Get High on Your Own Supply — My Experiences with the Wim Hof Method Expedition.

Nikhil Rasiwasia
14 min readJan 3, 2024

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Third Contact: 11–15th Dec-2023 — The Wim Hof Winter Expedition, Poland.

Sitting in the flight to Prague, from where we were to take a bus to Karpacz, our destination for the Wim Hof Method (WHM) expedition, I was both excited and apprehensive of what was to come. While I had done cold showers before, never had I had gone into an ‘ice-bath’. In total there were about four hundred of us, slightly crazy in the head, who had signed up paying thousands of Euros to just breathe and sit in ice-cold water in the Polish winter.

View from the Hotel in Poland

Day 1

Make breath you best friend

We began with an orientation and were divided into around twenty groups or ‘tribes’, which would be our small families for the next five days. I was part of the ‘Lime’ tribe, guided by Joep and Lulu — two incredible individuals who provided me with one of the most unique experiences of my life.

We kicked off with a name game, surprisingly effective in helping us memorize each other’s names in just 10 minutes. Let me recall: Andrej, Jessie (Australia); Tom, Dave (Ireland); Stan, Ron, Haven, Evan (USA); Dominica, Eva (Poland); Lukas, Nick, Phil (Germany); Emil (Sweden) — the best roommate ever; Susan (Portugal); Bryn, Crissy (UK); and our instructors, Joep (Netherlands) and Lulu (Italy). It worked really well. After more orientation, animal flow movements, and exercises, we were introduced to the ‘fourth’ pillar of the WHM method — ‘Community’ (the first three being ‘Breathing’, ‘Cold Exposure’, and ‘Mindset’, as explained in the ‘First Contact’ section below). Being surrounded by like-minded individuals, eager not only to endure some discomfort but also to reveal themselves — sharing fears and vulnerabilities, who they were, and why they were there — it was evident that the community gave each other strength for the challenges of the next four and a half days.

After that, we had our first session with Wim Hof, with a group breathing practice. Four hundred souls breathed in unison, accompanied by the rhythmic beats of drums, songs, guitar, and the soothing instructions and encouragement from the instructors. Forty minutes spent alternating between hyperventilation and breath holds sent the mind into a trance. It was a genuine experience of being ‘high on our own supply’. I had only felt such a high before with help of external substances. It was an overwhelming feeling of joy and calmness throughout my body. So intense, in fact, that I was almost afraid to fully enjoy it, wary of becoming too dependent on this sensation. Nonetheless, it was an immensely powerful experience.

Our first ice bath was scheduled for around 4pm. I was anxious, knowing my fear of cold water. Although I had previously braved 5–6°C water in Switzerland, it was a long time ago, and recent illness had diminished any comfort I had built up with cold exposure. I can admit I was ‘fearful’, but as they say in ‘Mulan’, ‘there is no courage without fear’.

We practiced the horse stance, which engages many large muscles, helping us warm up, and then plunged into the ice water. It was raining outside. Entering the icy water, I felt pins and needles throughout my body, with my hands and arms affected the most, nearly to the point of being unbearable. However, we were advised to make “breath our best friend”. Dave had suggested focusing on breathing out, and I tried to concentrate my mind on that. Just focusing on breathing helped me endure two and a half minutes of intense discomfort (Secret Tip: it becomes less painful after a minute or so). Another key lesson was to warm up from the inside (think horse stance) after the ice dips, rather than relying on external heat sources first. This approach helped prevent intense shivering.

Thus, ended my first exposure to icy cold water. Finishing off with a hot water dip and sauna, it was a great start of the expedition.

Day 2

Setting the intention and then centering on it is a very powerful stabiliser

The next day, another ice bath was scheduled for around 12:30 pm. We had planned to meet Wim, but as they say, you can’t predict the weather or Wim. During another session preparing for cold exposure, we delved into the meaning and importance of the third pillar — ‘Mindset/Intention’. Sitting in ice-cold water for a couple of minutes is physically harmless for anyone. However, the real challenge, and the true benefit, lies in maintaining a calm mind while doing so. This trains the mind to remain composed in anxious situations. I learned the importance of setting my mindset/intention before entering the ice bath, or before any undertaking, for that matter. Setting an intention and focusing on it is a potent stabilizer — this was my biggest takeaway of the day.

This time, we were to immerse ourselves in the ice water twice, each for 2–3 minutes. I must admit, it does not get easier with more experience. My anxiety levels were as high as, if not higher than, the first time. However, a bit of warm-up really aided in centering and focusing on my intention — which was to remain calm and embrace the experience. Another tip I learned was to keep my fingers close to my body (or tucked in my armpits) to avoid finger pain. I also tried submerging up to my neck. There was a tight pain in the back of my neck and upper back, but focusing on breathing and my intention came to my rescue.

It was humbling to see individuals in their 70s and 80s courageously facing the ice-cold water. We concluded with a sauna session and some discussions. One significant takeaway for me was the concept of ‘being comfortably uncomfortable’. While we all seek comfort, I believe that constant comfort can cause the body to lose some of its capabilities (‘use it or lose it’). Exposing ourselves to some discomfort helps maintain this inner strength.

