Book Review: The Wim Hof Method

The Wim Hof Method: Own Your Mind, Master Your Biology, and Activate Your Full Human Potential by Wim Hof

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Here’s the thing. The method is sound. Wim Hof unlocked a bizarre neo-yogic biohacking technique that allows him to manually override functions of his autonomic nervous system. All you have to do is breathe in an incredibly unnatural way for twenty minutes and boom, you’re immune to external temperature changes for a while. The same concept can also be applied to pain.

And if this book were just a how-to manual on how to hotwire the meat shell that limits us all, I would have given it five stars. Unfortunately, it’s also an autobiography of Wim Hof, who seems like a deeply unlikable man.

That’s not to say he’s an unpleasant man. He really leans into that 60s throwback peace and love shit you get from every white dreadlocked ketamine dealer who lives in a van, and they can be decent conversationalists, in small doses and accompanied with doses. What rankled me is how he kept using the hippie-dippie shtick as a means of justifying his lifelong, jubilant parasitism.

He begins by talking about his sustained joblessness, give or take a paper route. He brags about squatting in an abandoned punk house for ten years, which really helped him center his chi, do yoga, and play guitar. For ten years. He eventually met a wife in his punk house – the fact that she was also a career squatted could serve as a sort of Chekov’s gun for her emotional stability – and pumped her full of a veritable fleet of welfare babies. Fortunately, Hof continues to boast, the Netherlands has among the most comprehensive and developed social programs in the world. He fails to mention the Dutch tax rate is around 50%, but that’s probably because he’s never paid them.

But he explains to the foolish wagie reader that this multigenerational mooching was imperative to his development of the Wim Hof method of controlled hyperventilation. He also demonstrates its efficacy by setting arbitrary world records whenever he gets into an argument with someone, if his anecdotes are any indication.

“And to prove it’s okay to drink beer, I am going to go outside in the winter and hold a martial arts horse stance… for three hours!”

Okay. That’s cool. I’d be much more impressed if you held something like a job, to support your five children.

Of course, he has money now, and his kids all work with him at the Wim Hof Foundation for Cold Showers and Goofy Breathing. In pursuit of peace, love, and the circus, of course. He has only ever wanted to give back his endless, beautiful, shining, perfect cascade of love back to all of humanity to bring us closer and unite us as one, etc.

He talks like a cultist. Much of the book is hard to get through because he goes off on these peacenik rambles about the connectedness of human beings, and how all you need is love.

But for as much as I dislike this person conceptually, I’m glad he stumbled on this method, and I’d like to see it get more clinical traction. Early trials have demonstrated that the Wim Hof method can be used to combat and, in some cases, eradicate certain chronic diseases, including intractable autoimmune and gastric diseases like fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, IBS, a whole mess of them. Diseases that are typically treatment and medication resistant.

The thing is, these diseases often have a pronounced psychological component that nobody likes to talk about because so many people conflate psychogenic symptoms with malingering. And since the Wim Hof method does, by his own admission (and unbearable blustering) operate on a personal and emotional level, grounding the practitioner and allowing them not only to become acquainted with themselves but also to learn physically active coping skills that recalibrate the CNS and sort of speed-meditate… it’s possible that the physiological benefits of the method, with regard to chronic pain, only become physiological by patching the leaks in the psyche.

For the record, I think he’s nuttier than squirrel shit, but less of a quack than many actual doctors. Cold showers, deep breathing, and outdoor exercise do attune you with your nature, which does improve every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. His little toolkit can be used to do impossible things, like climb Mt Everest in a day without altitude sickness. He has done things that should have killed him, and they didn’t, and he has taught other people to do them, and they didn’t die either. That’s proof enough.

But don’t buy the cult of personality hype. Wooks is wooks, and you can pursue an agenda of universal holism and be responsible enough to hold a job at the same time, no matter what they tell you.



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Book Review: Spirit Hacking

Spirit Hacking: Shamanic Keys to Reclaim Your Personal Power, Transform Yourself, and Light Up the World by Shaman Durek

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


No one to blame but myself for this one.

Here’s the problem. Conceptually, I think biohacking is cool, because I came up reading extensively on evolution, Zen buddhism, and the aggressive cyberpunk revival of the mid 90s. Unfortunately, the community surrounding it is insufferable. Ditto for things like paleo dieting. It’s the Rick and Morty effect. The show is pretty clever, but you can’t tell anyone you think that or you’ll get grouped in with people who like Rick and Morty.

I’ve got an academic interest in shamanism. I say academic to clarify that, as a white, heterosexual cis American male, if I were to announce that I believed myself a shaman, you would have a moral obligation to punch me in my smug mouth.

The other issue is I’ve pretty much exhausted GoodReads recommendations for books related to books I’ve enjoyed, so I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel, and nothing good is on the bottom of the barrel. That’s why it’s the bottom of the barrel.

Walking into a book called “Spirit Hacking”, linked to both biohacking and shamanism in the Similar Books category, penned by a guy whose first name is “Shaman” should have served as more than enough warnings to deter me. And yet, still, fool as I am, I plodded on.

