Running a marathon (again, only in shorts) above the Arctic circle:
Sitting in freezing water:
Setting the record for ice immersion at 112 minutes:
He's also been the star of many different videos and promotional stunts. You can listen to him give an overview of his ideas in this video:
Basically, Hof argues that humans have coddled themselves through temperature-controlled houses and warm clothing and over the millennia lost the ability to harness the vital properties of cold. As we became more reliant on warming ourselves through technology, our bodies degenerated into being unable to heal themselves. Through controlled breathing and meditative exercises, Hof says he can open and ramp up his cardiovascular system to generate more than enough heat to stay warm. He claims this renders his body, and those who follow his training regimen, less susceptible to bacteria, viruses, cancers, and other causes of deteriorating health. It all starts with concentration on breathing, as he emphasizes to readers in the foreword to Scott Carney's book on the Wim Hof method: "It's time to bring Mother Nature's power back into our awareness. We are warriors seeking strength and happiness for everyone. Together we can regain what we've lost. In other words, there's nothing else to say other than 'Breathe, motherfuckers.'"
As interesting as Hof's method sounds, there are some deal-breakers that would keep me from practicing it. For instance, the earliest part of the training involves using only cold water during every shower as practice for your breathing. There are certain parameters I've established for my life and taking ice cold showers falls rather definitively outside those bounds. Yet, humans have been struggling to transcend the boundaries of nature and physiology throughout time. What is intriguing to me about Hof's method are the parallels between it and the techniques and supposed abilities of Indian yoga practitioners called siddhas ("perfected" ones). In contrast to popular perception, yoga is not about physical fitness or muscle tone; rather, it is an ancient meditative practice for attaining spiritual insight into the nature of ultimate reality. One of the treatises on yoga considered most authoritative, at least in the Hindu tradition, is the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. According to that text, control of one's breath creates control of the body, which in turn garners control of the mind, and with control of the mind, one can begin to experience the true nature of one's soul and reality itself. Along the way, Patanjali says, one develops certain powers over the material world. For instance, quoting from Stoler-Miller's 1995 translation of the Yoga Sutra, the yogin "has knowledge of the thoughts of others" (64), "can become invisible," and by concentrating on the celestial spheres, has complete awareness of the movement of the moon and the disposition of all the stars (66). Yogins are also famed for displays of incredible stamina and strength, referred to in the texts as tapas ("heat") and sometimes ojas (which my Sanskrit teacher suggested was best translated as "supreme awesomeness").
Given our discussion of Hof's techniques above, it is interesting to note the presence of stamina and, especially, heat in the description of the powers of the yogin. Hof has described reading Eliade's Yoga: Immortality and Freedom and incorporating Tibetan tummo meditation into his method, so the similarity between his practice and the power of the yogin are not altogether surprising. It is worthwhile to point out, though, that Patanjali has a cautionary perspective on such abilities: "If they become a distraction these powers of perfection are impediments to pure contemplation" (68). One wonders if Patanjali would thus take issue with Hof's use of yoga-inspired practices.
While Hof's writings were driving me to look through the Yoga Sutra again and reacquaint myself with yogic powers, serendipity created another bend in this stream of thought. As I reread Patanjali, the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War came out:
With the Yoga Sutra in front of me, a hitherto unappreciated connection occurred. The six Infinity Stones in Marvel lore allow their owner to control (respectively) Space, Time, Power, Mind, Soul, and Reality. The articulation of yogic powers reads eerily like a recitation of the same areas: the yogin can master knowledge of the moon and stars (Space), ceases the turnings of thought and reads the thoughts of others (Mind), can see the future and access past lives (Time), gains insight into the indestructible Self (Soul), performs feats of strength (Power), and grasps the ultimate nature of the universe (Reality). Thanos, the character in the comics and the film who attempts to collect all of the stones and thus achieve supremacy over the universe, is often called the "mad titan." Does the connection to yoga lore make him more of a "mad yogin?"
Interestingly, the plot of the original Infinity Gauntlet series is quite similar to many Hindu myths: a demon uses yogic practice to acquire seemingly insurmountable power and overthrows the gods, who must resort to often unconventional stratagems to defeat him and restore cosmic balance. (See, for instance, the stories of Ravana, Hiranyakshipu, and Taraka.) In the Infinity story, the Avengers and other Marvel heroes would take the place of the deposed gods who must overcome the demon. Jim Starlin, the original author of the Infinity comics, was known for introducing religious themes into his work, so I wonder if he might have come across Hindu and yogic lore somewhere and adapted it into his own comic narratives. You can be certain I'm waiting anxiously for the film to see how this and other comparative religion elements are treated.
So, that's this time's stream of consciousness post - from Dutch yogins to mad Marvel titans. Until the next time, take care.