The Professor of extreme wellness

Marc Cohen

Think you could meditate in an ice bath? You’ll get your chance at this year’s Byron Spirit Festival when Professor Marc Cohen, inspired by Wim ‘The Iceman’ Hof, will be setting up an ice bath for willing participants to jump in then test the power of the mind in an extremely challenging physical situation.

Professor Cohen is Australia’s first Professor of Complementary Medicine and is Head of Department of Complementary Medicine at RMIT University where he conducts wellness research. He is a registered medical practitioner and has degrees in western medicine, biomedical engineering, and has a PhD in Chinese medicine. He is a long-time yoga practitioner, and has interests in the global spa industry and a range of integrative and holistic health modalities. Pip Andreas caught up with Marc ahead of his appearance at the festival.

As a professor at RMIT, it seems that promoting wellness as a discipline you’re fighting an uphill battle. Are there any indications that our healthcare system is moving toward a wellness model rather than a sickness model?

Like the universe as a whole, the healthcare system is expanding in every direction. In some ways it is becoming more controlled, commercialised and focused on disease, and in other ways it is opening itself up to new models of care and wellness interventions. It is becoming obvious however, that any wellness model needs to be holistic and engage every level of society and not just the healthcare system.

Having qualifications in the disciplines of medicine as well as bio-medical engineering is very unusual. What made you combine your allopathic and complimentary health qualifications with engineering?

I was always interested in wellbeing and this led me to study Chinese medicine before completing my western medical degree. I was fascinated by the Chinese conception of energy flow through the body and began to look at the body as a sophisticated communications network where ‘chi’ is aligned with ‘information’. To study this further, I studied information theory, which led me to electrical and computer systems engineering, as it is engineers that study and design communication networks.

What has made you interested in the trend of pushing the limits of human performance?

I always wanted to push the limits of happiness, wellbeing and fun. I saw a direct correlation between health and enjoyment and wanted to know how I could be as happy and healthy as possible. This naturally led me to study human performance as you can have the most fun when you perform at the highest level.

Is the practice of yoga for you about becoming comfortable with discomfort?

For me yoga is about union of our external and internal environments and aligning body, brain and breath. This naturally happens when we become comfortable in uncomfortable situations, as these situations force us to connect with the deep inner-well of our being, align our mitochondria with our mind, exist beyond duality and focus on simply being.

The Wim Hof Method of ice bathing seems like the antithesis to relieving pain or symptoms of auto-immune disease. Why would someone subject themselves to such an extreme treatment if they are already suffering so badly?

The Wim Hof Method does not need to be extreme. Practitioners of this method are encouraged to start off slowly and always stay within their comfort zone. Visiting the edge of the comfort zone induces a hormetic response that exercises the bodies adaptive responses. In this way conscious, controlled exposure to acute stress can be used to expands our capacity to deal with other chronic stresses that lie outside our control as well as deal with pain and inflammation.

Does heat therapy and hot springs complement ice bathing or is it used for something different?.

Hot and cold therapies naturally complement each other. This is well known in Scandinavian countries where people naturally run outside and cool off in the snow or an ice river or lake after a sauna.

It seems that a lot of wellness treatments are only available to a high socio-economic demographic. How can those treatments become available to those without the money to pay for expensive spas?

You are right that wellness treatments are generally more available to the wealthy yet ‘wealthy’ is a relative term. Bathing in clean water is the single most potent health intervention on earth, yet this simple act is currently unavailable to one third of the world’s population. The Bathe the World Foundation is aiming to address this by raising awareness and funds to deliver a bucket of water a day to everyone on earth (see . For those if us with access to hot and cold running water, a hot shower followed by a cold shower is a simple, inexpensive and accessible intervention that can transform your physiology and radically alter your mindset. This can be made easier and more enjoyable by performing the ‘Cold Water Hokey Pokey’, which is a simple song and dance that gradually exposes the body to cold water after a hot shower.

Marc will be appearing at the Byron Spirit Festival on Saturday 21 April

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