Growing up in Miami I remember seeing these German tourists on the beach in December. At least everyone called them German, but they could have been Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, or many of the other blonde looking people from Europe. They would be out there in December in full regalia, happy as a bug bathing in what we considered to be freezing temperatures. It was probably in the low 70’s.
I always thought that it was because they were built that way. They had developed thicker skin through the years, or maybe it was so cold and miserable in their countries that our winter was paradise. How silly that they would find this place warm… until I lived in Norway.
A year before moving with my family to Norway, I saw the VICE documentary on the Iceman, Wim Hof that made a childlike impression on me. It captured my imagination that a guy could swim under ice for 150 feet, freeze his eyeballs, temporarily lose his sight, and emerge alright. To put this in perspective, try to only hold your breath and swim under water for 150 feet… now add a 6 inch layer of ice above your head and 33 degree water surrounding you. Now take away some eyesight midway through and you can get a small idea of what that would be like.
The world has a bunch of anomalies like fire breathers, magicians, and people who poke needles through their arms. We all just normally believe that there is some trick to this that makes it easy for them or we think that they are just freaks of nature immune to pain. I never imagined duplicating any of the crazy stunts performed by Wim Hof in the documentary. I thought it was too far from my reality.
But after living through a rough winter where it dropped to -12 on some days, and I went 3 months of seeing the sun once every couple of weeks I was missing the extroverted, sunny Miami life. The cold caused me tremendous anxiety on some days. It was biting me so hard that I thought, how am I ever going to survive my time here?
Going through my Facebook feed one day, I had a tech-induced version of an epiphany. An ad for a Wim Hof course in Oslo in September 2017. So I signed up. I was excited, the course would teach me to take a proper ice bath and I thought to myself, if this breathing and meditation method can help someone like Wim Hof take a swim in an icy river, then if can at least take the edge off my icy dark lonely winters.
How Can You Prepare for a 33 Degrees Ice Bath?
I practiced a breathing technique in a room full of various people from all walks of life for three hours. We were educated on the dangers and non-dangers of the cold. When it was time for the ice bath I was extremely nervous. They had set-up a tub more ice than water, so it was more like a slushy. I practiced my breathing a few last times and finally went in. At first I was surprised that I wasn’t shocked. The breathing exercise helped remove that shock response. The water surprisingly did not feel that cold, even though it was 33 degrees.
After spending about a minute there, I started feeling tremendous pain in my legs. It felt like they were broken. It felt like the cold was penetrating my bones. I began to feel a lot of pain. When I got up from the ice bath, I lost the pain. It was like a leg’s version of brain freeze. I was told by the instructor that the blood vessels in our body can expand or contract with temperature changes and that if we’re not used to extreme cold they close very quickly and very tightly. It’s this tightness that caused the “broken legs” feeling.
I was determined to try it again, so after about 15 minutes I had my second immersion. This time around my body had become accustomed to the cold and I no longer felt pain or shock. When I left the second ice bath, I was feeling incredibly high on endorphins. An incredible sense of happiness and well being. Who knew that my enemy the cold, would later become my best friend.
This day changed my perspective on life. So many things that I thought were once impossible, like ice bathing, were now a possibility and now that frozen lake becomes a place to transcend my mind and push the boundaries of my mind and possibility.