Wim Hof: Mind Over Matter

photos taken January 26, 2008
by Eric Ford-Holevinski

Today I got to see a Dutch guy named Wim Hof. He's a master of "tumo," a Tibetan form of meditation, that allows him to generate heat throughout his body by mental concentration alone. This ability enables him to withstand freezing environments without clothing. The art has been passed down among Tibetan monks for thousands of years, but Mr. Hof is the first Westerner to have learned it (he taught himself). He's going around the world breaking his own records for how long he can sit in a box of ice. I got to see him set this week's record, 72 minutes. He always breaks his records by only 1 minute at a time because his tour has a lot of stops, so he wants to be breaking new ground at every show. In fact, he meditates on ice every day, so these shows for the public are simple for him.

Mr. Hof's assistants pouring the ice into his tank.

Wim started doing this about 10 years ago. After decades of martial arts, meditation, and other eastern training, he walked into a frozen pond one winter. To his surprise, it felt good. By last year he was up to climbing Mount Everest ("only 7 kilometers") barefoot in shorts, and running a half-marathon in the Artic Circle at -20 degrees in the same outfit.

I can believe Wim did all these superhuman feats because I saw with my own eyes how he weathered the ice box. He was concentrating, but comfortable. When they pulled him out of the box, he was fine, just walking around waving at the crowd, smiling. Not stiff or anything, not even a sniffle. Meanwhile, I caught a bad cold just from standing there bundled up and watching.

Weathering the press (forgive the bad cropping).

How he meditates in the midst of all this is beyond me.

Doctors measured Wim's brain activity during meditation to see what happens. When he meditates, activity shifts away from the parietal lobe, which controls certain automatic survival mechanisms, and concentrates in the frontal lobe. He's using his conscious mind to override natural responses his body has to extreme temperatures. He doesn't shiver, blood doesn't retreat from his extremities. Instead, his body generates enough extra heat to repel the cold. I wish I could do that.

"Uh-oh... I got an itch."

Naturally, this event attracted some New Age types who acted like they "get it" even if they don't. What's cool about it is the premise that, if they really put their minds to it, anybody could do this (and one wonders what else the mind can do). It's neither a cheap parlor trick nor a freak of nature. It's not limited to the gifted few -- not that Wim isn't gifted, quite the opposite of course. The discipline required for such a feat takes many years to achieve, but it's out there for those with enough determination and patience. That's what drew me to it. It's pretty cool to see a guy do this; it raises awe about the power of the mind and makes magic seem a little more possible.

"Consider yourselves owned."

See how red his skin is?



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All work © 2008 Eric Ford-Holevinski