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: The Hidden Life of Trees

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It wasn’t bad, for fanfiction about trees. I just couldn’t figure out a practical way to use this book. That said, the ideas Wohlleben presented were interesting, and I learned a lot. He anthropomorphizes the hell out of the trees, but in trying to frame the forest as a superorganism that communicates chemically and, to a lesser extent, verbally, through its roots and through fungal messengers, you would sort of have to.

Verbally is a stretch, but not only do trees generate their own bioacoustics, they can “hear” other frequencies operating at 220 Hz and grow toward them. Trees stick together. They’re a cooperative bunch. Wohlleben would undoubtedly call them social organisms, if nobody stopped him. He talks about a tree stump in one of the forests he rangers in, chopped down and unable to maintain its biological processes for hundreds of years, yet still alive due to the life support provided it by neighboring trees transfering over nutrients through their interconnected root system.

He goes into great detail about various “behavioral patterns” of different trees, and this is where he started to lose me, since I don’t have enough background knowledge of trees to appreciate it. He holds forth about the wacky hijinks of birches as compared to the more sedate beeches for 40 pages of translated German and I don’t have the context to shake my head ruefully like “oh, those kooky birches”. For that reason, I suspect this book would get a better than 3-star rating from real naturalists, long-time Boy Scouts, and native German speakers.

It’s an awful dry read for a book that draws on so little empirical science, but it’s illuminating in its scope. We think of trees as inanimate objects, the same way we think of walls, or the structural metallic garbage we huck everywhere. Trees are alive, and not just alive in the way bacteria are alive. We have skin, and trees have bark. We have blood, and trees have sap. If you cut through the bark, they lose sap, and become susceptible to infections and parasites. Trees will fight to survive, will attempt to scab over the wound, will deploy poisons and tannins and, sometimes, mercenary fungus to fight off the potential threats to their life. Not only that, they will communicate to the trees around them that they’re under attack using chemicals and acoustics, shooting through what’s functionally an arboreal internet of connected root systems that encapsulates whole forests, and the trees in that vicinity will respond to their “warning” by bringing their own flood of tannins to the surface of their bark in preparation for the coming attack.

It talks a lot about tree competition too, and the slow races to the top of the canopy to maximize photosynthetic potential. Mother trees dropping seeds and then limiting their growth by choking off their access to light, forcing the young trees to focus on strength of trunk and bark thickness for a hundred years before the mother tree finally dies, opening a hole in the canopy for her offspring to access the rest of the light, even as they draw on the decay of her trunk for nutrients.

The Hidden Life of Trees is ideal if you’re a hippie, some kind of deep anprim, or an absolute dweeb about plants. For the layman or hobbyist, it’s not hugely accessible, though not for the usual reasons. Still, I don’t regret the time I put into it. At least now I know that the psilocybin was telling the truth.

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