the world what the body is capable of and how to be aware of the state of the mind. Through his extensive training for over 40 years now, he can control his breathing, heart rate, blood circulation and withstand cold temperatures. He likes to say, that nature is his only teacher.
His extreme achievements took the attention of the media and scientist all around the world.
They were curious about finding out how he can withstand the cold for such a long period and if he can tap into his autonomic nervous system. Since Wim had claimed to be able to control parts of the body that we are told to not be able to, like the immune system, heart rate and blood circulation. First, the audience seemed very sceptical but Wim was able to prove his abilities on a scientific level. After an experiment called the endotoxin study, he submitted evidence that he was able to control his immune system to a certain
In the experiment, he got injected with a bacteria that the immune system would attack in the usual case causing symptoms like nausea, fever and fatigue. Wim was able to flood his body with adrenaline by tapping into his autonomic nervous system and let the bacteria pass through his body without an inflammatory response.
Wim Hof became a superhuman, the crazy Iceman, but he said anyone could be able to learn how to control his body parts. He could teach people with his method how to do it. Thereupon he took 18 young men to Poland to teach them his techniques. To show the scientist, who tracked the whole trip and training, that anybody could control the immune system at will. He took them through breathing sessions, hiked up with them to the highest mountain in Poland in freaking -30 degrees in just wearing shorts and plunged into ice-cold lakes. In the end, every man was pumped to experiment with being injected with e-Coli bacteria. Every single participant was able to pass the
pathogen right through the body without an inflammatory response. This was a breakthrough in science resulting in the new medical literature with a little picture in it of Wim wearing a pair of shorts.
And this badass 60-year-old man was sitting in front of me at the
Dinner in Sydney after the event
Blowing a horn, singing, creating a childish, funny atmosphere. He seemed a bit tired but very centred after the big Event. Leading 1300 people through his practice and planting a little seed in them how to navigate the body and mind through life staying healthy, strong and happy.
My time in Sydney is coming to an end. It has been an incredible journey of discovering the capibility of the body and mind. Let’s see what the people in Hamburg will say when I’m plunging in the cold water of the Alster lake.