A vivid experience.
There is an Invisible Wall that surrounds each of us, and I experienced it vividly when taking ice baths.
The Invisible Wall we all face
The Invisible Wall is what prevents action, it is what we think our limitations are. It is what we do not even try to do, because we think it is totally beyond our reach, beyond our capacities. It is what makes us procrastinate and often paralyses us.
Cold endurance practices have long been a medium by which to discover how much our limitations are self-imposed through habits, behaviors, understanding, beliefs, through our own representation of the world and ourselves, often limited by fear and anxiety.
Taking an ice Bath with Wim Hof
I discovered the Invisible Wall and how to get through it when I started taking ice baths with the Dutch cold endurance master Wim Hof in Spain in July 2019 and when I had to jump into a pool of frigid water from a cliff edge.
To cut the story short, I have been interested in Wim Hof’s achievements for a long time and for precise reasons that relates to my self-care practices: meditation and conscious-breathing in particular.
Wim Hof’s nickname is “Ice Man” and he is known for breaking world records for surviving cold in extreme conditions, like bathing in icy waters for long periods of time for up to 2 hours. We are supposed to die from hypothermia within 20 minutes in icy waters. So what stands in between? “Training and mindset” according to Wim Hof himself. Is Wim Hof an exceptional being? I would say yes, but for other reasons. Why doesn’t Wim Hof die when staying in ice cold water for so long? He always claimed that his endurance records were due to preparing himself with breathing exercises and focus. So yes, I was curious to know more…
Retiring or engaging?
His methods were seriously resonating with my own practice of yoga & conscious breathing that I have been doing for so many years. Although my own practices were leading me towards stillness and retirement from the world rather than action and more involvement in the world. Are they 2 opposite directions? How to find the road in between?
I hate cold
I was intrigued, but I hate cold!
Not only do I not like cold water but I even get cramps below 16 °C/ 60.8 F. Most of the time it would take me ages to enter the ocean or even a swimming pool if it wasn’t heated. Usually I would succeed in doing so within 15 minutes, entering little by little, very slowly, very slowly into the chilly water. So, having an ice bath was one of the last things I could envisage doing even for a few minutes.
Nevertheless I went to Wim Hof’s expedition in Spain not necessarily with the intention of taking ice baths, but at least to witness and try to understand. Very quickly, however, I found myself in an ice bath…
The pain became paralyzing within a few seconds and after one or two minutes I jumped out of the ice bath like a jack-in-the-box.
The pain was so intense I could not stand it. One of Wim Hof’s Instructors Dominique (Thank you Dominique!) came to help me to get my breath back. I decided to try again and I jumped back into it. Then I probably stayed about 5 to 6 minutes to my great surprise. Later in the week, I stayed 15 minutes without jumping out. What? What happened to me? It was not clear. I was just experiencing; I kept the understanding for later.
Jumping in cold water
The next experience where I encountered the Invisible Wall happened the following day, when “canyoning”. I first had to jump from about 3 meters into a cold pool and I did it with not much hesitation, to my great surprise. The biggest surprise came with the next jump from a lesser height. I found myself totally unable to do it! I would go to the edge only to retract, go and retract, for ten long minutes. I finally had to abandon and follow the group home by another route.
So I experienced failure in cliff jumping, but the observation of what happened during these 10 minutes of failed attempts gave me a key to comprehension. I saw and felt myself not daring to jump when just 5 minutes before I had accomplished a more difficult jump. It was not making sense and it became my first real encounter with what I now recognize as the Invisible Wall.
The Invisible Wall – the physical barrier
This perception of myself going back and forth to the very limit of the ledge even into the void but then retracting, gave me a physical experience of what is the Invisible Wall. It is Invisible, but it is also a Wall with a form of physical reality. Except this Wall exists only in me, in my mind, in my body-mind. But it has a clear and undeniable existence.
It is sometimes so difficult to go through it, to trespass over it, to go to the other side.
And at the same time,when emerging on the other side it is just amazing to realize how easy it is to go through, and frankly it is quite pleasurable.
Finding the key
This Invisible Wall that circles us does not exist except inside our self. When you are on the other side of it, there is an intense feeling of freedom and astonishment (in my case). And the acute understanding that it is easy to overcome despite all previous resistance.Now the question is: how to find a way to go through it and not let it paralyze us and limit our comfort zone?
“Breaking through the Invisible Wall has to do with focus, alignment, a particular state of mind and a determination to succeed”.
Cold Showers: To do it or not?
To reinforce my determination to dismantle the Invisible Wall, I started practicing cold showers in the morning.
Each morning I have the choice: will I do it or not?
After turning the tap I put a foot under the cold water and then… what? Will I hesitate for hours only to renounce? Will I go bit by bit and linger in the in-between? Or will I go through the Invisible Wall in less than a second and find myself on the other side of the Invisible Wall, with the cold water washing over me but not defeating me?
I decided to practice everyday the last option.
Changing life experience
Ice baths are known for their health benefits in particular in Sports medicine, but first of all, for me, it has been more than that. It has opened a door: I have discovered my own Invisible Wall and how to dissolve it. It has been a life-changing experience. The mental benefits can be huge. It can ignite a new way of living by discovering-experiencing how much our limitations are self-imposed through habits, behaviors, understanding, beliefs, through our own representation of the world and ourselves, often limited by fear and anxiety.
L’esprit du Sabre
Breaking through the Invisible Wall involves cultivating “l’esprit du sabre” (“the spirit of the saber”) well known in Martial Arts, when the mind is in total conjunction with the body, here and now. It is the moment when the body-mind becomes still and focused, sharp and precise. It is similar to what we are looking for in Meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong or Martial Arts when totally engaged in the present moment. When you are exposed to extreme cold, your mind has to be fully, totally aligned and focused; there is no space for wandering or hesitation.
Time for Action
So yes, there is a way to combine total Stillness and Action even though they might seem opposites.
It can translate in everyday life to an increased capacity to overcome hesitation and procrastination, to shed your self-imposed limitations – enlarging your comfort zone and opening the door to discovery of what you had no idea you were able to do and achieve. You might surprise yourself in a most unexpected and pleasant way!
Post Scriptum :
If you are interested in taking ice baths, this should be done in the presence of a trained instructor and under close supervision.