Nausea, an achy body, and minimal sleep were not what I anticipated on a night where I needed sleep in order to be my best. Here I was, feeling terrible, deep in frigid Poland and about to embark on the pinnacle challenge of a trip that I had been looking forward to for months. After five days of going deep into myself through breathing and cold exposure, how could this be? I should be at the top of my game.
To set the stage a little better, I was in Poland on an intensive Deep Dive Wim Hof Experience. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Wim Hof, he is multiple world record holder for all sorts of crazy feats around cold (and an even heat) including the longest ice bath, climbing to the “death zone” (22,000 ft) on Mt. Everest in nothing but his shorts and shoes, and more. He has developed a three-pillared method that includes a breathing technique, cold exposure, and mindset that promises to increase energy, boost the immune system, alongside a whole list of other benefits. From podcasts like Joe Rogan, Tim Ferriss and Rich Roll, and documentaries by the likes of Vice, this movement is beginning to spread like wildfire.
I caught wind of Wim via a good friend and after just one session of breath work, the effects were so potent that I dove in head first. I began with Wim’s 10-week online course, followed by a master class taught by Wim’s #2 in command, Kasper van der Meulen. Kasper leads the Wim Hof Academy where he trains people to become instructors in the method. As a former science teacher, Kasper’s ability to articulate and explain the scientific nuances of the method was unlike anyone else I had come across. I’ve had a lot of teachers in my life, but I can’t pinpoint one that has been more impactful on me than Kasper.
So fast forward to Poland with Kasper and 25 other people. Here we were, doing hour-long breathing sessions to start the day, swimming in frozen rivers and cascades, and learning the science behind the method. Within just a day or so, I began to shed layer upon layer of a shell that I had built up over the last 35 years of my life. I could feel my body changing, my mind letting go and most of all, I really began to love myself. As human beings, we are amazing creatures but as most of us know, we never fully tap into our full potential. As we got deep into our physiology, I began to unlock more and more of what I am actually capable of, hence finding more compassion for myself as a human being.
And on this final day of the trip, we were to climb the tallest mountain along the Czech/Poland border, Mount Snezka, in just our shorts and hiking boots. And I was feeling terrible. The day began with our usual morning breathing session. Before we began, I asked Kasper, “How could I be feeling so bad? What do I do?” He explained that through all this intense work I was putting my body through that my physiology was changing, my metabolism was firing on all cylinders and I was detoxing. He assured me not to worry - just breathe slow and listen to my body.
So about 15 minutes into our breathing, I was overwhelmed by emotion and began to cry. I wasn’t sad or upset but I just needed to let go of whatever was in there that was begging to get out. Five minutes later, a deep euphoric feeling swept over me and I was flooded with the greatest sense of love - love for my family, my friends, this experience and this life. (It’s crazy because as I write this, I am transported back into that dark room and my eyes are welling up.) As the breathing session ended, my body took over and I immediately went into a deep sweat. But this was not like a sweat after a heavy workout. This was some internal toxins, stored over who knows how long, coming out and it smelled really bad so much so that I had to go back to my room and shower.
After breakfast, we loaded up into the bus and headed to Snezka. I was still not feeling my best and had a moment of desperation as we pulled up. But I took a deep breath and said to myself, “I’ve been training for the last 6 days for this. I can do this.” I stepped out of the bus, took off my shirt and began the ascent up the mountain.
To begin the hike, it was about -5 degrees C and lightly snowing. The trail starts off pretty gradual, then steepens before it plateaus for getting to the final ascent to the top. Once we reached this plateau, we got above the tree line and the wind kicked in. The temperature immediate dropped 10 degrees and the amount of focus I had to put into each and every step was unlike anything I can remember. While tuning into my breathing, I quickly fell into stride with one of the assistant instructors next to me and fell into this zone where I could only hear our footsteps simultaneously crunching in the snow. The hair on my body was crusted white with frost and my breathing fell into sync with my walking. Around a bend, the clouds parted, the sun blasted down on us and we could see that final uphill climb to the top.
The final 800 meters up were all a blur as we made our way up the now crowded section of the hike (most had taken a chair lift to the plateau, in full winter gear mind you). At this point, I couldn’t really tell you where my mind was. I was working off of pure adrenaline as I eyed the top. But once on the summit, I can say it was one of the most beautiful sights I have seen and the most charged up I have ever felt. Any feelings of illness were in the distant past. All anyone in our group could do at this point was smile, scream, laugh, high five and hug each other. And I am proud to say that every person on the expedition, from 64 years old to 20 years old, man and woman, made it.
In the end, I do not share this story with anyone to make myself look good. Trust me, after dealing with the cold, I am quickly learning to leave my ego at the door. Instead, I share my experience because I want you to know that you too are capable of doing amazing things like this. I am no superhuman, I am just like you. It is our limiting beliefs that continually get in the way. So instead of listening to that little voice in your head, I say get out of your comfort zone. Do things every day that makes you push yourself and feel uncomfortable. As Wim says, “feeling is understanding.” And once you feel it, you will understand. Not to mention, in the end, you will become a better person for it which in turn will only make our world a better place to live in.