HE’S inspired millions to take cold showers and plunge into ice baths for the good of their health, his A-list fans include Oprah Winfrey and Orlando Bloom and he’s about to be played by Ralph Fiennes in a film about his life.
Now Wim Hof is fronting his own celebrity survival series, Freeze the Fear, on BBC1 – thanks to Holly Willoughby.
The Dancing on Ice star – a longtime convert to the Wim Hof Method of deep breathing and cold water therapy – brought him to the attention of her TV producer husband Dan Baldwin, who came up with the idea of a show.
Sport presenter Gabby Logan, footballer Patrice Evra, actress Tamzin Outhwaite, and rapper Professor Green are among the stars jumping into frozen lakes through ice-holes and abseiling down sheer cliffs.
They’re joined by Strictly pro Dianne Buswell, footballer Chelcee Grimes, singer Alfie Boe and drumming BBC weatherman Owain Wyn Evans.
Wim claims the breathing exercises and immersion in icy water has numerous benefits, including cutting depression and anxiety, reducing inflammation, cutting risk of heart disease, and boosting your immune system and energy levels.
Breathing to conquer fears
Holly, a self-confessed superfan, has described Wim as a “genius” and says practising his breathing techniques helps her overcome stress and anxiety.
“I’m always looking for things to make life a bit easier and over the last few years I’ve been exploring ways to help me unwind,” says Holly.
“But it has to be quite simple, and something that fits into my life, so when a friend suggested Wim Hof’s breathing method, I tried it.
“I instantly felt the benefit and couldn’t believe how powerful it was. Something as simple as breathing, which you’ve been doing since the day you were born.
“But for me that’s the key to the success of this – it’s simple and it can easily become part of your life.”
Holly says the method has helped her overcome her own fears and boosted her confidence.
“I am scared of the world,” she says. “I’m scared of everything but I’m really trying not to be and I’m getting better at it so anything I can add to my toolkit helps.”
I am scared of the world. I’m scared of everything, but I’m really trying not to be and I’m getting better at it so anything I can add to my toolkit helps
As well as plunging into icy waters, the celebrities on the show are taken through the breathing exercises, which Wim says “take you to deeper realms of the brain” and help to “unlock past traumas” – and many were left in tears after their “out of body experiences”.
“There were a lot of tests, physically and mentally in the show but what’s interesting is that even the grandest of challenges didn’t necessarily unfold as the toughest ones,” says Holly.
“The first time the group did the breathing, they stepped into Wim’s tent thinking ‘this is easy, this will be like a spa day’. But actually, for a lot of them, that was the most unlocking, most emotional and therefore, the most challenging.”
If anyone is qualified to deal with past trauma, it’s Wim.
He began immersing himself in the icy waters of his native Netherlands after the tragic death of his first wife, Olaya, who took her own life in 1995, leaving him with four children aged between 12 and seven.
“At 2 o’clock in the morning, she kissed her children goodbye and killed herself by jumping off an eight storey building,” he tells The Sun. “I suffered deep emotional trauma.
“She was a beautiful woman. I was devastated, heartbroken and paralysed by fear. I had four children and no money, I didn’t know how I was going to cope.
“But plunging into cold water made me forget and cut through my grief. My children made me survive, the cold water healed me.
At 2 o’clock in the morning, my wife kissed her children goodbye and killed herself by jumping off an eight storey building
“In the cold water, you don’t feel emotional agony. You don’t feel anything. You’re just surviving. The thinking stops and your body is taking over. It just gave me a moment of relief and that was enough for the healing to take effectively.
“Then I had all the energy I needed to take on the world. But I learned that by taking care of four children alone with no money.”
Olaya had a history of mental illness, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia before her death, and her struggle has spurred Wim to help others.
“The children were already dependent on me before she died because she was spending less and less time with them, because of her illness,” he says.
“She had depression and schizophrenia and had spiralled into darkness, and I was not aware how to help her. I was helpless at that moment.
“Now I work with the best psychiatrists and they say I have found the secret of mood regulation.
“I want to change the world by bringing love, strength, health and guaranteed happiness to the world.
“Happiness is regulated by dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin. If we go into cold water the dopamine goes up 250 per cent and adrenaline goes up 540 per cent and that is what is lacking in people who become depressed.
She had depression and schizophrenia and had spiralled into darkness, and I was not aware how to help her. I was helpless at that moment
“I feel so sad that I couldn’t help my wife, before she died, but there are women and men right now so I’ve made it my mission to bring this message – we have found the keys to regulate your mood. Here it is for free, and anyone is capable of doing this.”
