Freeze the Day

The benefits of cold immersion have been recognised and practised for centuries. Dutch-born Wim Hof (The Iceman) has structured an easy-to-follow cold therapy and breathing technique that can be included in your daily routine. 

A few months ago, I attended a one-day course at The Lemon Lodge in Aljezur to learn the basics of the method and have followed the routine ever since. To find out more about the technique, I spoke to Alex Vliege, who is a trained Wim Hof Method (WHM) instructor and co-owner of The Lemon Lodge, “Everyone should try the Wim Hof Method,” enthuses Alex. The international athlete manager and extreme sports enthusiast from The Netherlands now lives in Aljezur. 

Alex is passionate about his hobbies, including surfing, paragliding, hydrofoiling, kitesurfing and martial arts. He has a busy life managing athletes and as an active partner in The Lemon Lodge, which hosts workshops and offers eco-friendly off-grid accommodation. One of his main passions and his motivating force in life, though, is the conviction that the WHM benefits our mental and physical well-being, and his mission is to spread the word. “There would be fewer illnesses and less stress in this world if more people practised this method,” he affirms.

Alex explained to the ten participants at the workshop I attended that how we breathe has a powerful effect on us. “Our lungs provide our bodies with oxygen which is vital for all our functions: moving, digesting food and even thinking,” explains Alex. “Our lungs discard the carbon dioxide produced as a waste product from these functions. By mastering breathing techniques, you can stimulate oxygen flow into all your body’s cells, and dispose of carbon dioxide efficiently, thus creating more energy, lowering inflammation and controlling your nervous system.”

Alex taught us two breathing routines that are easy to learn. Going about my daily life, I am now more aware of my breathing, often reminding myself to inhale more deeply through my nose. “70 to 80 per cent of us breathe in a shallow way which causes our bodies to create adrenaline and cortisol, making us feel stressed,” Alex informed us. “Practising the Wim Hof breathing exercises teaches us mindful breathing.”

Cold immersion is easier than it sounds. I feel the cold terribly, and I still cannot believe I get in a cold shower for at least two minutes every day, and I even look forward to it! “Modern life has made us delicate,” claims Alex. “When we get cold, we wear more clothes or turn the heating up, but we can adapt to low temperatures. It is beneficial to be exposed to cold for short spells. It increases our ability to create more elasticity in our veins, decreasing our chances of cardiovascular disease, the biggest cause of death in the Western world.”

Alex has an exciting life story that led him to discover the Wim Hof Method. He was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, but when he was nine, his family moved 30 km south to the coast, where his father owned a boat. “My father took me out sailing often, which initiated my love of the ocean,” remembers Alex. “At age 23, after gaining an International Marketing degree, I owned and ran a kitesurfing and wakeboarding school. 

The summers were fun and financially rewarding. I explored different continents during the winters, participating in many adventure sports.”

In 2005, Alex accepted an offer from Red Bull to be a surf event organiser. The lucrative and secure work gave him some free time to kite surf. “Out of the blue one day,” he divulges, “I received a phone call from a friend in Cape Town asking if I would like to set up a guest house with a kite and surf school there with him. It was a huge risk but a business opportunity I couldn’t turn down. So I chucked in my job with Red Bull and went to South Africa.”

Alex spent 14 years in Cape Town, running five guest houses and kite schools and employing 20 instructors. It was the most prominent school of its kind in South Africa. “Life was intense for me, and I needed to find a way to relax. I discovered freediving first as a way to unwind and then yoga and meditation resulting in my interest in breathing techniques.” When a friend introduced Alex to the WHM in 2014, he was keen to try it, and his experience was so powerful that he decided to become a qualified instructor to share this life-enhancing technique with others. “I carried out my Wim Hof instructor course in the US mountains of Oregon, where I met Mr Wim Hof himself and accompanied him on crazy icy cold excursions, wearing only my boxer shorts!” 

Alex began teaching the WHM in Cape Town, undertaking three or four workshops a week. He was the only instructor in Africa, so he was in popular demand. “I had to reduce the number of classes I took as it became overwhelming. My motivation for taking the Wim Hof instructor course was to help people learn the technique, not to make money.”

In 2019, Alex was staying at a friend’s house in Cape Town when two armed robbers broke into her home. He fought them off using his martial arts skills while she escaped. Two more attackers appeared, and with four assaulting him with intent to kill, he sustained many injuries. Alex knew the only way to escape death was to run for the ocean. He fled the house straight into four-metre waves, where he stayed and waited, reckoning correctly that none of them would follow him. Alex was severely injured, and during his long recovery, he and his wife Helena questioned whether they should continue living in Cape Town. One day they wanted children, and, although fantastic for many sports, Cape Town has a high level of crime, and South Africa has a precarious currency. In 2020, they moved to Aljezur, Portugal.

Alex is a great WHM instructor and is passionate about what he teaches. I attended the course with nine others, which included a yoga session guided by Helena. Incredibly, at the end of the afternoon, we took turns to immerse ourselves in an ice bath for two minutes. The feeling after was powerful and positive for us all, and I never believed I could do it. “This method, scientifically proven to be good for us physically, is also fantastic for our self-esteem and confidence,” Alex told us.

Ever motivated, Alex still frequently travels to South Africa for extreme sports events, where he combines coaching professional athletes and teaching Wim Hof workshops. “After all this travelling and still much more to do, my home is most definitely here in Portugal,” he declares.

After putting into practice what I had learnt, I now agree with Alex and many others that practising the technique daily helps you feel healthier, stronger, brighter and more capable of dealing with life. 

All the information is online, so attending a WHM course is optional. I enjoyed the workshop so much, though, that I will attend another one in the summer when hopefully, I can get in an ice bath again!

The WHM involves daily

  • Breathing exercises.
  • Briefly immersing yourself in a cold water
  • Having a determined mindset

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