Feeling the fear but doing it anyway, Melanie Morris road tests cryotherapy, the hardcore body-freezing treatment that athletes and rugby professionals swear by... but she finds a whole host of extra benefits.
How far will you go to feel better? That’s the question I asked myself repeatedly as I counted down to my first cryotherapy treatment.
I like to think of myself as hardcore. High pain threshold, good tolerance, nonchalant attitude. In trying beauty and health treatments, my curiosity has always outweighed any fear factor. So why was I, frankly, so shit scared of the three minutes that were about to happen?
A cryogenic treatment is basically a short session where the body is exposed to severely sub-zero temperatures; often around -90oC, or -150oC in the case of the cryogenic capsule in the South William Clinic & Spa, where I was about to get the chills. We’ve abstractly heard of cryogenics before, believing mad billionaires get their heads or bodies frozen, suspending death, so they can be brought back to life when science perfects the solution, but as a heath treatment, it’s an entirely different thing. Chambers are popping up everywhere; like high-tech fish pedicure places, they’re the Next Big Thing.
Cryogenics has been favoured by high-performing athletes for a long time in order to speed up recovery and help improve performance, but it has even more benefits than just that. Cryotherapy can reduce inflammation, offer pain relief from muscle and joint ache, and help with weight loss by whooshing up the metabolism and burning up to 800 calories in a session.
Due to all this, it can help with longer-term ailments such as dementia, diabetes and arthritis. What I particularly loved about the treatment is the way I felt afterward; cryotherapy triggers a massive whoosh of hormones and as a result, my mood went through the roof – I was focused, happy, full of energy and ready to take on the world. Physical health benefits aside, I’d recommend this treatment for anyone who was having a blue day, feeling sluggish or hungover. Three minutes would get you back on form in a flash.
So what’s involved? And why was I so terrified? Well, the chamber itself is very industrial – a white room with a massive silver hydrogen tank connected to a capsule that looks like something out of an Austin Powers movie. To prepare for a session, the client strips down to their underwear and is given thick socks, Crocs and oversized thermal gloves to put on.
Then it’s into the chamber, with height adjusted so the head looks out, above the treatment level. Then it’s action stations; the therapist cranks a huge wheel and the freezing nitrogen is released into the chamber. It’s noisy, and the blast of cold shocks the system and muddles the brain – this was the bit I was terrified of. Your thighs sting. You are asked to keep moving the body and the timer is set for a maximum of three minutes (although, most people start with less and work upwards). But here’s the thing: it’s actually not too bad. Yes, it’s cold, but I’ve had far worse experiences capsizing boats in Dun Laoghaire harbour. I definitely went a bit hyper, but Joseph my therapist was incredibly kind and encouraging. I told myself this was nothing longer than waiting for the microwave to ping.
I flapped my arms, but now realise this isn’t a good idea, as it encourages the freezing nitrogen around the face; better in future to do a simple “funky chicken”. Stomping my feet was easier and a handy way to count down the elastic time. But before I knew it, I’d done two minutes. Joseph reckoned that was enough for my first treatment. And then it was done.
Afterward, I really felt like I could take over the world. I was alive and every cell in my body was, I believed, operating at full capacity, doing what it was meant to do. It was the most incredible feeling. An hour or so later, I noticed that all the muscle pain I’d accumulated from working out had diminished, and I had a huge smile on my face. As I left the clinic, I met a woman who came weekly for rehab on a shoulder, and I know many rugby professionals queue up for regular blasts. The only restriction is for those with high blood pressure or heart issues – cryogenics is not for you.
Would I do cryotherapy again? Yes, in a flash; my fear was of the unknown and actually, this is another “mind over matter” challenge. One with brilliant benefits.
Cryotherapy costs €85 per session. Ireland’s only cryotherapy capsule can be found at the South William Clinic & Spa, South William Street, Dublin 2, 01 537 9222; southwilliamspa.com.
This article originally appeared in the September issue of IMAGE Magazine, on shelves nationwide now.