What if we told you that there’s an exercise therapy that claims it can “rekindle our age-old natural defense systems—the glowing embers, dormant inside our DNA”?
Sounds intriguing, right?
What if we then told you it involves plunging your body into ice-cold water?
Enter the Wim Hof Method, a practice of breathwork, cold exposure and meditation that claims to improve physical and mental well-being. Wim Hof—yes, he’s a real person—is a Dutch extreme athlete who’s known for death-defying stunts like swimming under ice caps, running subzero marathons while only wearing shorts, and submerging himself in freezing water for long lengths of time. He’s won several Guinness World Records and been featured in a Netflix series called The Goop Lab, about Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness company. The Wim Hof Method is a practice of breathwork, cold exposure and meditation that claims to improve physical and mental well-being.
And in Sarasota, holistic practitioner Brock Cannon, a certified Wim Hof instructor, is bringing the method to the community—even though we don’t have freezing lakes or icy oceans. (Today, for example, the Gulf of Mexico’s temperature is a steamy 88.5 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Cannon, who moved from Santa Barbara, California, to Sarasota in June, grew up as a professional mountain biker and ultramarathon runner, but it wasn’t until three years ago, when he battled mental health issues, that he discovered the power of the cold.
One day, while visiting his hometown in Utah, Cannon went for a run in the snow in the early morning. Afterward, he had the sudden urge to jump into the freezing lake nearby.
“It felt like instinct,” he recalls. “When I got out, I felt alive, energized and all my anxious thoughts were gone. I wanted to do it again.”
Cannon sought out freezing bodies of water for the remainder of his trip until his wife suggested he get professional training in the art of cold therapy. That’s when he discovered the Wim Hof Method.
So why is the cold so beneficial to our bodies?
“Cold exposure for two to three minutes can help reduce inflammation and can improve circulation and the vasoconstriction/vasodilation process of your arteries,” says Cannon. “It can help boost immunity and is beneficial for those with autoimmune diseases.”
While findings on the benefits of cold therapy are limited, the practice has been utilized by Finnish and European civilizations for centuries. The Journal of Applied Physiology published a study in 2020 that found cold exposure can increase the body’s energy expenditure and utilization of glucose and fatty acids in healthy individuals. There is evidence to suggest it can help those with diabetes and obesity, too. In 2021, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that cold therapy had a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, specifically lipid profiles and blood pressure.
Not everyone can practice cold therapy, however. If you have a heart condition or are prone to seizures or fainting spells, it’s not recommended. Talk to your doctor prior to trying out a session.
Cannon likes to focus on the practice’s mental benefits. He says cold exposure recharges your nervous system and brain, increasing adrenaline, serotonin and norephineprine, which help boost mood. He’s trained people who’ve seen a reduction in depression, anxiety and stress. He also teaches a concept called hormesis—that is, putting your body under short bouts of stress that can build mental resilience.
Wim Hof instructors can be found all over the world, but Cannon is the first in the Sarasota-Manatee area. He’s already held several trainings in town, which have been full. Cannon thinks Sarasota is a hub for wellness and that we’re becoming more curious about alternative healing methods.
“Each time I host a session, using my 100-gallon bathtub filled with ice, people are hesitant, but after a minute of adjusting, they don’t want to get out,” says Cannon. “My job is to help them slow the breath, calm down and surrender to it.”
Breathwork is an essential part to the method. Hof created a practice that pulls from ancient yogic teachings, where you quickly inhale and exhale forcefully for 30-40 times, then hold your breath and then release with a large exhale. The process causes hyperventilation and creates an almost psychedelic “high” in the body, inducing relaxation. It can be repeated three times. Cannon says he practices it every day to calm the mind, and after breathing and getting into an ice bath, he no longer even needs coffee to start his day.
“This method has been a reminder to me and everyone who practices that we can do hard things,” says Cannon. “We can overcome emotional obstacles and fear in life, and improve our well-being.”
If you are curious about the benefits of the Wim Hof Method and would to work with Cannon, he’s planning to host several more trainings. You can book a reservation on his website. To learn more about Cannon, follow him on Instagram @iambrockcannon.