Known as ‘The Iceman’, Dutch extreme athlete, Wim Hof, is famous for his ability to withstand some of the coldest conditions on earth. The holder of 26 world records, Hof’s eye-watering achievements include climbing Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro, and running a marathon in temperatures close to minus 20 degrees – all in just a pair of shorts!
Wim Hof credits a breathing technique, which he calls the ‘Wim Hof Method’ for enabling him to achieve these incredible feats, and he teaches this technique to people all around the world.
Níall O’Murchú, is one of only two fully-qualified Wim Hof instructors in Ireland. He learnt the technique in 2017, having began his training with Wim Hof in 2015. Within a few days of learning the method, Níall says that his life changed forever. Improved energy levels, better sleep, and boosted health, are just some of the benefits that he says the Wim Hof Method has brought to his life.
Níall recently taught a workshop in our Greystones café, and we caught up with him to find out why he started this technique and how we can all benefit from it. We hope you enjoy this fascinating interview!
What is the Wim Hof method and how is it beneficial?
The Wim Hof Method is a simple and effective tool to help make us happier, healthier, and stronger. By simply learning to breathe fully and smoothly, and improving our focus and gradual exposure to cold, we can dramatically change how we feel and think.
It has many proven benefits. It can help to increase our energy, decrease stress, strengthen our immune system, improve sleep, decrease inflammation, promote recovery, improve sports performance, and help with our creativity. For a little bit of effort, there can be so many benefits.
How did you get into this method?
A couple of years ago, I was under a lot of stress and strain. I was tired and drained. I was working, trying to start a new business, trying to be a good husband, and trying to be a good father to four young children. I looked after myself, but the strain was starting to show. I needed help.
I came across Wim Hof talking on the Joe Rogan podcast about all his world records. He’d climbed up Mount Everest in just his shorts and swam under the polar ice cap, and I thought he was very impressive. What impressed me most was that Wim said he could do all those seemingly impossible things because of a simple method that anyone could learn, and that the method could help people heal themselves. So, I started doing it.
How did it impact your life?
I remember doing the first breathing exercise. Within a few breaths, I knew I had found something incredible. Three days later, I felt different. I was full of energy, my body felt light, my mind was clear, and I felt no stress. Within three weeks, I was getting more exposure to the cold. I was swimming again in the sea (in mid-winter) and feeling empowered, alive, and full of energy. I had learnt how to breathe fully and smoothly under the stress of the cold. It made me feel elated, improved my cardiovascular fitness, and boosted my immune system.
Three months later, the transformation was complete. I had the energy, focus, and clarity to leave my old job, start two new businesses, and dedicate my life to teaching other people how to heal themselves by using nature – breathing and the cold. And here I am.
What were the challenges you experienced on your journey to learning the method?
Whether it is 30 seconds in a cold shower or jumping into an icy lake, getting into the cold is uncomfortable. When you use the Wim Hof Method, you slowly build up your exposure to the cold. There is no forcing, but, over time, you start to feel the cold differently. Nonetheless, before you get into cold water, there is often fear, anxiety and nervousness. Now, I ask myself ‘why’? It is only a few seconds of cold water, so what am I afraid of?
What I have found is that the fears and stress from other parts of our lives rush to the surface of our minds when we prepare to get into the cold. It can be hard to handle at the beginning but, when you do it regularly, those fears and stresses start to crumble. So challenge can actually turn into an opportunity to face our fears, whatever they are, in a safe way. It doesn’t take long for those fears to crumble and there is a freedom after that.
Are there any practical parts of this method that can be implemented in daily life?
The Wim Hof Method is really simple and very effective. If I was to take one part of it, as a practical tip, it would be this: if we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow, our heart rate goes up, and lots of other unpleasant things happen. However, if we concentrate on a smooth and slow exhalation, it can change how we feel. Why? Slow, deep exhalations stimulate the vagus nerve; reducing our heart rate and blood pressure. It stimulates digestion and helps us relax. I try to teach that to my children to help them deal with the uncertainties of growing up. It is handy for adults too!
Why do you think this technique has gained such popularity recently?
We are built to survive. Over millions of years we have grown and survived against all the odds. We are built to deal with discomfort – including the cold – but, now, many of us are completely insulated from any discomfort at all and it is killing us. Just a little discomfort (like 30 seconds in a cold shower) can spark an immediate response in us; we feel alive and full of energy.
Once people feel that, they understand it. It is empowering. They feel different; they feel better. With a little practise, we can take control of our immune system, control our nervous system, and control our lives. We had forgotten that for a while but we are starting to remember it again.
I teach monthly in-depth Wim Hof Method workshops and weekly classes in Dublin. Besides that, you’ll see me in an ice bath near you soon!
To find out more about Níall’s workshops, check out his website, breathewithniall.com. You can also follow Níall on Instagram and Facebook. Níall’s weekly classes take place every Sunday at 9am in Yoga Dublin in Ranelagh. Click here for more details.