December 11, 2017
“Have you ever tried cryotherapy?” my friend Karyn asked me while we were waiting for a yoga class to begin at Sky Ting in TriBeCa. I hadn’t, but she was the third friend to ask me about it in a two-week span. Our teacher, Chloe, had tried it. Her verdict: “I’m really more of a heat person.”
I think I’m a heat person, too. Put me in some kind of sauna or steam room and let me sweat out shared bottles of pinot noir, a poor night’s sleep, emotions, and I will emerge elated and more alive than before. I once got straight off an early flight to Los Angeles and took a taxi to Shapehouse in Santa Monica, where I was wrapped in an infrared blanket like a human burrito and sweat profusely while I watched a documentary about mountain climbing.
That’s my idea of an ideal morning. Shapehouse just opened on the Upper East Side, so now I don’t have to save it for trips to California.
Cryotherapy, on the other hand, is about subjecting yourself to really, really cold temperature — as cold as minus 300 Fahrenheit, which is colder than anything naturally appearing on this planet — in order to help the body recover from injuries, reduce pain and give you a jolt of happiness. It’s the kind of thing championed by elite athletes including LeBron James. We all want to train like professionals, have bodies that look that good, and now we can recover like them, too.
Has the Food and Drug Administration recognized the potential benefits of cryotherapy? No. It is, like so many wellness fads, unregulated — there was a death associated with full-body cryotherapy in 2015 — and, at $75 for three minutes, wildly expensive. But I had a strain in a muscle in my shoulder, and Karyn had a sore back, so we decided to try it together.
We met up a week later at the Fuel Stop, a Central Park South establishment that bills itself as “Your Urban Anti-Spa.” Karyn had arrived first and was making her way through a lengthy release form on an iPad that asked about things like heart or vascular issues. “What is my pain threshold between one and 10,” she read aloud. “Well, let’s see. I was in labor three days with Louis, but at the end I got a baby.” We both checked 7.
There was one other person in the waiting area, a lean and muscular man in his 40s who was also a cryo virgin but who seemed much less nervous than either one of us.
We were led into a small locker room, where we took off all our clothes except for underwear and put on disposable bandeau-style bras — no underwires allowed in the cryo chamber because the metal can freeze and burn the skin — white cotton athletic socks, white cotton gloves an archivist might wear, a white robe, disposable surgical masks to protect our mouths and noses, ear warmers, black rubber sandals and giant wool mittens.
A sprightly employee named Yvonne said we could burn 500 to 800 calories and asked what we wanted to listen to. I wondered if our soundtrack should include a song that might be in an inspirational training montage in a movie, like “Eye of the Tiger.” In the end, we settled on Rihanna.
The cryotherapy chamber is a small room that’s cooled to minus 230 Fahrenheit. Really, it looked like a walk-in freezer with a large window through which I could see only what looked like steam wafting in the air. Karyn and I took off our robes and stepped into a cold antechamber. We counted to five, then I opened the door to the cryotherapy room.
I didn’t think it was that bad — about as cold as walking my dog on the coldest, windiest winter night. Not pleasant but not painful or capable of inducing panic. (And just in case we did freak out, Yvonne had pointed out that the door didn’t lock and we were free to leave at any time.)
It was too cold for sudden movements, so we slowly jiggled and danced in place to keep warm. Yvonne was barely visible on the other side of the window calling out how much time had elapsed and shouting: “You’re doing great! You got this!”
After about a minute, the cold seemed to move into my body. Chatting to pass the time was not an option. Moving around was difficult. We started moaning in pain as Yvonne counted off the last 30 seconds.
Karyn and I ran outside, where we put our robes back on and stood on vibrating plates for a few minutes, which was supposed to help our now-red bodies warm up. Then the staff brought us hot tea, and we sat down.
That’s when we both started feeling strangely hyper and euphoric. “I feel like I had three espressos and could run six miles,” I said.
Karyn said, “I’m going to tell the sober people in my life to try this.” We babbled about clothes and movies. A regular client emerged from the chamber and onto the vibrating plates. “I would do this every day if I could,” he said.
Maybe I would. The strain in my muscle wasn’t completely gone, but it felt noticeably better all day. Supposedly you sleep well the night after, but neither of us did. I was still so wired that I spent half the night listening to Tina Brown read “The Vanity Fair Diaries” audiobook and thinking about how Ms. Brown managed to get so much done every day. Imagine if I could do cryotherapy every morning? I would be insufferable and broke but, maybe, unstoppable.