Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019 issue.
Take a breath — a very deep breath. Now, do 80 push-ups on that single breath.
No dice? The secret is ice, as Scott Carney reveals in What Doesn’t Kill Us, recently released in paperback. In 2012, when the investigative journalist, anthropologist and longtime yoga practitioner traveled to Poland to prove that the Wim Hof Method was all wrong, he discovered it was all right, and then some.
“It was unexpected,” says Carney, a Denver resident. “I was on assignment to debunk him as a charlatan, and I was incredibly surprised that the Method worked, and it worked very quickly.”
The Method: breathing, cold exposure and commitment, which Hof (a.k.a. The Iceman, a Dutch fitness guru who lives in the mountains of Poland) has practiced for years, with the theory that it provides numerous health benefits from improved immunity, endorphin release and greater endurance. For Carney, what was meant to be a simple magazine assignment for Playboy magazine turned out to be a life-changing experience as he learned how to breathe differently and not only withstand freezing cold temperatures, but embrace them.
“The first time I stood in the snow, it felt a lot like walking across hot coals,” he says. “It was a painful signal, and I didn’t like it.” But just like any athletic training, adds Carney, he found that a little discomfort could provide tremendous benefits.
On his first attempt, Carney could stand for only five minutes barefoot in the snow, but after learning to breathe with Hof, he could stretch that to 45 minutes just two days later. During the course of those seven days in Poland, he lost seven pounds of body fat. Four years later, Carney climbed Mount Kilimanjaro — shirtless.
“Anything that you feel uncomfortable with or that scares you, you need to assess where that fear is coming from,” says Carney, “and if the fear is just an emotional response, there’s probably good reason to push yourself to do things that scare you. There are millions of things we don’t do every day because of our innate fear.”
Carney advises readers to start pushing their own comfort zone with simple ice-cold showers, which can begin switching the way the body responds to the cold to trigger a different metabolic response. Then, by lying down on one’s back and taking 30 deep, controlled breaths, exhaling fully and holding one’s breath — working up to one, two or three minutes — before doing push-ups or sit-ups, one can dramatically change how the body perceives exertion.
Plenty more details are available in What Doesn’t Kill Us, which Carney is following with a new book on how any stimuli — heat, light, sex, sound, drugs — affect us. And that just might leave us breathless.
Photos courtesy of Scott Carney.