Cryotherapy is a new-to-me wellness trend. Easy and scary, cryotherapy is a process by which a near-naked human spends two to four minutes standing in a cold chamber cooled to below −100°C. The protocol claims to reduce tissue inflammation, which aids in sports recovery, alleviates diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and MS, increases energy, enhances sleep and focus, assists weight loss, brightens skin and reduces anxiety and depression (17 Proven Benefits of Whole Body Cryotherpay + Side Effects). Better to ask, what doesn’t cryotherapy promise?
I decided to give it a try.
Despite the skeptics at The Guardian (Whole-body cryotherapy: what are the cold hard facts?) and US News (Should You Try Whole Body Cryotherapy?), there are a lot of celebrity fans (pro athletes and movie stars, including the reigning, though retired, James Bond, aka Daniel Craig) who swear by it. The skeptics make the point that cryotherapy is not a magic bullet (despite James Bond’s endorsement). The protocol does not eliminate the need to take care of oneself. Well, why would it? Seems obvious that cryotherapy is a therapeutic technique (like every other) meant to support and boost a healthy lifestyle, not replace it, or be a hack that enables a casual or reckless approach to wellness.
A quick online search gave me CryoHealthNY only a few blocks from my apartment. The cryo-office was ultra clean and new looking, but the space also has an unpeopled feel, too. The General Manager, Sujellee, alone at the reception desk the first time I went, was glow-y and enthusiastic.
As instructed I took off all my clothes except bra and underwear and put on the robe, white gym socks and pale blue nurse clogs provided. At the gateway to freezedom, Sujellee gave me earmuffs, a pair of liner gloves, ski gloves and a surgical mask. At the place I went the set up is this: There are two adjoining cold chambers about the size of a large telephone booth. The first is the pre-freeze chamber, where you take off your robe. From chamber 1, you step through an inside door into chamber 2, the cryo-chamber, which, in this case, is cooled to a cryogenic temperature of −245°F. The attendant presses play on the music you’ve selected from Spotify (David Bowie’s Space Oddity) and your three minutes begins.
From the moment I stepped in, I was petrified. Panic nearly drove me from the Dr. Who telephone booth of deep space frigidity. Filled with cold fog, which makes it hard to see anything more than the shadowed specter of the attendant’s thumbs-up outside the window, I was claustrophobic, my breathing hard and choppy. I can’t even be sure how many times Sujellee’s disembodied voice piped into the chamber to let me know how many minutes and seconds were left. Three interminable minutes spent petrified. I had my hand on the door handle to the pre-freeze chamber when she gave me the five-second warning, and I busted out of there like a horse at the Derby when she announced “you’re done.”
The whole rest of the day I was exhilarated. Was it because I felt like I had dodged death? I may well have been experiencing some brush-with-mortality energy. All the way through to the next morning, underneath the warmth of my skin, I felt like I was wrapped in a hair’s-breadth-thick sheath of cold, a pleasant and tingly sensation.
I also slept better than I usually do and felt springy and resilient on my run the next morning. That’s subjective, I know, but in the end, isn’t that what matters with any therapeutic protocol? Whether we perform better and feel better is the standard and goal, isn’t it?
I am a willing guinea pig for so many new (and ancient) protocols. I’m curious about my mind and body. I have the good luck of being able to try things (at the place I went to an intro session is $55, a single session is $75 and a 5-pack is $300—I won’t detail the Black Friday specials). As to how often to cryo, I’ve seen recommendations of as many as 5 sessions a week, to once a week, or as needed when you’re feeling physically sore or depleted. At the price, I can’t imagine I’ll ever go 5 times in a week!
That said, I did go for my second session the very next day and took my partner with me. It was a lot less scary with the two of us in the Dr. Who chamber together. Neither of us experienced the same exhilaration I’d felt the day before. But then, he didn’t feel like mortality was an issue, since I’d made it out alive once already. In our US Thanksgiving double spin class the next day, I had strong energy. My partner wasn’t sure what benefits he felt, if any.
A few days later my partner discovered he had e-coli. His bout was unpleasant and scary, but didn’t stop him from doing any of our usual activities, like going for runs and out for dinner. When he’d recovered a few more days later, we wondered if the cryotherapy had helped reduce the severity of his symptoms. We don’t know.
My third time (my partner’s second), I was still scared, but less so. My partner had a calf pull that felt particularly frozen after the cryo session and he said it felt healing. He said he felt more alert that evening and into the next day. I slept better than usual and though not all my sporting aches and pains disappeared, I feel more physically chipper. Is that a placebo effect? (That’s a can of worms for another day.)
My partner and I are going to go back a couple more times to see how we feel. Then we’ll decide if the therapy is worth integrating into a regular regimen or using to heal injuries.
What are your cryo-thoughts? Skeptic, curious or convert?