Wim – now remarried and a father-of-six – recently became a grandfather and says he has brought his children up to practice the method, with his two daughters now working at his academy, where 1,200 teachers run courses in the method.
From being a penniless single dad, he has made millions from YouTube videos, his bestselling book The Iceman and training instructors around the world.
Far from living a life of luxury, however, the Iceman declares “my health is my wealth” and ploughs his fortune back into science as well as charity projects in Africa.
He is also planning to buy a swathe of the Amazon rainforest “the size of Great Britain” and turn them into a protectorate for indigenous people.
Wim has broken numerous records – climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, and standing in a container while covered with ice cubes for more than 112 minutes.
While he warns there are dangers in the most extreme cold water plunges, without supervision and training, Wim says anyone can practise his methods safely at home.
“If you don’t live near an outdoor lido or the sea, a cold shower a day keeps the doctor away,” he says.
‘I could see blood running through my veins’
Gabby Logan tells The Sun that filming the show was a “phenomenal experience on so many different levels” and says “the breathing exercises were the biggest surprise”.
“The first time was very powerful and I almost had an out of body experience,” she says.
“You go so deep into his breathing and what you see, the images and things that come into your mind, is incredible. It’s like I could see the inside of my body, I could see the blood running through my veins and it’s like you’re asleep but you’re awake still.
“Three rounds of breathing was relaxing but on the fourth I went into this very deep state where I saw things and had a very spiritual experience which was weird.
“Wim talks about trauma that’s buried inside and there were things that came up that I knew about, but somehow the energy of that helped me and what we went through meant I bonded with Tamsin instantly, as you’ll see on the show.
“But I couldn’t believe how restorative it is. I felt like I’d slept for two weeks after I’d done a breathing session.”
For Holly, the breathing has proved an easier commitment than the icy water.
“I do find the cold shower thing really hard,” she says. “I have done it, but I don’t like it although I do feel better afterwards which makes it really annoying that I can’t commit to it.
“I find it much easier if it’s the summer or if I’m on holiday, but Wim would tell me off for that because you can’t be a fair-weather Wim Hoffer.”
My Wim Hif experience
I’VE never been a fan of immersing myself in cold water and an icy shower is my idea of hell.
So I was more than a little apprehensive when I turned up to meet Wim Hof for a cold water experience day at Brockwell Lido, in South London, on a chilly March morning.
The larger-than-life Dutchman put me at ease – greeting me with a warm hug that contrasted with his Iceman tag.
He soon had me lying on a mat for a 30 minute breathing session, instructing me to ‘pull it in, let it out’ over and over in a deep, booming voice which was initially startling – like being yelled at by Brian Blessed on steroids.
Even more alarming were the sudden bursts of song throughout the session, which threatened to tip me over from relaxed to slightly hysterical any moment.
After a few minutes of heavy breathing, Wim instructed me to exhale and stop breathing for 30 seconds, explaining the blood was now oxygenated enough to make the “breathing response” unnecessary.
With each round, the length of time I stopped breathing increased until, finally, it was over two minutes.
Throughout the session he explained what he claimed was the science behind the exercises, saying the method can deliver a dopamine surge akin to a heroin hit, and repeating catchy phrases like “Get high on your own supply”.
He tells me the exercises fight inflammation, adding: “Six million people died of COVID in the last two-and-a-half years but 60million people die every year of inflammation, because the cause and effect of any disease is inflammation.”
After three rounds of breathing, I felt incredibly relaxed but also very light-headed. Weirdly, my fingers were tingling and I had a mild sensation of pins and needles in my arms.
Suitably chilled (excuse the pun) it was time to plunge into the icy cold water of the outdoor pool which is unheated and, on the day, was around 10C.
To get me in the mood, he led me in a weird Haka style dance to connect with my ‘inner animal’ by squatting, thrusting my arms across my body and making grunting noises like a demented caveman.
Then I was in – and boy was it cold.
As I hit the water, the natural response is to gasp and hyperventilate – known as cold water shock – but Wim talked me through, encouraging steady breathing, and soon my body began to acclimatise.
After a while I stopped feeling the cold on my skin and only my feet still felt icy. Oddly, after getting out and in again, the water felt several degrees warmer.
A hot shower later and I felt energised, alert and raring to go. It definitely cleared away the cobwebs, and the effects of the slight over-indulgence on the previous night’s Mother’s Day meal.
There may be something in this cold water lark after all – but I won’t be splashing out on an ice bath any time soon.
Freeze The Fear With Wim Hoff airs on BBC1 from April 12.