The forward is written by Dave Asprey. For those blissfully uninitiated, Dave Asprey is the conman behind Bulletproof Coffee, which is the sad tech movement supported by cherrypicked and dummied-up neuroscience studies that encourages impressionable Silicon Valley elites with poorly tuned bullshit detectors that putting Super Special Bulletproof Brand Butter in their Super Special Bulletproof Brand Coffee somehow bypasses the blood-brain barrier to allow them to biohack their entire neocortex into some vague and ill-defined “greater functionality”. The nerds, promised that their brains work the same as computers and that doubling up on this scam will allow them to overclock themselves, they eat that shit right up.

So Dave Asprey writes the intro, and it isn’t an intro, so much as a commercial for his scam, but he also brags about how much money he has and how humble he continues to be, and how many cool spiritual adventures he has been on in his quest to be the perfect man, which, of course, he is far too humble and self-effacing to say that he is. However, you certainly can be, if you buy the right coffee, nudge and wink.

I narrowly made it through that when Shaman Durek hit the scene, reading his own book. Ill-advised. He proceeded to tell me that anybody could be a shaman, and he is a shaman, and he knew he was a shaman because he literally died. He goes on to explain this literal death was figurative, since it happened in a spirit journey or drug trance, so not really what literal means. Then he proceeds to get just, really, irrationally angry. Like he’s ranting about pretenders to the throne and fake shamans, gatekeeping ayahuasca use and railing against shamans who say other people can’t be shamans, even as he says that people who take drugs to become enlightened then get road rage can’t be shamans. Same breath. And it’s a wheezing breath, because as he’s reading his own audiobook, he’s getting genuinely angry again. You can hear it in the voice. Why would I listen to a grown man I don’t know throw a recorded temper tantrum for 11 hours?

I made it to the next chapter, when he started talking about how he knew he was a shaman because as a child he would hug random people and burst into tears. I cold-stopped when one of the sections was subtitled “My heritage is mystical AF!”

That’s enough for me, I think. I’ll continue along my wretched life deprived of my personal power. Sorry, dude. The rest of the book might be a transformative, world-lighting tour de force. After that… performance, I’ll never know.



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Book Review: Breath

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I have a favorite class of book, which I refer to lovingly as “my ungabunga bullshit” that usually consists of nutritional or fitness claims drawing on shaky evolutionary science to advance an agenda that, ultimately and disappointingly, leads to pawning supplement placebos. Despite how insulting to the intelligence these tactics are, I can’t help but love the paleo quasi-science they’re pushing. Pull virtually anything from the Joe Rogan recommended reading list and you’ve got a 1 in 3 chance of stumbling on the kind of literature I’m talking about.

These books usually lean heavily on anecdotal evidence (like the entire Carnivore diet), or what we believe may have been how primitive man lived based on the fossil record and modern hunter-gatherer societies (like the Primal Blueprint or the Awakened Ape), and they universally reference our man Weston Price, peregrine dentist, and his discoveries on the miraculous effects of not eating carbohydrates (Good Calories, Bad Calories, the Obesity Code, anything keto or paleo related, et cetera ad nauseum).

I might sound dismissive, but it comes from a place of love. I like what they’re pushing, but I know the limitations of the science and I resent them trying to sucker me into buying “Primal Calm” sugar pills, especially with them saying, in the same breath, that sugar is the Great Western Devil.

In the same breath, bringing us back to the topic at hand. James Nestor is a journalist with disastrous dentition and a mouthbreathing habit that has left him, to hear him tell it, physically deformed. He looked like a normal dude to me, but maybe that’s the problem. Breath takes the same tone and theme as the rest of my ungabunga bullshit books, but rather than suggesting that the answer is “shit in a squatting position and deny the Demon Wheat”, Breath suggests that all of our problems, as highlighted by Price’s hundred year old tribal dentistry journals, are caused by the fact that we breathe through our mouths (and, to a lesser extent, don’t chew enough).

The science is young, but the few studies he referenced seemed legit. A lot of the book was more of a memoir of him serving as guinea pigs in these breathing experiments alongside crazed foreigners who were likewise convinced that proper breathing was the key to immortality, with the craziest and most foreign being Wim Hof, just for context.

I was especially intrigued by the perfect sociopath with the damaged amygdala experiencing fear for the first time in her life when forced to breath carbon dioxide at greater concentrations than usual, which is an effect mimicked in the body by “overbreathing” or not fully pushing the air from your diaphragm on the exhale. The exercise studies suggesting greater athletic capacity when breathing properly (that is, through the nose and emptying the lungs) were interesting, but highly anecdotal, and relied too much on the emotional language of the participants for my own comfort.

There’s also the whole Mewing thing, the glue that holds this collection of yoga techniques and self-report questionnaires together, and that isn’t empirically tested either.

End of the day, there’s not much in Breath that qualifies as actual science. On the same token, “breathe deeply and close your mouth, you stupid animal” isn’t bad advice. It’s like that folk wisdom you hear so much about.



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