The afternoon involved a gear check to ensure we were ready for climbing Mt. Snezka, clad only in shorts and shoes. A Q&A session with Wim after that and we called it a day.

In the night had the only chance to visit the town of Karpacz with Lukas, Emil and Haven. Such a bunch of kind and fun-loving folks! My best buddies throughout the five days!

Day 3

Just do it. You, not Nike

We woke up ready to climb Mt. Snezka, a 1600-meter peak with a 900-meter elevation gain, straddling the border of Poland and the Czech Republic. The weather was cloudy, with temperatures ranging from 7°C at the base to -3°C at the summit. Fortunately, little wind was expected, or so we were told. While not exactly fearful, I was somewhat anxious about the climb. My inability to fall asleep on time only added to this feeling, and my nose was dry and irritated. However, I focused on setting my intention — “Just do it. You, not Nike”. I was determined to embrace another powerful experience to cherish for life, regardless of my physical or mental state.

The ascent turned out to be a lot of fun, especially chatting with my ‘buddy’ Andrej. We had been paired on Day 1 to look after each other’s well-being. At the summit, the temperature was around -2°C, with the wind making it feel even colder. As expected, some shivering set in once we were inside the café at the top, but it was manageable.

The day concluded with another breathing session led by Wim. This time, I pushed myself further, and the sensation of ‘getting high’ was even more intense than before. We must have completed 6–7 rounds of intense breathing followed by long holds, all accompanied by drumming and light effects. It was simultaneously energizing and relaxing. Remarkably, I felt able to perform a Vipassana-style body scan of my spinal cord, a sensation I had never experienced before. With the deep sensations and slight cramps, the experience culminated in sublime joy.

Day 4

What you need is inside you

Fourth day started with breath work with Lulu and Joep. It was very beautiful. The playlist was amazing, with some live harmonium at the end by Lulu playing — Sri Argala Stotram Selected Versus. It was very well balanced. I could again go deep with focus on body scan. Then came the big challenge — a 6-minute ice-bath in the afternoon.

The prospect of this challenge initially scared me. The anxiety crept in, and I doubted my ability to succeed. It was a foggy, rainy, and cold day, and I found myself shivering just from standing outside. My mindset wasn’t right; I felt an urge to run back in.

But then, we began with some horse stance exercises, sky-ground movements, and deep breaths. To my surprise, within a few minutes, I managed to center myself and align with my intention of ‘practice’ and ‘centering’. As we stepped into the ice water, which was probably around 2°C, I tucked my hands into my armpits. We remained in the water for a total of seven minutes. Throughout, I chanted ‘Om’, taking deep and slow breaths. Others joined in, with Lukas and company adding some beatboxing. I noticed every time we lost focus, we would start to shiver. Regaining focus was the only way to endure.

After emerging from the water, we did another ten minutes of horse stance to warm up. This was an incredibly powerful experience in managing anxiety and fear. I felt that with good centering, I was able to overcome the challenge. It serves as a potent metaphor and an impactful lesson for life. Undergoing a 7-minute ice bath was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Day 5

“What is meant for me shall come to me”, “Be a sponge, and then let go what you don’t need”, “Invite the unpleasant as a guest for some Tea” — were some of the magical words shared by the tribe to ease and comfort each other, for the various pains of one kind or another, each one of us had endured during our life. We were getting ready for our day out with Wim, to take dip in a snowy waterfall near his Poland house and to take 1-on-1 pictures with him.

We started the day with some power breathing session and then headed straight to the waterfall. It was indeed a splendid place. Again, with Wim and Tahir on drums and singing. It is just amazing the amount of charisma, compassion and courage Wim Hof has and shares with everyone around him. I thought sitting in an ice-bath would be hard, but I was not prepared for what was to come. All my intention/mindset fell flat on this one. Still ice bath and staying still is it is one thing, constantly moving in a flowing waterfall is another level. This prevented me from focusing and I was very uneasy. It was visible on my face, and I heard Tom’s voice — “Nikhil, you got it”. That had a magical effect on me, and I could calm down. The power of community to its best. But it was cold! It took probably more than 30 mins to get back into normal self, post this chilling experience.

Some final debriefing session, where we chanted each other’s names (Thanks Lulu), and a final breathing session with Wim. Thus, came to an end, an experience of a lifetime. I shall truly cherish the experiences of all four pillars of the WHM — ‘Conscious breathing’, ‘Cold Exposure’, ‘Mindset/Intention’ and ‘Community’.

First Contact, May’2022 — How Wim Hof Happened to me.

I first heard about Wim Hof last summer (June’22), during a random discussion on health with Rupert. He talked about a couple of books, “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker and “What Doesn’t Kill Us” by Scott Carney. Both books sounded very intriguing, but the conversation gravitated towards “What Doesn’t Kill Us”, which was about Wim Hof and his methods. Wim Hof had several world records under his belt doing superhuman feats with cold exposure. I remembered watching a documentary a decade ago about a guy who was running barefoot marathon in Arctic Circle. Back then, I had ignored it as some freak guy, but this conversation felt different. It left an impression as Rupert told me that Wim was becoming hugely popular in the west, especially with his methods to train for cold exposure.

