Cold water therapy in Singapore: Dunk your body in freezing water, take ice baths and breathe like Wim Hof, The Iceman

Wim Hof Method

Borders won’t be opening anytime soon, which means that the only travelling we’ll be doing – apart from staycations – is going to be within our minds. In the third of the three-part series (read the first and second here), Charmaine Tai tries out different experiences to see if they can help in her worldview expansion

I hate the cold. My biggest enemy is an air conditioner that’s set to 24ºC or below. And yet I’m standing in front of a chest freezer full of water, with a block of ice surrounding its rims. And I’m about to get in. The thermostat reads -2ºC.

I didn’t wake up at 7am on a Sunday just to back out, so I concentrate on taking deep breaths before stepping in.

I submerge myself in one swift motion. My involuntary response is to gasp; whatever air that’s in my lungs gets expelled immediately. It’s near impossible to take slow, steady breaths, unlike what I was trained to do during the practice sessions. All thoughts vanish in an instant. They’re replaced by a single survival instinct: get out.

Chin Yin Tan
Chun Yih Tan leads the WHM Fundamentals Workshop In Singapore

It doesn’t seem possible to stay submerged for 10 seconds, much less the maximum timeframe of two minutes. My eyes are squeezed shut, and Chun Yih Tan – the instructor for today’s course – instructs me on when to inhale and exhale. It takes sheer willpower to ignore every protest my body is making and remain submerged.

My senses are heightened, and my body feels like a rubber band that’s being stretched to its limits. It’s easy to stay in the present; in fact, it’s near impossible to think of anything else but the bone-freezing cold.

The shock does fade eventually but the mind-numbing cold stays. Unlike others who’ve been able to lie back and relax with their arms by their side, I remain curled up in a ball.

Cold therapy, along with meditation and breathing, is a pillar of Wim Hof Method (WHM), which was devised by Dutchman Wim Hof. The extreme athlete made the news for swimming under ice, running barefoot in the snow and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in nothing but shorts and shoes. This tripartite method is said to improve overall immunity and mental well-being.

Today, cold therapy is commonly cited as being a bio-hack – a term that refers to making small life changes to improve one’s overall health. Hof, along with his shirtless army, attribute their increased physical capabilities and healthier bodies to continuous WHM training.

But surely dunking yourself in ice isn’t the only way to improve one’s well-being? “Some do it in preparation for expeditions they’d like to embark on. Learning how to breathe and remaining calm in extremely cold temperatures does wonders for the mind,” offers Tan, WHM’s lone teaching instructor in Singapore.

As Tan has two chest freezers side by side, he’s quick to emphasise that the aim shouldn’t be to outlast the other attendee. “This isn’t a competition. It defeats the purpose if you let ego get in the way. Focus on yourself, and don’t worry about being the first to leave,” Tan encourages.

He has a point. Competitiveness is a double-edged sword that can either push us to our limits or tip us over them.

I’d be lying if I said that I’d return, in a heartbeat, for a second session. That being said, I do see the physical and mental benefits of the session. Being placed in physically challenging situations while simultaneously forcing the mind to focus will no doubt bring on a wave of positive effects in life.

But what would get me to change my mind? If Tan installed a hot tub adjacent to the chest freezers, I’d happily bounce between tubs, just the way Nordics do it.

Time required: Six hours
Mental readiness required: 5/5
Physical readiness required: 5/5
Effectiveness of a single session: 5/5
Chances of me going back for round two: 2.5/5
Price: S$203 for fundamentals and advanced workshops, S$285 for a five-week group course

Wim Hof Method Singapore
25 Pemimpin Place
Singapore 576022

Keen to find out about other wellness programmes available in Singapore? You may also be interested in reading about life coaching and spending a day in silence.

This story first appeared in the November 2020 issue, which you may purchase as a hard or digital copy