Not long ago, a whole lot of North American Hoffers and I found ourselves in a position that I think needs to be addressed.
The weather forecast was a Hoffer’s dream: A super-cooled front of weather descended from the North Pole and brought with it temperatures much colder than were common to North America. In some places, the temperature was the coldest recorded for decades. Windchill would add to the weather. In many places, the windchill created conditions that would feel as cold as -60 F! That is obviously incredibly cold, and for this reason many news organizations put out warnings about the deadly cold front that would be sweeping through North America.
This presented Hoffers with a conundrum. On the one hand, this would be a great chance to train in nature’s coldest temperatures. On the other hand, it would get us into trouble with our loved ones who were genuinely concerned for our safety.
I remember my first reaction to the news that the polar vortex was coming. It was a smile. Not just a normal smile though. It was the kind of smile that made my eyes glaze over in a dreamy haze. I envisioned the air, full of crystalized white specs of ice. I imagined what the air would feel like against my bare skin, and I began making plans for a cold walk to take advantage of it.
Then my wife came home and forbid me to leave the house. Then my mother called and told me that I shouldn’t go outside either. Yes, my mother still is my mother and calls me occasionally when she is worried that I am going to do something stupid. I can’t really say that I blame her though because she did witness my entire life… and I’m not going to lie. I’ve done my share of stupid.
Cold enthusiasts all around social media seemed to have this same issue. On the one hand, we were giddy with excitement for this extreme cold weather, but we also had these darned loved ones cramping our style! I can’t tell you how many emails and instant messages I got that week, each asking me pretty much the same thing: how do you deal with family and friends who just don’t get it?
How does a Hoffer live with the un-Hoffed?
Well, this is a great question. It’s something that I live with regularly, and it is something that you will have to deal with one way or another if you do things that do not fall within the social norms.
The problem is two-fold. Wim Hof Method incorporates two things that are very misunderstood in Western Culture; breathing and cold exposure. Both of these pillars of the WHM seem extreme and unsafe to someone who is unfamiliar with these practices, so it is no wonder that our loved ones are uneasy with our choice to practice the method.
I remember one instance when I had attended a wedding. I was a groomsman, and the reception involved way too much alcohol all throughout the night. The next morning, I was hung over, and I decided to do what I know to be the best hangover cure, an extended breathing session. I went outside to a spot where I thought I would be undisturbed. Everyone was still sleeping in, so I thought I would have a great opportunity to do some quality breathwork.
I got about three sets in, and I heard a voice behind me, “Jesse, are you okay?”
And who could blame her? Wim Hof Method breathing is very different from “normal” everyday breathing! This person was concerned about my safety, and didn’t know what I was doing.
I just turned around, smiled and laughed. I said, “Yeah, I know this looks pretty crazy, but you know that I’m pretty crazy already, right?”
I didn’t try to get her to do it. I didn’t try to explain it. I just told her that it was a breathing exercise that I do, and I was doing it because it made my head feel better. I didn’t become an evangelist. I just acknowledged the fact that it was a little odd, but I calmed her fears that something was wrong. After my brief explanation, I told her I was going to go find another place to do it, and I did. There is no need to shove it into other people’s lives. Later, if she wanted to, she could ask me about it.
Avoid Being “The Evangelist”
The evangelist is one of the most common characters you will see in the health and wellness world. It is not just limited to the Wim Hof Method community. It can be seen in just about every health practice there is.
Carl Sagan once said, “When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.” And it’s true. This is especially common in novice Hoffers who have been practicing long enough to see the benefits of Wim Hof Method but not long enough for it to feel like a normal part of life. In other words, it still feels like a novelty.
This Hoffer goes around to everyone and talks about Wim Hof and his accomplishments, the method, and the amazing things that people have been able to do after practicing the method.
This person also tends to exaggerate and overstate things. For instance, this is the person who will claim that WHM is the cure to the common cold, the cure to cancer, and the cure to basically everything that is bad. They can be heard claiming that Wim was injected with live E.coli bacteria and killed it using breathing and cold exposure. Remember -it doesn’t do anyone any favors to exaggerate, especially when the real thing is already amazing.
They are excited to have found a practice that is simple and profoundly effective, so they cannot help themselves. They talk about it all the time, so much that their friends and family start to believe that they have joined a cult or something. This is further reinforced by the Evangelists insistence to do deep breathing exercises in public, where s/he makes a scene and then judges everyone else for thinking that s/he is doing something odd.
Ultimately, this turns people off more than anything. If you are like this, your loved ones will still love you, but they will not likely join in. They’re going to try to live with the fact that you’re really getting weird lately.
Treat it Like Dating
An Orthodox Priest once told me that the best way to evangelize is to treat it like you are dating. If you come on too strong, you look desperate. It’s like you’re looking for some kind of personal validation in your efforts to spread your message, and no one likes that. It’s really unattractive.
What’s worse is that not only will you not get a date with the person you are talking to, you tend to get a reputation for being overbearing and desperate. Before long, people won’t even entertain the idea of dating you!
I love this example because it is true! I have seen it in my own experience. However, when I first began my practice, I kept it to myself for a long time. It was a weird thing I had found on the internet, and back then, it wasn’t popular at all. After a year or so of practicing, however, I decided that the whole world should be practicing too. I told everyone about it, and I just assumed that people would be into it. It didn’t take long before I realized that some people just really had no interest at all. It’s something I had to accept, even when I believe that the person would greatly benefit from the method. I just have to accept that not everyone will be willing to try it.
So how do I get my friends to try Wim Hof Method?
For the most part, I don’t. I let them know that I will be happy to teach it to them, but only a handful have taken me up on it. And most of them have fallen out of practice. I have to accept that everyone is on their own path, and maybe my path isn’t right for everyone else, even though I care deeply for my friends and family and want them to be happy, healthy, and strong.
At the end of the day, Wim Hof Method is for everyone, but the only person I can make a decision for is myself. So, I take a lot of ice baths and winter walks by myself. It is so much more fun with other Hoffers, but I have to accept that most of my friends just don’t want to practice.
This is why it is well worth your time and money to attend Wim Hof Method Workshops. Even if you already have a good understanding of the method and an established practice, you will never have a better breathing session than you will have at a workshop. There is something about the energy in the air and the intention of the room that makes everything new.
And we all need a recharge!
Humans are social animals, and we need a social element to keep us motivated. I am writing this now after taking a longer break than normal from doing workshops, and I must admit that I feel the longing to be around others. To breathe and to ice bathe with others is such a super-charge for one’s practice. The next day, one feels refreshed and recharged. Your breathing becomes more enthusiastic, and you cold training, more determined than ever!
On top of that, you get to make new connections, improve your technique, and learn more about the inner-workings of the method.
So how do we live with the Un-Hoffed?
Just like they live with us! We love them. We listen to their concerns because we know they are coming out of a place of love. And we don’t nag at them to join us. It’s like the old priest once told me; treat it like dating. Don’t be desperate. Let them know that you would be happy to guide them. It’s here when you want it. But until then, I’m going to love you for you are.