My workshops have three sections,” says Robert Soulliere. Participants, he says, “get to know, in the flow, and then let go.”
The finale—the “letting go”—of the four-hour Wim Hof Method workshops that Soulliere leads twice a month in Alexandria is a three-minute ice bath. That might sound refreshing on a hot summer day, but cooling down at an extreme temperature is not the point. “The main benefit is putting you in the driver’s seat,” he says. “It’s about getting control over your responses to difficult circumstances.”
The intimidatingly intense cold exposure—for some, just thinking about it takes effort—is preceded by breathing and meditation instruction designed to overcome…well, just about anything, including being submerged in a tank of ice water.
The Method was developed by Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof who, in the wake of his wife’s 1995 suicide, combined breathwork, meditation, and cold exposure “to heal himself,” says Soulliere, who has trained with Hof. “He used it to cure his broken heart. The cold became his way of settling his mind, and he realized he could use this with other people.”
Soulliere, 56, who also teaches Oxygen Advantage and Buteyko breathing methods, is “a cyber-security dude in my daytime life,” he says with a laugh. He’s drawn to sustainable, science-based self-improvement practices, which is how Wim Hof caught his attention: Hof, whose ideas have been challenged by traditional medicine, has passed austere medical and fitness testing, just by breathing.
“What caught my attention was the evidence-based [aspects],” Soulliere says. “I wasn’t interested in the ‘woo-woo.’” How the method works is part of the workshop, involving explanations of the vagus nerve, brown fat, blood chemistry, and other involuntary bodily functions suddenly made voluntary.
“I train you to have faith in your own abilities,” he says. “You will leverage your natural abilities so when you get into the cold, you can calm yourself, and you will sit in the ice bath. You’ll think, ‘Two or three hours ago, there’s no way in hell I’m going to do this, and now you’re sitting in this ice bath, and you’re OK, and you’re calm, and you’re actually not even shivering.’”
The bath improves your nervous and circulatory systems, says Soulliere. “I call it ‘making contact with your breathing’—becoming aware of the power of your breathing to change your perception of whatever you’re going through.”
Soulliere says more women are signing up since Gwyneth Paltrow included a segment on Hof on the Netflix series The Goop Lab. Ages range from late teens to 60s, he says. “Really, it’s anyone who is basically healthy, has an acute curiosity, and who knows they could feel better or wants to feel better. You are the right person for this.”