I’m standing naked, except for my boxer shorts, staring at the cryotherapy chamber that is about to engulf me in sub-freezing liquid nitrogen. I’m terrified. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was this scared.
The 20-something year old woman standing next to me gives me two socks and two gloves to put on. “These will keep you from getting frostbite. It’s important you keep them on.”
I think, what about my other parts?
I walk into the chamber and she seals me in. It’s like standing in an upright tanning bed with my head poking out of the top.
I assume the fig leaf position and just like David Byrne I wonder, well, how did I get here?
I first heard about whole body cryotherapy when I was hanging out with some U.S. Navy SEALs in San Diego. They told me that some rich private citizen bought the SEALs some chambers from Japan and shipped them in so they could speed up recovery from injuries. At that time, it sounded to me like some kind of dangerous voodoo.
The second time I heard about cryotherapy chambers was when Tony Robbins mentioned he has one in each of his homes and starts every morning with a deep freeze. He talked about it shocking the system and curing inflammation problems including arthritis. Interesting, I thought, but was still skeptical.
The third time I saw a cryotherapy chamber was on episode nine of the HBO show, Billions. Hey, if a fictional hedge fund manager played by Damien Lewis is doing cryotherapy, I’m all in!
As I investigated cryotherapy further, I found all kinds of remarkable claims being made by manufacturers. Freezing your body apparently helps you to lose weight, tighten skin, relieve muscle pain, boost the immune system, and improve sleep quality. Of course, I really couldn’t find any proof of these claims.
The clinical research I did find was mixed, but there are studies showing a reduction in cell-signaling proteins that cause inflammation (specifically TNF-α, NF-κB, TGF-β and MMP-9). I learned that Lebron James, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and many professional athletes now use cryotherapy instead of old-fashioned ice baths. And I also learned that a 24-year old woman froze herself to death in Las Vegas last year.
So that’s how I ended up in the cryochamber.
It takes about 30 seconds to reach its maximum cold point. Nitrogen gas hugged my body and swirled out near my face. I ask the attendant just how cold it is.
“You hit negative 186 Celsius,” she answered.
That didn’t seem right to me. All the articles I read talked about typical temperatures being negative 100 degrees Fahrenheit with a maximum cold of negative 280 degrees Fahrenheit. But 186 Celsius is -303 Fahrenheit.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
She stared at the display panel for a moment. “I’m sure. That’s what it’s reading.”
Hmm, maybe she means Fahrenheit and not Celsius. Either way, it’s dang cold.
“If it’s that cold, how come it doesn’t actually freeze my body?” I ask.
“It’s a dry cold,” she replies with a straight face.
After the first minute I think, this isn’t too bad.
After the second minute, I start shivering and think it’s kind of like running outside in your underwear in the middle of the night during winter. Not that I can I really know what that’s like.
My fingers begin to numb so I start doing jazz hands down by my waist.
The third minute was a bit harder to take. Very uncomfortable. It wasn’t exactly cold like you’re used to feeling. It was more like a light burning sensation on the skin.
I started a breathing meditation to keep my mind off the cold.
“That’s three minutes,” she pressed a button and then opened the door. The nitrogen gas escaped, flooded the room and quickly dissipated.
As I stepped out and began to dress, I realized that I didn’t feel all that cold. It’s nothing at all like emerging from a swimming pool and racing for the towel to dry off and warm up. And within another minute, fully dressed and walking out to my car, I didn’t feel cold at all.
But I also didn’t feel any different. I didn’t experience the energy rush so many people talk about. All my normal muscle pains and carpal tunnel wrist were still there. And nope, I didn’t sleep any better at night.
And I feel disappointed. I wanted cryotherapy to work. Who doesn’t want more energy, less pain and better sleep all from a three minute treatment?
For me, the jury is still out and I’ll definitely try it again. It certainly wasn’t as bad as I had feared, and perhaps with more frequent use, or freezing immediately after my workouts would get better results. But for now, I’m off to investigate another extreme productivity tactic that research indicates will increase dopamine in the mesocorticolimbic pathway resulting in an instant mood boost. Yes, there is indeed a scientific case for cold showers.