I first learned of Scott Carney as he was writing his 2016 book, What Doesn’t Kill Us, the story of Scott being commissioned by Playboy Magazine to write an article debunking the cold water deep breathing “iceman” Wim Hof. Scott went to Wim’s training center in Poland. His intention was to get into the depths of Wim’s cold water immersion therapy and deep breathing methods, to reveal the cracks and fallacies of the practice. And this was Scott’s specialty. He was on the heels of his 2015 book The Enlightenment Trap, (then entitled under the title A Death on Diamond Mountain). The book explores the cult like practices of adaptive, Americanized versions of Eastern religions. How guru’s in the US try to capitalize on “enlightenment” for their own finances and fame.
For Scott Carney, a journalist and anthropologist who lived in India for six years, debunking myths is his specialty.
Debunking Wim Hof
So, back to those days at the Wim Hof training center in Poland, I can imagine Scott’s bullshit detector on high. He immersed himself with other guests who were paying money to learn the Wim Hof Method, under the direction and guidance of Wim himself. Deep breathing sessions followed by cold water immersions, and hiking up the nearby mountain wearing minimal clothing.
Yet during Scott’s time with Wim, sitting with Wim on his sauna bench, something unexpected and remarkable took place. Scott became a convert to the practice and the benefits of the Wim Hof Method. Not a “hmm, this is interesting” type benefit, but some deep profound improvement in mental clarity, physical endurance, and overall a “getting high on his own supply” as Wim says. Happy, Healthy, Strong.
So, Scott’s Playboy Assignment morphed into the book “What Doesn’t Kill Us.” The critic became the convert. And the Foreward to the book is written by Wim himself.
I started doing the Wim Hof Method myself, back around that time, in 2015. It is such a natural extension to what we love: sauna and then cold plunging. It all just made sense to me. For decades, I would do push ups on my dock in the morning, then dive deep and long into our cool Northern Minnesota lake, finding great meditative calm along the bottom of the lake, often just suspended down along the depths, as a big fish would do, in no hurry to come to the surface. This was my own Wim Hof Method before I heard of Wim Hof.
Close encounters with Wim Hof
What Doesn’t Kill Us treats us to intimate one on one connections with Wim, the crazy mastermind with several endurance world records yet arguably best known for beating back the flu like effects from being injected with an endotoxin, at a research hospital in Holland, all through power of the mind: deep breathing exercises that help us control our autonomic nervous system, a feat that up until then, medical science insisted could not be possible. What’s even more significant is that after the scientists wrote off the feat as Wim being a freak of nature, Wim himself trained a group of people not familiar with his method for only a few days. Then, this group was also injected with the endotoxin, and they all beat back the flu symptoms, just like Wim himself.
This study was remarkable. As Wim says, “it has changed modern science forever” and you can read more about it in Scott Carney’s book. Also, the book ends with Scott hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest peak in Africa, with Wim and others. I won’t spoil it except to say that Scott and Wim make it to the top. It is a crazy adventure, extremely well written and funny.
Scott’s recent work
Then, I recently heard Scott being interviewed by my friend Mindstrong Harvey on his podcast. Scott is great to listen to. He’s got such a depth of knowledge and tells really clear, interesting stories to support his knowledge, without sounding pedantic or cocky in any way. He is interesting and interested. As a journalist, he is naturally curious. Needless to say, I’d like to hang out more with Scott Carney.
Scott is happy to talk about his new book The Wedge and in this episode we dive deep into parts of his new book.
The wedge, simply defined, is the space between stimulus and response. We sauna lovers know all about the Wedge. When we toss water on the rocks and feel that heavy blast of löyly, we don’t rush for the sauna door but we close our eyes and take it in. In Finland, it is polite to shut up during this time. Actually, in Finland, it’s probably polite to shut up most times, but when we create a wedge between stimulus – the blast of steam, and response – rushing out of the room, as we know, this is when magic happens.
And same for the cool down. When we exit the hot room and immerse ourself in ice cold water, the conditioned response is to yelp like a cocker spaniel and resist the cold. But we sauna enthusiasts have reprogrammed ourselves to embrace this feeling. We listen to our core, not our skin. “Thank you brain for telling me to get out of this cold water. We understand that we, as humans, are conditioned to resist and activate a flight response when we feel ice cold water, but we are on a different path now. We are embracing this cold water as part of the wonderfulness of sauna therapy.”
Instead of all this chatter, now we have a simple word for this internal monologue: The Wedge.
We talk about the chapter in his book called “Red Line” where he and his wife go to Latvia for a long sauna ritual, and we talk about other examples in the book that help us understand the power of the Wedge. Scott is one of us. He owns his own sauna, and is often found chilling out between rounds outside his own backyard sauna retreat. If you’re like me, you’ll be nodding your head up and down page after page while reading the Wedge. Scott has a way of saying what we feel, and have felt for a long time.
When we become under stress is when we are most human.
Regarding hot/cold therapy: It’s like lifting weights for our vascular system.
Especially nice to hear Scott’s impressions of what is most misunderstood about sauna. Often, sauna is viewed as a post work out regimen. A sense of community is what is missing. We don’t have to take sauna so seriously. We can have fun with sauna.
I am super pleased to bring you this episode of Sauna Talk. Please welcome Scott Carney.
Listen to Sauna Talk episode of Wim Hof here.