It was an unseasonably warm fall day today. And in the name of new experiences, I willingly hopped into what would become a minus 264 degree Fahrenheit chamber.
It’s called Cryotherapy. Strange as it may sound, the practice has actually been around for some time. It began in Japan in the 1970s but has gained momentum in recent years due to its popularity with professional athletes, who utilize the treatment to speed up recovery time after an injury.
I visited the newly opened Cryobalance therapy center, located at 211 Hamilton Row in Birmingham, to see what it’s all about.
“Cryotherapy can really be for anyone, but we target three clients.” Lacey Savaya, managing director of Cryobalance told me.
“First, there is the professional athlete who can regularly use it as a modern day ice bath. The second use is for general health and wellness – it kickstarts metabolism, increases energy, burns calories, helps with sleep, and it can even promote collagen production resulting in a more even skin tone. The third is for athletes or anyone who may be treating injuries – it can reduce inflammation, repair damaged tissue, and promotes faster healing.”
So how cold is it? Well, as staff members pump liquid nitrogen into the booth, the temperature drops to a mind numbing minus -264°F in a matter of seconds.
From a technical perspective, I’m told your body responds to the cold by constricting the blood vessels in order to limit blood flow in order to try and keep your core temperature up. Once out of the chamber, your blood vessels dilate three to four times their normal size, which increases blood and oxygen flow throughout the body, flushing toxins and releasing a rush of endorphins, which creates an analgesic effect and serious energy boost.
“So you’re basically tricking your body into all these reactions. Your core temperature doesn’t really drop that much because your brain is telling your body to protect your organs, so blood is flowing to your core and pumping through your heart. The blood is being cleansed, there’s a lot more oxygen, then when you get out your brain releases endorphins, which is like the runners high. Then all that clean blood flows everywhere, and you get the benefits like tissue repair, energy boost and all of that.”
When I was asked if I wanted to try it, I was immediately apprehensive, thinking of all the worst case scenarios. However, I managed to swallow my initial fear and decided to give it a shot.
After a serious pre-check (you can put yourself at risk of injury if you do the treatment and have health issues like hypertension or high blood pressure), I stood there looking absolutely ridiculous in the requisite gear, including nothing more than underwear, socks, mittens and a surgical mask.
I then stepped into the chamber as it billowed liquid nitrogen like a smoke stack.
The first 30 seconds were a breeze, but as the temperature rapidly dropped it became more of a challenge. I would liken the sensation to jumping into a lake a little too early or too late in the summer, when the water is still too cold to fully enjoy, and the swim becomes more a test of will than a leisure activity.
After another minute or so I began to shiver and my breath became short, but that was really the worst of it.
In the end, I lasted about two of the planned three minute session before I stopped, though I probably could have toughed it out until the end. It wasn’t so much the physical reaction to the cold that got to me, though it was certainly a powerful sensation – but rather the challenge of convincing my mind that I wasn’t actually in any danger.
The mental and physical feeling was similar to any challenging work out or athletic activity – like holding a tough yoga posture for an uncomfortable length of time, or pushing yourself to finish that last set at the gym. Your body and mind will do everything possible to convince you to stop, but deep down you know that pushing yourself a bit further will get you the results you desire.
According to the folks at Cryobalance, the first session is the most uncomfortable because your body is completely unfamiliar with the sensation. Once you’re more familiar with the feeling, it’s easier to calm your mind and settle into the experience she says, which certainly makes sense.
So did it work?
Well, in order to maximize the healing benefits, they recommend two or three treatments across a 48-72 hour period, especially if you’re treating an injury. I only did one round.
However, I can say that I felt pretty amazing after getting out. I felt better throughout the rest of the day and in a particularly good mood, which was likely due to the blast of endorphins, and physically I felt fantastic. It was similar to the way I feel after a great workout but far more intense.
The treatment is relatively affordable, at least for a one-off experience. Your first session will cost about $45, so consider skipping the bar or a meal out for a night and give this a shot. There are also package deals that gets you 10 sessions for $450. You can also opt for the $300 monthly membership which earns you unlimited access to treatment. You can find out more at their website.