Why would anyone pay money to step into a chamber that is about as toasty as the dark side of the moon? Self-humiliation? Actually, there are some pretty sound reasons to do it, but without getting too into the science, what does the experience of being in space-like temperatures feel like?
For Starters, the Chamber is Set at -185
There are two varieties of cryo that I tried. The first was a total body enclosure, about the size of a tight phone booth. It was in Santa Monica at Upgrade Labs – the outpost of all things human hacking by Bulletproof coffee founder, Dave Asprey. You are asked to take everything off except the underwear. I put on a robe, a pair of fuzzy boots, mittens, ear muffs, and a paper surgical-style mask over my mouth. It was my first time and the beginner temperature is recommended at -185 for 2.5 minutes. I paid the full $50, so I asked for the full 3-minute normal dose. The capsule is a very sci-fi in a James Bond “We are going to turn you into a popsicle” sort of way. There was a window for seeing the timer and temp, but it was crusted over with ice. I got a choice of music, and since the whole experience had a sci-fi vibe, I went for Kraftwerk.
From Ice Cold Shock to Sleeping Like a Rock
Being in the chamber is weird; there is no other way to put it. If you have any fear of enclosed spaces, this is not for you. I was assured by the attendant that should I lose my mind and start yelling; she would quickly let me out. Hmm…more James Bond fantasies coming to my mind. Once inside the capsule, it is cold, really crazy cold, but I was ok for about the first 2 minutes. But by the time the attendant released me at 3 minutes, my skin was in shock. In fact, my entire body was in shock. It took around an hour for my skin to return to its normal temperature, but as it did, I became aware of feeling fully alive in a marvelous way. My brain was firing fast, my body felt amazing, and most strangely, my glutes which constantly ache no longer did. The staff claimed I would sleep like a rock that night and they were right – I was down for a full 9 hours without waking once. The next day I felt fine, with no noticeable change from any other day.
Up to My Neck in Nitrogen
The second flavor of cryo that I tried was the neck down variety. I am told this is the more common variety; the same attire, and the same drill with a couple of differences. My head was outside the tank and I was breathing regular air. The tank itself was filling with straight liquid nitrogen. In the enclosed capsule at UpGrade Labs, I had to breathe, and straight liquid nitrogen would have been fatal. I am guessing they had used regular air that had been super chilled. According to this second attendant, it meant that in the head out tank, the cold effect was deeper, and we would only be going to -85F for 3 minutes. She was correct. At 2 minutes, my body started to shake. By 3 minutes, I was seriously cold. But the after effect was not the same. I didn’t get the glute relief or that super clarity of thinking as I did from the capsule version.
Athletes have been doing ice baths for years and swear by them. Personally, I can’t really imagine volunteering to enter a 34-degree tub of ice. There is also the idea of selective icing of problem areas. This one has also been around forever. But the entire body, head and all, at minus 185 is a completely different experience to anything I have ever done. I know people who swear by it, saying it is the only way they can be athletes at our age.
The Proported Pros and Cons of Cryo
“I do Cryo for a number of reasons. Probably the main reason, being a Marathon runner, is pain relief! Not sure I could run like I do at this age 61 without it. I also love the endorphins. It gives me so much energy. I could go on & on. I’m really interested in the connection between Cryo and anti-inflammation in the brain…reducing Dementia. Definitely worth trying!” says Kimberly Fowler, 61, our recently profiled runner and business owner.
There is some talk that challenging the body with temperature, especially cold, is good for longevity. It would fit with our often talked about idea of hormesis- pulsing of stress to make the body stronger via adaptation. There are people who believe it helps with arthritis, immune issues, and general circulation. I don’t really have any solid information on that, although the web, and of course the facilities themselves, have considerable information on it. What I do know is that I felt significantly different after the first Cryochamber. No doubt about it, something was happening.
Then there is the cost. It is recommended that one does this regularly 1-3x/week. That gets spendy very quickly. The cryo-enthusiasts I know all seem to have sniffed out facilities with packages that get the cost down to a manageable $15/session. Will I do it again? Absolutely.
One rather odd thing I have heard about is the phenomena of cryo watchers. It is a very particular fetish around people who enjoy watching other people getting Cryo. Really, this is a thing.