The Cryotherapy Diaries: Day One: Two Cold New York Minutes

Like many women of a certain age (older mom) and ZIP code (downtown New York City), I’ve been hearing a lot about full body cryotherapy, a treatment that involves putting yourself in a chamber cooled to approximately -240 degrees Fahrenheit for 2-4 minutes. The cold is said to do all sorts of fountain of youth kind of things, like boost collagen production (love that) and promote weight loss (count me in). And athletes like Usain Bolt and the LA Lakers use cryotherapy to accelerate recovery. I’ve always liked the Lakers and admire how they completely revamped their diets to get rid of fast food and embrace farm-to-table eating. Maybe they are onto something with extreme cold. Maybe I’m just an easy mark.

I gathered my courage on the Friday of July 4th -weekend and headed over to Drive 495, a gym in lower Manhattan offering introductory sessions. Here’s a play-by-play of my first visit:

I check in and sign a release. The people at the front desk are very supportive, soothing even. I definitely get the impression they are used to having potential customers back out at the last minute. An attendant takes to me the cryotherapy room and keeps telling me I have nothing to worry about (maybe because I keep asking). She gives me oversized protective mittens for my hands and booties for my feet, similar to ski boot liners. These items, plus underpants, are the only things I wear during the session.  

The attendant tells me to step into the chamber, a tube-like metal contraption that closes around my body with room for my head to poke out of the top. It is all very Battlestar Galactica. Very NASA. My first worry is getting locked in the machine (I previously read about a trainer who died doing cryotherapy), so I practice pushing open the chamber door (just in case) and am very relieved it opens easily. You tap it, it opens.

The attendant, who is clearly trained in dealing with difficult first-timers, assures me I can stop the session whenever I want and she’ll be there the whole time. She also reminds me to continuously turn around, rotating a quarter turn every two breaths. Okay, something to do. I like that.

I give the attendant the nod, and she hits the switch. It takes a few moments for the cold to build. When the temperature hits -240 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s a very loud beep, like we’re going to take off or start transporting. There’s also a lot of mist. I feel like I’m standing in a cloud of dry ice. I do the rotating thing and circle around and around like a frozen rotisserie chicken. After about a minute, it feels very cold. Extremely cold. It’s getting a little terrifying.  Images of the Arctic Circle, and huskies, and Lord Shackleton flash in my brain. I wonder if I’m crazy.

I start jogging and clapping while rotating. The attendant lets me know where I am on the clock. The session is slated for 3 minutes. At minute 2, I tell her I’ve had enough. She turns off the machine.

Afterward the attendant assures me I did great — people sometimes scream and yell during their sessions. She tells me the person who had a cryotherapy session before me could only take it for 30 seconds. But maybe she says that to everyone. Then, she lets me know I did the introductory level of cold — they offer deeper, colder levels. Okay, great. It’s only going to get worse.

That said, I’m really glad I tried full body cryotherapy, or FBC as the regulars call it. The next day I felt really good, invigorated. I have no idea whether it was due to the cryotherapy or not. Maybe I just slept really well. But, I’m definitely going to return and try the chambers over a series of days. I’ll take notes and report back. I’m still hoping for that collagen boost.