Fast forward a few months, I ordered two books about Wim Hof — “The Wim Hof Method” by Wim himself, and “What Doesn’t Kill Us”. I began reading “The Wim Hof Method”, which offered insights into his life and the ‘Wim Hof Method’ (WHM) of breathing and cold exposure. This method is built on three pillars: ‘Conscious Breathing’, ‘Cold Exposure’, and ‘Mindset/Intention’, all of which resonated with me. Having been raised in India, constantly surrounded by yogic practices, I found it intriguing to encounter similar ideas from a non-Indian perspective. Of the three pillars, ‘Conscious Breathing’, akin to ‘pranayama’, was most familiar to me, a practice our elders always encouraged. I also had some experience with ‘Sudarshan Kriya’ (a conscious breathing technique from the Art of Living Foundation), which I recall as a positive experience. However, conscious breathing mostly sparked intellectual curiosity; the practice itself felt too monotonous to engage in regularly. ‘Cold Exposure’, though less popular than breathing exercises, was something my father and grandfather always praised. Yet, I always feared cold water. During my growing up years, immersing myself in cold water felt more daunting than jumping off an airplane. ‘Mindset/Intention’ was a concept I didn’t fully grasp but assumed it was akin to meditation. Having recently completed a 10-day Vipassana course, I had gained some practical understanding of meditation. The book was engaging, offering straightforward recommendations on integrating the WHM into daily life. Intrigued, I decided to give it a try.

Second Contact, Dec’22-Aug’23 — My Personal Practice

Finishing the WHM book in Delhi, I decided to try the breathing practice and cold exposure. Delhi’s winters, cold at 3–5°C, made finding cold water easy, unlike in Bangalore. The first breathing experience was astonishing; simple conscious breathing induced a sense of ‘high’ along with mental ‘calmness’. The challenging part was the cold exposure. However, doing it after the breathing practice seemed to ease the mental strain, leading me to wonder if this was the ‘mindset’ aspect of the method. Although I only lasted about 30 seconds, it felt like a personal triumph, given my aversion to cold water. The energizing sensation post-bath made it all worthwhile. I integrated cold and breath into my meditation routine, sometimes mixing them randomly. This led to me bravely taking a dip in a Swiss lake in February, with water temperatures around 5–6°C. It turned out to be a very positive experience for me.

By July-August, work-related stress, team/project changes, and lingering imposter syndrome at Meta weighed heavily on me. The WHM and meditation practices were crucial in keeping me afloat during this time. This period also marked the start of my reading ‘What Does Not Kill Us’. The book’s author initially aimed to debunk Wim as a charlatan but ended up embracing the WHM. This piqued my curiosity to meet Wim and delve deeper into the method. On an impulse, I signed up for the ‘Winter Poland Expedition’ with Wim. My wife, Abha, who is skeptical of cold water and its purported health risks, generously allowed me to experiment with ice dips and shirtless mountain climbing in the Polish winter.

The preparation for the expedition was tumultuous. I suffered from a persistent cough and fatigue for about 6–7 weeks in October and November. A visit to the pulmonologist only added to my concerns, as they advised against the expedition, stating, “There are no proven benefits of cold exposure other than maybe something to do with the mind.” This made my family urge me to cancel the trip. However, the WHM expedition organizers were considerate, allowing me extra time to decide. Fortunately, my health improved, and I was ready for the adventure. Climbing a snow-covered mountain in the Polish winter, dressed only in shorts and shoes, was an opportunity for a unique, if slightly masochistic, pleasure.

Fourth Contact, Dec-2023 — What come next?

The WHM is like a ‘gateway drug’ to the world of self-mastery.

  • Conscious breathing is no longer a boring task, but a tool to calm down and center, and get a high occasionally.
  • Cold exposure is a great teacher of being comfortably uncomfortable.
  • Mindset/Intention can make you sail through the highs and lows of life.
  • Community forms the backbone to build all this upon.

For the first time there has been an experiential understanding of these related mystical ideas from age-old Indian ‘yogic’ principles.

After returning, I read the book “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” by James Nestor. It furthered my understanding of the bridge between the conscious and the sub-conscious, the breath. The book exposed me to other forms of breath works, some common such as ‘nadi shodhana’ pranayam, and some mystical as the Buddhist ‘tummo’ breathing (which is supossedly similar to WHM). I got to appreciate the idea of ‘breathe less and breathe slow’ for deeper relaxation, and understood a lot of my physical manifestations of being overly anxious was probably due to my shallow/lack of breathing during work hours. I do want to follow up with:

If you have reached so far and are interested in WHM or learning more about Wim Hof himself, you can start with some of these documentaries

Or straight way try the free mini-class — https://wimhofmethod.com/free-mini-class

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