Last weekend I was invited to take part in a workshop led by Russ Allchin, who runs his business – Evolved Human – from Chestnut Farm in St Brelade.
In addition to being a fitness coach and life-long martial artist, Russ teaches something known as the Wim Hof Method. Followed by millions of people around the world, the method is described as a practical way for anyone to become happier, healthier and stronger. Sounds good, right?
Its founder, Wim Hof, is a Dutch extreme athlete with multiple world records, and is well known for his seemingly superhuman ability to resist extreme cold temperatures. His accolades include spending nearly two hours in icy water without his core body temperature changing, to climbing past the death zone of Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts.
I had heard about Wim Hof and his method through various documentaries on Youtube, but I had no idea there was a certified instructor in the Channel Islands – as it happens, Russ is the only one.
Despite reading up on the different techniques I was about to learn, when I arrived at Chestnut Farm on Sunday morning I wasn’t quite sure what to expect…
As Russ explained at the beginning of our session, the method is split into three parts; breathing, meditation and (you guessed it) cold exposure.
While the last item on that list is probably the one that draws the most attention, It was actually the breath work that I found the most interesting.
Lying on a yoga mat in a safe, controlled environment, Russ guided us through a full breathing session that would help prepare us for the rest of the workshop. This involved completing multiple rounds of deep breathing, each followed by an extended breath hold.
It was during this session that I discovered the method to Wim Hof’s madness, because after just a few rounds I felt completely at peace. Any anxiety I had been harbouring was completely eradicated, and I was able to comfortably hold my breath (exhaled) for almost three minutes.
‘For people with stress issues and anxiety issues, it works really well,’ said Russ. ‘Wim is quite confident it is going to change mental health care because it’s not using chemicals, not using medication.’
It is not uncommon for people to visualise things – even animals – while practising these techniques, and I found myself lost for words once we had finished. In a relatively short space of time, I had what I can only describe as an out-of-body experience that left me feeling like I had regained a mental clarity previously smothered by the daily stress of everyday life.
‘It’s also good for breaking stale thought patterns,’ Russ explained. ‘It’s a way of feeling a lot lighter and letting go of anxiety, stress and trauma.’
In fact, the method is so effective that it can even help with pain relief for sufferers of MS and fibromyalgia.
After the initial introduction and breathing sessions, the group was given a short break to have some food and explore the farm – which also serves as a mental-health retreat. This gave me a chance to process what I had just learnt and experienced, and I was greeted by a series of friendly animals – including a goat named Billy.
Having trained with Wim himself at his house in Holland, Russ is highly experienced and anyone joining one of his workshops is in capable hands.
That said, I would be lying if I claimed I wasn’t slightly nervous as we poured bags of frozen ice into an inflatable paddling pool. There is no pressure to do the ice bath, but it is certainly one of the day’s highlights.
Fortunately, Russ makes sure each client is well and truly prepared, both mentally and physically, before they get in the bath – by utilising various breathing and movement techniques to control their physiology.
However, it wasn’t until I climbed into the freezing cold water that I realised just how effective the methods Russ had taught us were. Not only did I feel calm and in control during the two minutes I was in the water, but – somewhat bizarrely – I felt warm.
‘The mind controls the body; the breath controls the mind; you control your breath,’ said Russ. ‘So you are always in control, but we kind of forget that.’
Islanders who would like to sign up to one of Russ’s workshops should visit wimhofmethod.com/instructors/russallchin and can contact him directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
He also offers one-to-one sessions and a variety of breath work and physical training courses.