Whole-body cryotherapy is gaining popularity – and not just with eccentric celebrities. Brendan Shanahan goes to chilling extremes to test its alleged benefits.
I’m in Beverly Hills about to be frozen and the assistant wants to know if I have any questions. “Well, yes,” I say. “There was that woman in Las Vegas. The one who died…”
“Oh, that,” she says, as if “that” were some barely remembered trifle. “That was totally different.”
Welcome to the weird world of whole-body cryotherapy. A burgeoning health treatment, it involves standing near-naked for a few minutes in a chamber of air chilled by liquid nitrogen to about -150°C. Which, to put things in perspective, is roughly the temperature of the North Pole. On Mars. At night. Forgive me if I’m a little nervous.
Pioneered in Japan in the late ’70s as an experimental remedy for arthritis, whole-body cryotherapy found some takers in Eastern Europe before arriving in America
in about 2009. Since then, with the help of endorsements from professional athletes and celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, the treatment has quickly become the new seaweed wrap, springing up at specialty clinics and spas around the world. In Australia it’s available on the Gold Coast and will soon be offered in Sydney.
This form of cryotherapy works, claim proponents, by stimulating your “fight or flight” response, which releases chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream as your body reacts to perceived threatening situations. The extreme temperature helps pump blood into vital organs, oxygenating your body and leaving you with a feeling of euphoria. Like ice baths used by athletes, it can apparently combat inflammation and muscle pain and burn up to 3000 kilojoules in three minutes.
Although the veracity of these claims is still up for debate – scepticism of anything Lindsay Lohan recommends is a rule to live by – whole-body cryotherapy doesn’t appear to be actively dangerous. The woman who died last October had passed out while using the equipment alone and unsupervised – an accident that might have happened in a sauna. Granted, in a sauna, her body wouldn’t have been found frozen solid in the morning.
In a changing room I strip down to my underpants and don my cryo outfit – a bathrobe, a pair of heavy black clogs, a surgical mask, and white socks and gloves to stop frostbite. Shuffling towards the machine, I feel like a runway model in a show by a sadistic Japanese designer.
The assistant at the clinic tells me to go into the antechamber, remove my robe and then step into the cold chamber when I’m ready. She will then set the timer for two minutes.
“What music do you like?” she asks, fingering a touchpad on the side of the main chamber. “Ah, alternative rock… I guess.”
She stares at me blankly. “You know, bands like Nirvana,” I say, offering the most obvious example I can think of.
Her brow furrows. “Can you spell that?”
The crushing revelation that there are sentient adults too young to have heard of Nirvana is not given long to fester. Inside the antechamber, apprehension takes over. As music plays, mist swirls out from under the door like the prelude to a bad magic act. When I come out will I be a white tiger?
I open the door to the next chamber. The cold is breathtaking – literally. Suddenly,
the gravity of my situation is revealed: I am about to step near-naked into a broom closet chilled to temperatures so low that they don’t occur naturally on Earth and monitored by someone younger than the song that’s playing. For a moment I feel I can’t do it. I remind myself Lindsay Lohan has done this and lived.
In the chamber I see nothing but mist.
The music is periodically interrupted by a robotic countdown: ...one minute remaining. As I exhale, my breath passes through the mask to make tiny snowflakes. Like sub-zero confetti they spin joyfully about me. Surprisingly, my masculine assets appear no less affected than they would be on a slightly chilly day at the beach.
Finally, after the longest two minutes of my life, the electronic voice tells me to exit. Red-skinned and runny nosed, I step out and quickly wrap a robe around me. How do I feel? Actually, pretty good. But other than very awake and very, very cold, not noticeably different. Then again, perhaps I am a poor test subject – aside from migraines and mild hypochondria, I have no chronic conditions.
I was, however, insatiably hungry about an hour later, which could indicate I’d burned off a few thousand kilojoules. Does this mean that if I owned a cryotherapy chamber I could live on doughnuts and deep-fried Mars bars and still have a body like Hugh Jackman’s?
While I sip a complimentary coffee, I chat with a woman readying herself to take my place. When she tells me that she does this every day, I express shock. “I study natural remedies,” she says. “So I’d much rather do this than something unnatural.”
I am tempted to point out that standing naked in a liquid-nitrogen freezer in an area of LA that Raymond Chandler once described as “the best-policed four square miles in California” is virtually the definition of unnatural but I don’t want to be a killjoy.
Two minutes later she emerges, doing yoga stretches in a swirl of mist. “Feel good?” I ask.
“Totally ah-may-zing.” With a final flourish of stretching, she disappears into
her changing room – LA incarnate: totally amazing, totally natural, totally chilled out. ￼
Please visit Crysports for more information.
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