I recently came across a podcast where the comedian Russell Brand was interviewing a man called Wim Hof, also known as the Ice Man or the Ice Shaman. In his life Wim has accomplished very extreme challenges, like running marathons on the ice in his bare feet, ascending mountains in minus 20 degrees in just his shorts, and has achieved many Guinness Book world records. However, where he is of interest to us ordinary mortals is that he has put together simple techniques for strengthening the immune system which anyone can adopt in their daily life.
His basic thesis is that we are so far removed from nature that we have become desensitised; we wear clothes all the time and seldom leave our cosy comfort zones to experience extreme conditions e.g. extreme cold. Thus most of us rarely challenge our immune system which means it is not operating at its full potential. Our extensive cardiovascular system, consisting of 18,000 miles of arteries, veins and capillaries, rarely if ever gets stimulated. This is where the cold comes in. He advises people to plunge into cold water, either through swimming in rivers or the sea, or if that is not possible just to have a cold shower each morning.
The other piece of his teaching is BREATHING. He advises you to take 30 in and out breaths and then to hold the breath for 2 minutes and to repeat this cycle three times. This process oxygenates the blood and starts to alkalanise the body, helping to cleanse the system of toxicity. The breathing, when done over a period of time, also enables you to access parts of the brain where the endo-cannabinoid system resides and also where our natural opiates are generated. We thus become alchemists of our own body chemistry, able to affect our mood and feeling of well-being.
All of the above produces a very hardy and resilient immune system which can resist disease by reducing inflammation (viewed now as the chief cause of all chronic disease). Orthodox scientists have been working with Wim conducting various experiments to test his system. In one experiment they injected E-coli (a bacterium which produces very unpleasant symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea etc). In Wim the E-coli produced no effect whatsoever and there were no inflammatory markers in his blood at all. Furthermore, Wim trained 12 people, taking them into sub zero temperatures and working with breath techniques, and they too were injected with E-Coli, with the result that, like Wim, none of them came down with any symptoms. This experiment showed that Wim's techniques can work for all of us and he is not just an anomaly of nature.
What I love about this method is that in a world which increasingly injects us with fear about our environment and the risks of disease and ill-health, it truly empowers us to take control of our own health and reminds us that we as mammals have an innate capacity to self heal. We don't have to take the next wonder drug or even supplement (not that supplements aren't useful sometimes but let's face it the supplement industry is also a multi-million dollar enterprise). It frees us to become masters of our own organism. And his methods cost us nothing except our commitment and focus.
Watch this space. I have started to include his method in my own life, starting before breakfast with the breathing exercises followed by a cold shower and I will report back on my findings. If you wish to know more about Wim's work, you can access his website: www.wimhofmethod.com.