SHARJAH — As the morning sun bakes the orange dunes of the UAE desert, a man lowers himself into a tinkling tub of ice.
Weathering such extreme discomfort is an attempt to boost the body’s immunity and connect with an inner strength.
“The temperature difference increases your immune system,” said Benoit Demeulemeester from Switzerland, who runs the ice bath and breathing sessions in the United Arab Emirates. “You stress your system for a short period of time, which makes you stronger.”
Emirati participant Marwan Abdelaziz, sitting in the orange basin of ice in swimming shorts and sunglasses, said: “The beginning is a bit scary: you want to get out, you can’t control your breathing. But now I am ok, totally fine.”
Abdelaziz entered the bath with a grimace, but held his breath calmly as directed by Demeulemeester, who coaches participants on breathing techniques.
“I am a passionate hot and cold person … I like to take people out of their comfort zone and give them an experience of body and mind, (to) reconnect with nature,” Demeulemeester said.
Cold water immersion and breathing techniques have been made popular by Wim Hof, a Dutch cold water enthusiast who holds several world records for cold exposure.
Hof has developed his own methodology, with similarities to ancient Tibetan Buddhist breathing techniques, comprising breathing, cold exposure and commitment.
Old, young, athlete or non-athlete, the techniques are good for everyone, said Demeulemeester, a former banker and now executive coach who uses Hof’s methods in his practice.
Looking out over the rocky outcrops of the desert, participant Reza Tirgari from California agreed the beginning was the hardest part, but then the benefits came.
“You realize that your mind is more powerful then your body and your mind controls your body. You have to make your body obey your mind – that’s the secret,” Tirgari said. —Reporting by Abdelhadi al Ramahi ; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Jan Harvey