To the left of the dimly-lit lobby was a small teepee shaped cabana where we stripped down.
They provided us with fluffy bathrobes—light blue for me, white for my girlfriend. We neatly folded our clothes and placed them next to the two giant tanks of liquid nitrogen, which would soon be used to trick our bodies into thinking we were about to die.
Nervously shifting from foot to foot, we put on the spa-issue socks and plastic booties that would—hopefully—fend off frostbite.
“You ready?” I asked her.
She nodded and grinned—well aware by this point that, when you date me, this is the type of gift you can expect …
for Valentine’s Day.
In my defense, a spa day would make an excellent Valentine’s Day present, and, technically, a CryoTherapy Center would be considered a spa. Granted, the three minutes we’ll each be spending in the chamber is a far cry from a “day” but come on, how often can you spend a romantic evening getting frozen by liquid nitrogen?
It was three months after Valentine’s Day, and dangerously close to the expiration date on the Groupon, when we paid the visit to Xcel Movement and Performance for our couples Cryo1
After a brief scare when we drove to the address listed on the certificate, only to find an empty storefront—leading one of us to shout, “They made off with my 40 bucks!”—we found Xcel’s new location, just around the corner.
Our host ran us through the potential benefits of our CryoTherapy session: It would reduce muscle soreness, stiffness and joint pain, improve our moods, help us lose weight (supposedly our bodies would burn close to 500 calories as they struggled to fend off hypothermia) and improve our sleep-wake cycles. “You’ll have your best night’s sleep ever,” he promised us.
Shockingly, our host did NOT try to tell us that CryoTherapy would “remove toxins,” something that every nonsense treatment from saunas to cleanses to crystals seems to promise. I felt a surge of hope—maybe this would actually do something to improve our health.
I texted my sister, the scientist, who sounded skeptical but didn’t outright scold me for getting ripped off, as she’s done for other health-related schemes of mine, including the anti-snoring mouth guard and the laser treatments that disintegrate fat.
Then he gave us the basics on the treatment. We’d be closed into a cryo sauna—a chamber that looks like a big refrigerator.
“Your head will be out at all times, and you can stop anytime you want,” he assured us, accurately reading the sudden onset of claustrophobia on both of our faces. While in the chamber, we would be exposed to nitrogen vapor that would bathe our bodies in healing, therapeutic temperatures of 100 below zero.2
“You’ll be in there for about three minutes,” he said, which seemed to me to be a shockingly short amount of time, especially considering what I’d paid for the Groupon. I quickly started doing per-minute and per-second calculations in my head. I’m not sure how long I expected the treatment to last—20 minutes seemed reasonable to me. Besides, “What? It only lasted three minutes?” doesn’t sound like a phrase associated with a good Valentine’s Day for anyone.
Misreading my frown, the host once again assured me that we could stop “whenever you want” and said he would let us know at each minute how much time remained.
Then it was time to strip. He told us to leave on our underwear and bras. “Even if there’s underwire, that’s okay to leave on,” he said, gesturing toward my girlfriend’s chest. All other metal had to come off, though, including bracelets and necklaces. Earrings could stay, if we wanted.
We headed into the chamber, which, inexplicably, was bathed in purple light. I did an extensive google search and can’t find any medically sound reason for purple light. So my guess is that it just made the nitrogen vapor look cool.
When it was my turn, I stepped into the chamber. Freezing cold white steam billowed out of the open top, surrounding my head.
“Now take off your robe and hand it to me,” the host said, “and I’ll give you gloves.”
Once that exchange was made, he reached behind me and pulled down the top, which had a hole just big enough for my neck.
“Every 30 seconds or so, you need to turn your body,” he said. The nitrogen gas was pumped into the back of the chamber, and leaving one side of my torso exposed to that for too long might cause frostbite.
The host also cautioned us about looking down. “Nitrogen gas is harmless,” he said. “70 percent of the atmosphere is made up of it, but if you breathe in pure nitrogen, you might get light-headed from a lack of oxygen.”
For some reason, I chose to ignore this particular piece of advice and, almost immediately upon starting my session, I looked down and inhaled deeply. I didn’t feel any dizziness, or, rather, any dizziness I felt was dwarfed by the painful daggers of pain that resulted from inhaling two lungs full of minus-100 gas.
As it turns out, three minutes is more than enough time to be exposed to frozen nitrogen vapor. I’m very happy that the session didn’t last 20. Unlike a sauna, where you can bask and luxuriate in the super-heated temperatures, there is nothing remotely relaxing about a Cryo session.
There is no basking. My thighs and shins in particular got painfully cold, and I had to run in place in order to last the full three minutes without tapping out. I didn’t shiver at all, which was a surprise. However, almost immediately after exiting the chamber back into room-temperature air, I began to sweat uncontrollably.
It was an interesting and entertaining experience. I definitely recommend it to everyone, just so that you can say that you’ve done it. Our host immediately started pricing monthly plans for us, which I think we’ll probably be able to live without.
I finally stopped sweating, and the stabbing pain in my lungs eventually subsided. I slept pretty well that night. My joints seemed to feel better. Of course, that could just be the placebo effect. It definitely wasn’t a life-changing tell-your-friends improvement.
My girlfriend didn’t report any improvement in her sleep-wake cycle or her joint health. I’m pretty sure she’s going to demand flowers next year.