Meet the Wittfoths: a cold-loving family of four, where parents swim in icy lakes and children run around scantily clad during winter time. Ever since we picked up the method, we are amazed at the amount of interest and excitement our kids have shown for it, especially given their young age. Our son, who will turn seven in March, is a true Hoffer. He can be seen sporting shorts and tracksuit tops at temperatures around 5° Celsius. And our daughter, who is now four and a half, is getting around to it, too. She has been known to sleep with no blanket, open window and no heating at outside temperatures of -10°C. Over time, we as parents have greatly increased both our tolerance for cold, and for all the raised eyebrows we received for not bubble-wrapping the kids in winter. Our kids are free to decide how much protective clothing they want to wear. And it’s not just less of a fight because we don’t spend our time trying to wrestle a scarf on a protesting child, there are actually a number of major benefits our family has gained from the Wim Hof Method (WHM).
1. WHM practitioners rarely get sick
If we ever do, we don’t get sick as bad or as long as before. When we feel the germs are creeping up on us, a couple of breathing sessions work wonders. Even though you might feel a little feverish, that’s actually a good thing as the breathing jacks up your adrenaline level, and afterwards your body does what’s necessary to combat the pathogen. My husband has also significantly reduced the level of pain and the recovery time after breaking a rib while we were sledging with the kids. Anyone who had to take care of kids while they were feeling like they had just experienced a train wreck will know that being sick less often and less severely equals big momma-and-daddy win!
2. Our kids rarely get sick
… if you have ever stepped into a kindergarten in wintertime, you’ll know that this is another BIG one! Sure, there’s the occasional sniffle or tummy ache, but I can’t even remember the last time my kids had a fever. And the total amount of fevers can be counted on one hand – for both kids together. From a very young age, we trusted them to learn how to regulate their body temperature, and that means being okay with the fact that they are sometimes the only kids who are not wearing a jacket, or sporting in only shorts and rain boots with no socks at -4° Celsius. And it payed off; they differ with regard to their personal set points, but they are both extremely well-adapted to cooler temperatures and rarely have to stay home due to illness. When they go outside for longer periods of time they will put on gloves and a hat on their own account, because they know that no gloves leads to cold fingers, leads to no grip strength, which means going home and missing out on the fun. As Wim Hof says: feeling is understanding!
3. When we get nervous, we just breathe
An incredibly helpful tool not just for scared little ones, but also for distraught big ones: we have firmly incorporated breathing into our self-care regimen. It wasn’t that we told the kids to do it, they just adopted it all on their own. I still remember how touched I was when I realized that they were following our example. They both will be heard taking deep breaths when they are anxious, hurt, or angry, and it has greatly helped them to calm themselves down.
4. We have more energy
As you probably know from experience, those cold showers and breathing sessions just give you incredible boosts of energy. And the more you do them, the more stamina they give you. Given that we are both not just parents, but also very passionate about our professional aspirations, we definitely need that extra bit of energy! Besides, our kids are absolute energy powerhouses. From the time they were born they thought sleep was optional (at least for parents) and regularly stay up rather late, while having no problem to power through the next day like a breeze. We have yet to solve the mystery of their boundless source of energy, but I’m sure glad I have some tools up my sleeve to not feel drained and just drag my tired old carcass along trying to keep up with them.
5. It gives us a sense of accomplishment
A few years ago, I would never have thought I would say this, but the Wim Hof Method feels amazing! It’s not only the endorphins that kick in after you get out of the cold, but also the sense of achievement when you’ve consciously stepped out of your comfort zone and done something you never thought you would be able to do. Besides, our kids think we are pretty badass because we’re doing cold swims! Even our son has taken his first attempts at cold swimming and is immensely proud of how well he has mastered it.
6. It gives us something to do together
There are plenty of activities we enjoy today that have entered our lives thanks to the Wim Hof Method. On the weekends, we head out to the same lakes we go to in summer for some cold hiking or swimming, and enjoy the way the passers-by probably think we’re nuts. We have met the most amazing people from around the world, and connecting with other Hoffers is just such a joy!
If you are a member of a family, too, we encourage you to keep sharing the love with them. We know from first-hand experience that it isn’t exactly easy to carve out enough time and energy for self-care, family time, couple time, friends time etc. in our busy lives. It gets even harder when you have small children. Many of us are missing the proverbial village to help raise our children. Recruiting family members as study buddies actually makes a lot of sense because it is a lot easier to stick with your practice when you have someone nearby who holds you accountable.
If you want to ‘Hof up’ your family life, we invite you to join the first WHM Family Retreat, which will take place over the Easter holidays in the Austrian Alps. We would love to see you there!
Dina Wittfoth is a neuroscientist. Together with her husband and WHM Instructor Matthias, they co-host Science on the Rocks, a podcast centered around explaining the science underlying the Wim Hof Method.