I was a neuroscientist working really hard to analyze data and publish my results. But I wanted to master more practical, effective methods and techniques that could help me and other people to achieve their goals, overcome obstacles and live a better and healthier life. So I started learning new methods and began interviewing experts for my podcast “Inside Brains”.
But learning these things in addition to a full-time job as a brain researcher wasn’t easy. In particular, with two little high-maintenance energy balls (aka children).
And on the inside I often felt exhausted and thought that there just isn’t enough time to pursue my goals. What made it even more difficult was that I had a period when I felt fears creeping into my thoughts. Fears that the output of my work won’t have any impact, that I might not be able to accomplish my dreams, and that the health problems I faced from time to time are going to make it even more impossible to spend valuable time with my wife and kids.
There were many techniques which helped me to take greater steps on my journey. But I always felt that there was something missing. Many methods were very cognitive, just focused on ways of making changes in the way you think about things or making changes in your belief system. And they were like instruments you’d keep on the top of a shelf somewhere, only to be used in case of emergency, not on a regular basis.
Then I came across Wim Hof’s interview on the Tim Ferriss Show and was fascinated right from the get-go. This guy seemed to have a lot of experiences and used his own method to not only achieve 26 Guinness Book World records but also to overcome the grief of losing his wife.
My plan was to give this man and his method a chance to show me things I had never seen or experienced before. And strange things happened during the next weeks. I could increase my retention times by a couple of minutes, although I felt that this doesn’t really matter so much. Sometimes I heard high-pitched tones in my ears and my eyesight seemed to improve. It was like clouds were being blown away and the sunlight suddenly shone brighter. And after about five weeks, things that were dug up in the corners of my soul were uncovered, I cried a lot. In January while we had a lot of snow and a great winter that invited some playtime with my kids I slipped and hit a sledge. It happened so quickly that I really had no chance of reacting or catching myself before hitting the edge of the sledge with my ribs. A burst of pain was indicating what was later confirmed in the hospital as a fracture of one of my ribs. But I had to get down the hill on the sledge together with my son. All the way down he was laughing and shouting with joy while I was screaming too because every little bump in the hill was giving me more pain.
If you break your rib you will most probably be given a lavish amount of painkillers. Most of your movements will remind you that a bone in your torso is broken, particularly at night when you’re trying to fall asleep.
But I figured out how to use the breathing technique I learned from Wim to cope with the pain. I took painkillers only once on the first day, after that there just was no need to do so.
And of course later on that year I booked the Winter Travel in Poland where I got the chance to meet Wim in person. Together with a great bunch of people I was practicing, we had a lot of breathing sessions and cold water exercises every day. At the end of this week I really went up to the top of Mount Sniezska, only in shorts, with the wind blowing mercilessly, reducing temperatures to -12°C (10°F).
There are a couple of things that really strike me when thinking back to this week in Poland: the deep stress relief and reboot of my mind due to the ice immersions and the intense breathing sessions, the capability of my body to go up to the summit in almost no protective clothes (which previously seemed impossible), and the newly discovered connection to nature that I experienced there. But two aspects are especially mind-boggling: amazingly, I was pretty much recovered even after a fretful night's sleep in the night after the mountain trip and felt disproportionately fresh mentally. I think this was due to my body’s high adaptability to the stress I had experienced. But what was even more stunning and very obvious also for everyone else was that there was an unusual respect and appreciation among the participants that I hadn’t ever experienced anywhere else. Sure, there were some people I felt more connection with than others, but I did not observe any bullying or teasing which you usually find in such a large group of people. I think that - based on what I experienced in Poland - now I really understand what Wim Hof means when he says that he wants to bring love into the world.
Science on the Rocks
I have achieved many of my goals since I left Poland: together with my wife Dina we are preparing neuroscientific studies investigating the breathing technique of the Wim-Hof-Method. I have become a WHM instructor and I love to introduce people to the method and teach them the techniques so that they can increase their health. And the most exciting thing is that Dina and I created a new platform called "ScienceOnTheRocks.org" where we want to bring together sound scientific information and a place to learn and grow for all people who want to join us! We hope that our platform will help to fill the gap that I feel exists on e.g. Facebook where the information people are looking for is quickly gone or not visible anymore and where too many discussions might interfere with direct and helpful advice.
Our first output will be a regular Podcast where we will provide expert interviews and discussions on topics related to Wim's method. I believe that Wim's method is going to be one of the most widely used techniques because it is incredibly accessible and gives people a great boost in self-efficacy. In this sense I guess that it is our responsibility as a community to accept this gift that Wim's method offers and help it to grow.
Winter is coming and we’re excited to be launching our new podcast covering the science behind the Wim-Hof-Method! Because it’s not Rocket Science – it’s Science on the Rocks…
Are you craving accessible, evidence-based information about breathing, cold exposure, physiology, the immune system and a whole lot of other topics around the WHM?
Dina Wittfoth, PhD | Neuroscientist
Matthias Wittfoth, PhD | Neuroscientist, Wim-Hof-Instructor
We invite you to join us on Ep#1 of Science on the Rocks. In this episode you will find out why we are translating complex science into simple terms and how our skills as neuroscientists, psychologists and coaches working with Wim’s method can be of service to you.
Stay tuned for our second full-length episode where we’ll cover lots of exciting facts about Adrenaline (Ep#2 Wed, Oct 4), followed by our ‘ice bucket’ mini-episode which will give you a short ice bath of info before you chill out on your weekend (Ep#3 Wed, Fri 6)!
Matthias is a certified WHM Instructor.