Cold experience 2020, a chilly adventure for our WEMO colleagues

Last month, a number of colleagues stepped out of their familiar comfort zones by taking a dip in the sea and in an ice bath, under the guidance of Bart Eigenhuis (trained as a Wim Hof Method and Breatheology instructor), on a beautiful Sunday morning in IJmuiden. Brrrrrr. When they arrived in IJmuiden it was raining very hard and really windy, so some colleagues began to wonder what they had been thinking. But the enthusiasm afterwards was infectious. Read on to find out more.

Workshop by Workshop Breath & Cold Training

In our modern, comfortable lives, food is available in abundance all around us and we put our thick coats and hats on as soon as it drops below 10 degrees outside. We have seat and steering wheel heaters in our cars and we like our showers to be just that little bit too hot. We are not challenged at all. Our natural defence systems are turned off. And that all seems great, but it has actually been proven to be very unhealthy. It creates the ideal viral environment in your body and allows inflammatory proteins to run riot. Cold weather doesn’t make us sick, as our mothers always used to tell us it did. It’s bacteria that make us sick, and they thrive in a dormant body in which the immune system hardly ever faces any threats.

Sudden exposure to cold makes your body ‘switch on’, it has to start working to keep your body temperature up. Something that certainly isn’t going to happen while you’re taking a nice, warm shower.

Restoring contact between the mind and body through exposure to cold is a big challenge and at the same time breaks down barriers.

During the workshop, our colleagues were led on a journey through the world of cold, breathing, focus & nutrition, to experience the positive effects that this has on health, work, sport and daily life.

The workshop consisted of:

  • Focused calm breathing exercises to improve your oxygen intake;

  • Exposure to cold on the beach, in the North Sea and in a real ice bath!;

  • Relaxation exercises and physical balance exercises;

  • Explanation of positive effects of intermittent fasting;

  • Learning to focus and let go;

  • Theoretical information about the physiological effects of the training

The preparation

Three weeks beforehand, the participants received a detailed explanation of the necessary preparations. Everyone was advised to start by finishing their showers with 30 seconds of cold water. So first a warm shower, but then a 30 second cold shower at the end. A week in advance, everyone had to begin having full cold showers. You build the shower up gradually: first your arms, then your legs, next your torso and lastly your head. In addition to these showers, everyone was taught breathing techniques. Breathing slowly and deeply through your nose whilst taking a cold shower allows you to relax and your body is able to retain heat much better in the areas where this is really necessary. Specifically the head and torso.

 After a cold shower, I feel sharp and full of energy. I have noticed that I recover better after exercise too, reports Tom Vogels (Mechanical Engineer at WEMO).

The day

The day began very early for everyone taking part, since the workshop started at 8.15 in IJmuiden. Some people had mixed feelings when it was time to get up:

I felt nervous about what lay ahead and, when we arrived in IJmuiden, it was raining so hard and was so windy that I began to wonder why I been so keen to do this in the first place, laughs Elsa Buijssen (Manager Customer Care at WEMO).

Others were raring to go:

There was going to be onshore wind that day, which meant waves. YES! And a great group of people coming along, says William Swinkels (Project Engineer Mechatronics at WEMO) enthusiastically.

The morning was about increasing awareness; of your body, of your breathing and of the control that you can have over these through your mind. Reconnecting with yourself. Believing in the mental power you possess, to reset certain ingrained urges and mentally overrule the pain or feeling of panic that you experience. An important basis in order to prevent your standard panic reaction from causing you to hyperventilate and therefore lose control of your body and your breathing when you enter the ice-cold North Sea or an even colder ice bath.

The breathing techniques were fascinating and they were very intense. You build up slowly and learn to relax in a way that you have never experienced before. For me, it released strong emotions, which took me by surprise but also showed me how important it is to seek out this form of relaxation more often and to be self-aware, says Janneke Jumelet (HR Advisor at WEMO).

With the help of the breathing exercises, I can experience the ultimate moment of ‘me time’ and I can completely shut myself off, explains Kenny Penders (Senior Mechanical Engineer at WEMO).

After these exercises, the group all went outside in their swimwear and made their way towards the North Sea.

A group of people in the early morning, in January, in swimming costumes and walking along the beach in the direction of the sea is still a very strange sight for many onlookers. The sea was wild and cold. Nevertheless, everyone managed to stay in for minutes. The relief afterwards is huge and absolutely brilliant! says Jeff Hagelen (CEO of WEMO) proudly.

As we were walking along the beach towards the sea in our swimwear, all kinds of things were going through my head, but mainly how cold it was. Luckily I was able to distract myself from the cold with the right breathing and by focusing on the positive (the beautiful sunrise). The first steps into the sea hurt my feet and legs. But by focusing on something warm and our internal furnace, as Bart had taught us, it soon didn’t seem so bad. Once I was up to my hip in the sea, it was time to kneel down. Now the real work began. By keeping my breathing calm and deep, I soon noticed that my body was able to keep my torso and my head warm. Every now and then a wave of cold water broke over me, which meant that I had to refocus again. Recovering my focus after every wave was the hardest part for me. The time spent in the sea went faster than I expected and before I knew it we were standing shivering on the beach, feeling euphoric, says Tom Vogels (Mechanical Engineer at WEMO).

After the immersion in the sea, it was time for a delicious piece of apple pie by an open fire, experiencing the pleasant ‘after drop’ (cold blood mixing with warm blood = shaking like a ragdoll). The videos show this hilarious moment.

Yet more intensive breathing exercises followed, to prepare for the real test: the ICE BATH!

Everyone went into the ice bath in pairs. With controlled inhalation and exhalation through the nose, everyone first stepped into the water up to their legs, then put their hands under and, after three deep breaths, each person sank into the water up to their necks on an inhale. By closing your eyes, you can maintain your focus and even enjoy it if you’re lucky. And that’s how you can manage to last the two minutes. Finally, we submerged our heads. After that, it was time to encourage other colleagues.

It was so cool to see how everyone battled themselves and the literally ice-cold water. Everyone who took part was a hero!! We all did it, made it and survived it. Mastering the body with the mind like that, so that you can stay sitting calmly in a real ice bath for minutes at a time. That’s brilliant!” says Jeff Hagelen.

Not cold at all

The Cold Experience was a unique, ground-breaking and intense experience for everyone who took part. Everyone was very happy with this special learning moment, the memories and the personal growth that this chilly adventure brought with it. You can see the cold as a metaphor for anything uncomfortable that you encounter. With the right mindset and maybe some preparation, you can do more than you think. What looked at first like an ice-cold adventure turned out to be a lovely warm bath.

Vitality programme and WEMOVE

WEMO believes that vitality consists of four dimensions that need to be in balance with each other: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Vitality is something that people strive for, the ultimate zest for life and energised feeling. WEMO aims to improve vitality among its employees. In addition to annual nutritional workshops, periodic chair massages, fruit at work and the Ice Challenge, our staff are given the opportunity to improve their own vitality by exercising with colleagues under professional guidance. They can participate in in-house boxing sessions, outdoor bootcamps and fitness programmes at the sports centre. Sporting goals are also worked towards through participation in the Strong Viking Obstacle Runs, Marathons and Cycling Races. We also work hard for charities like KIKA and Holland4ALS. Working towards a shared sporting goal together has a positive effect on energy levels.

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