“Just be sure to wipe yourself down thoroughly. It’s humid today, and there can’t be any moisture on your body when you enter the chamber,” warns the receptionist at Kryolife, a New York City “spa” that specializes in whole body cryotherapy.
Alone in the dressing room, I contemplate the treatment I’m about to undergo. At this stage I know very little about cyrotherapy, a process that reduces your body’s temperature to negative 265 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes by chilling the air inside a large cylindrical machine, or “cryosauna,” with liquid nitrogen. I learned about cryotherapy while researching a story about celebrities’ ridiculous beauty habits (Lebron James, Lindsay Lohan, and Tony Robbins are all doing it), so to call me a skeptic would be an understatement. In general, I’m not one for fad diets, alternative medicine, or holistic healing. I made this appointment so I could strip off my clothes, get cold, and laugh off the fact that rich people were wasting their money (each session, which lasts roughly three minutes, costs $90) on yet another bullshit, Dr. Oz-endorsed wellness regimen.
But bizarre or not, the receptionist’s warning reminds me of the seriousness surrounding this practice. Lack of moisture is the only reason humans can survive inside the cryosauna. It’s no joke to expose your naked flesh to well below freezing temperatures.
“What will happen if I miss a smidge?” I call after the receptionist, imagining a section of my tough-to-reach back becoming permanently frostbitten.
No answer. Luckily, it’s not too late to change my mind.
Before I make my polite exit, however, I remember Tony Robins’ story. Robins started cryotherapy shortly after a doctor prescribed it to treat his mother for severe arthritis. What kind of medical professional puts a little old lady at risk?
I towel off as thoroughly as possible. Then I change into the sports bra, tube socks, robe, gloves, and clogs provided.
In the adjacent room, I’m greeted by Joanna Fryben, the blonde, athletic, middle-aged owner of Kryolife, who has a mom story of her own: At the behest of a renowned orthopedic surgeon in the E.U., Fryben’s mother used cryotherpay to recuperate from a knee injury. Inspired by her mom’s “astonishingly quick recovery,” Fryben began researching the phenomenon and eventually opened her cryo spa in the U.S., where few people seemed to know about it. Fryben tells me that cryotherapy kickstarts the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems, and that she hasn’t been sick once since beginning regular treatments a few years back. Eighteen months into doing business, her customer retention rate (she sees about 75 people each day) is reportedly 97 percent.
Drunk on her Koolaid, maybe, I follow Fryben into the tiny room housing the cryosauna, which spits a steady stream of creepy white mist from the opening at its top. I remove my robe eagerly and hang it on the hook right as the chamber door opens, revealing a claustrophobia-inducing, frosted interior.
With the elderly women who went before me in mind, I step onto the chamber’s adjustable base platform. It takes only seconds for me to register the cold—not linger-in-front-of-an-open-freezer cold, but knee buckling, mind-altering freezing cold.
“Fuck, it’s cold!” I scream, followed by several other expletives in between halfhearted apologies for my inappropriate language, which seems totally warranted.
With each passing second, I feel like I’m shedding another layer of skin. I worry about my blood, my muscles, and my reproductive organs, but mostly my immediate discomfort.
“Feel free to turn around,” says Fryben.
Moving sounds like a good idea, but spinning eventually makes me dizzy. The last thing I need is to lose my balance, so I stop, at which point I note the cryosauna’s digital thermometer, reading negative 265 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Holy shit! How much longer?”
“You tell me,” Fryben says. “It’s been one minute and thirty seconds.”
“How long do you normally last?” I ask, hopping from one foot to the other.
“About two and a half minutes, usually.”
“Fuck! I’m staying in. Fuck, no. I need to get out.”
“Try to relax,” suggests Fryben.
Such a simple, reasonable suggestion. Standing still, I close my eyes and breath in as slowly as possible, then exhale. You can do this, I tell myself.
“I’d like to exit at 2:45,” I tell Fryben.
The next thirty seconds or so don’t pass quickly, but they’re almost bearable.
As soon as Fryben releases me, I clamor for my robe. I am so. Fucking. Cold.
Desperate for warmth, I dance around the room frantically. I look like an idiot, but I don’t care.
“Get on the stationery bicycle. It helps to keep moving,” Fryben advises.
As I pedal, Fryben explains that the sudden change in body temperature elevates your blood pressure by about five to ten points, which increases oxygen supply throughout the body and triggers the release of endorphins, our natural feel-good hormones.
“Check yourself out in the mirror,” Fryben encourages as soon as I dismount the bike.
My reflection doesn’t strike me as any different, except that I’m smiling wider than the moment calls for. I look stupid happy. And now that the cold has worn off, I feel like I’m high on some kind of speedy drug I’ve never tried before.
As a genuine cryotherapy enthusiast, Fryben seems keen on welcoming me into her club. She continues describing the alleged benefits of cryotherapy—including reduced inflammation, increased energy, reduced muscle tension, pain relief, and improved metabolism—all of which she claims she’s observed in customers ranging from average folks to cancer patients and the wheelchair-bound.
As Fryben speaks, though, I find it hard to focus on what she’s saying. I’m itching to get out into the world, so I thank her, change, and take off.
On the subway, I opt not to sit down for the long ride downtown. Back at home, I can barely draft an email without getting distracted. But I’m still fucking smiling. At 3pm I realize that I haven’t eaten lunch, so I force myself to eat even though I don’t really want to.
Aside from energetic and un-hungry, I feel confused. How the fuck did a celebrity backed health and wellness fad surpass my expectations? Is it the adrenaline rush of trying something new that’s infecting me? Is whatever I’m feeling all in my head?
Maybe. But I’m excited and happy!
After a solid night’s sleep, I wake up at 5:45AM to hit the gym. Anticipating a great workout, I’m shocked by how exhausted I feel after five minutes on the treadmill. I have to cut my run short by ten minutes—something I never do. Is this the inevitable cryotherapy comedown?
Just as I can’t necessarily equate my Monday afternoon high to cryotherapy, I can’t blame it for my next-day fatigue, either. That’s the thing with alternative treatments—or any healing process, for that matter. It’s tough to pinpoint what actually works, and what doesn’t.
So is cryotherapy worth it? If you’re a celebrity with unlimited funds, sure.