Marius Helf practicing the Wim Hof Method in an icy river surrounded by snow covered mountains Personal story

How I relearned to breathe – and how it…

In 2017 I was feeling exhausted.

I had just moved to a new city in a new country. I was in multitasking hell in my job, where I was juggling a plethora of technical projects in addition to managing a team of Data Scientists and helping a startup grow to maturity. In addition, I was suffering from frequent and heavy cold and flu, a condition I have been struggling with for the better part of my adult life. In 2017, my sick leave accumulated to a level that was not acceptable to neither me nor my boss.

Six months later, I am standing bare-chested on the ice of a frozen lake in winter Sweden, cutting a hole into the thick layer of ice and getting ready to jump in.

Today, I am teaching how to leverage extreme cold, a powerful breathing technique and forging a strong mindset to become a happier, healthier and stronger version of yourself – how to unleash the Happy Yeti within.

Jumping into the cold

In the summer of 2017, I am on a through-hike in the Italian Alps with some friends. It is a beautiful day, the sun is burning through the trees, and we are hiking. Upwards, always upwards we go on this day. As the day continues, the beeches give way to small spruces. As also the spruces fade out we stroll over soft grass, butterflies around us. The sun burning on our heads, the sweat wetting our backs underneath our heavy packs. It is hot.

Above us, not far away, icy peaks, glistening in the sun, mighty, unshakable, powerful.

In the distance we hear the sound of water rushing over rocks and pebbles. The melt of the glaciers above us, warmed by the sun to just above freezing point. A few minutes later we stand at the shore of a small creek. Water gushing down smaller and bigger waterfalls, forming ponds and pools. We must go in to cool down! And my mind goes: this can’t be a good idea, it’s f***ing cold! And as I confirm it with my big toe, I feel it: it is cold. But I can’t back out, so I jump after my friends into one of the bigger ponds, and…. I like it!

Yes, the water is cold, ice-cold, but it is not too cold! I’m enjoying this.

And as I climb out and dry in the sun I feel the happy hormones rushing through my veins, my heart beating strong, and yet my mind is at rest and in a rare state of energetic relaxation. This was the turning point that changed everything.

The Wim Hof Method – Ice, Breath & Meditation

Two weeks later, back in Amsterdam, back in real life, I’m taking a long hot shower. And as the water is pouring onto my head, I come to a realization: I have been in that ice water, and I did not get sick! So obviously, the cold does not actually give you a cold. On the contrary, it made me feel happy. Healthy. Strong. Maybe this is it!

I turn the shower handle all the way to the right, letting cold water rush over me. After an initial shock it feels good. Maybe this is it. Maybe this can help me to get well. After all, cold showers are good for you, they say.

And I dig into the topic. I stumble upon a guy named Wim Hof. Wim Hof holds all kinds of crazy records – climbing Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest in shorts and flip flops, swimming 50 something meters underneath a closed surface, sitting in an ice tank for 2 hours without dropping his core temperature. But he also claims that he has developed a method that can help every person to achieve the same – and on the way, help them to strengthen the immune system, deal better with stress and almost too many other benefits to be true.

My curiosity is awakened, and I book a full week expedition into winter Sweden. I learn to breathe in strong and deep patterns, rhythmic, connecting to the depths of body and mind. I learn to clear my mind of troubling thoughts. And I get a lot of cold exposure. Ice swimming. Snow yoga. Hour-long hikes through the wilderness with nothing but shorts and boots. And it cured me.

It is mind-boggling what 15 minutes of breathwork and a full-body ice immersion does to you. The world around you disappears. It is just you, your breath, the cold. The world comes to a hold, it is still. You step out of the water, adrenaline rushing through your veins, the body opening the arsenal of happy hormones. You feel good for the day, and you feel good for life.

How does it work?

Most people think of ice and cold when they think about Wim Hof – it is just easier to post cool pictures of you sitting in an ice bath than of you doing breathing exercises. The breathing however is what newcomers learn first: it is a powerful way of breathing, 30 deep breaths, filling your lungs up with air, energizing the body, saturating your tissues with oxygen, breathe out the carbon dioxide. Your heart rate increases, your body produces adrenaline. More adrenaline than on your first bungee jump.

One more deep breath in, fully out, and stop breathing. Your body is so full of oxygen that you can hold your breath for 1 minute, 2 minutes, maybe even 3 or 4 minutes — with no air in your lungs. And this is where the magic happens. Now your heartbeat slows down. Your body relaxes. Your mind goes blank and all nagging thoughts disappear. Your body creates all sorts of happy hormones that make you feel even more relaxed and happier. Your emotions flow freely. Then, another deep breath in, and repeat.

Your body shifts through the gears. It is like interval training in the gym, while laying on a yoga mat and using nothing but your own breath. And at the end of it, you are super relaxed and energized at the same time. Ready for the day. Ready for everything that life holds up for you.

Now a cold shower or an ice bath is just so easy! And the cold activates your cardiovascular system, while the sensation of extreme cold on your skin blends out the world around you. It is just you and the cold. Full focus. And as you step out a minute later or two, you’re even more ready for the day. Knowing that you can climb out of an ice bath — smiling! Knowing that whatever is out there, you will play it, with a smile in your heart.

Going relaxed through life, combined with the cardiovascular training that the ice and the breathing give you, give the immune system a chance to do its job properly. When you and your body are stressed, the immune system is suppressed, as is the digestive system and some cognitive parts of your brain. This is where my health issues came from – and this explains also how I got rid of them. There are even scientific studies on how the Wim Hof Method works on regulating the immune system at will. The experiment goes under the name “The Human Endotoxemia Experiment” and was published in 2014 by Kox and Pickkers.

How Breathing, Ice and Meditation have changed me

This combination of breathwork, meditation and cold exposure has changed me. My fiance keeps saying that I came back from the winter Sweden expedition as a different man – and a better partner. More confident. Calmer. And healthier. Ever since I practice the breathing as part of my morning routine, and I take an ice plunge as often as possible.

My sick leave has dropped by 80 percent. I just checked the numbers. Yes, I still get the occasional cold. But it usually passes within a day or two and doesn’t show strong symptoms.

I feel calmer, more relaxed, and people around me also notice it. It is not that the world around me has become less stressful. But I learned to hack into my stress response and either suppress or channel it.

People ask me if I’ve been on vacation. All year long. Apparently, I am doing something that gives me that certain aura that you normally see in people that have just returned from a trip to the Caribbean. Or Zandvoort aan Zee.

Sharing the good stuff

Practicing the Wim Hof Method has given me so many positive results that I decided to share this experience with the people around me.

Two years after being at my breaking point I am a certified Wim Hof Instructor. I still do my job as Data Scientist, but I have also started a side business to teach everything I have learned to everyone who wants to grow. I have called it the Happy Yeti. The yeti is an invincible snow monster with unlimited power. And there’s a Happy Yeti within all of us, waiting to be unleashed.

Have you been through a similar experience? Have you heard about the Wim Hof Method? Are you practicing it? Like this article, leave a comment or send me a message.

Marius Helf teaching a breathing session on a green lawn
Marius is a Wim Hof Method Instructor Level 2. He was born in Germany, and moved to the Netherlands in 2016. Shortly after he discovered the Wim Hof Method as a beautiful way to balance his office job. He dove deep into the ice and his own soul at a Wim Hof expedition in Sweden. It has helped him to work through a lot of old burdens and taught him to open up emotionally. After the expedition he knew that he wanted to share this method with the people around him. Since he has guided hundreds of people through the basic and advanced techniques of the Wim Hof Method as a certified instructor.

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