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Chilling Out With Cryotherapy

How and why self-freezing can be beneficial

Drop the “o” and it’s crytherapy. That’s kind of what it felt like the last few seconds of my recent three-minute cryotherapy session. To be clear, I do not like the cold, and it was somewhat masochistic of me to try cryotherapy to begin with. I’ve waited all year for it to be summer, so why would I pay to be freezing? Here’s why: because I’ll feel fantastic afterwards.

Cryotherapy, literally cold therapy, is a procedure that exposes the body to temperatures colder than -100 degrees Celsius (148 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few minutes at a time. While it’s been used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis in Japan for more than 40 years, the idea is still relatively new to Western countries.

Most often in Santa Cruz and the rest of the U.S., cryotherapy is used for injury treatment and prevention, to alleviate muscle soreness, weight loss, clearer skin, a better mood, and more energy. While the FDA has not cleared or approved cryotherapy for medical treatment, and there are relatively few studies on potential benefits, testimonials suggest there might be something to this cold therapy thing after all.

“I find that I heal twice as fast when I get an injury if I do cryo,” says Austin Twohig, a co-owner of Seabright cryotherapy business Chill. “I’ll come after jiu jitsu if I know I hurt myself, and I’ll be healed in two days instead of four.”

Chill is the only cryotherapy place in Santa Cruz, and they’ve been open just over a year as part of Equilibrium Float Spa and Torkc gym next door. The owners, Pascual Del Real, Kristie Lynn and Twohig, all got into cryo to help augment their fitness and overall well being.

It’s $50 for a single session but gets cheaper the more sessions you book. Some cryo connoisseurs pay a flat monthly rate of $299 for unlimited sessions, which pencils out to about $15 a session if you go every day. “For people who have serious injuries or are in a lot of pain, they get so much relief from cryo,” Twohig says.

When it’s my turn, I strip down to my skivvies and put on a huge pair of slippers, socks and gloves, since your digits are first to go when it’s -130 degrees Celsius (-202 Fahrenheit). I step into a metal cylinder that covers everything but my head, and as the machine turns on the swirls of nitrogen begins to seep into the chamber, overflowing at the top. Clutching my elbows, I’m glad I have mittens on.

Rest assured—though a lot of newcomers are really concerned about the cold—it’s not like jumping into a freezing Alaskan lake. The shock isn’t as sudden, and it’s a dry, smokey cold that you’ll barely feel for a minute or two. It’s the kind of gradual cold akin to running outside in a swimsuit in the snow because someone dared you.

Chill gets about 15 cryo-ers a day, and that number is increasing as more people find out about and try cryotherapy, Del Real says. Equilibrium attracts more people to cryo because of their float tank and infrared sauna, plus the gym often refers clients with injuries. “We actually get a lot of people from out of town, too,” Lynn says.

Along with the out of towners, Chill has a contingent of locals who come almost everyday. From bodybuilders to surfers and people with chronic pain or illness, customers from all walks of life have different reasons for walking through the door.

Once about two minutes of my sub-zero experiment have passed, I’m starting to feel it to the bone. It’s unsettling being able to feel the ice on my body, but it’s not debilitating. I couldn’t tell you how cold it was at the time, but at a cool 100-below, do the specifics even matter? Most cryo sessions hover around -130 degrees Celsius but can get down to -165 degrees (-265 Fahrenheit).

There’s less than a minute left, and I’m becoming a human popsicle. You burn around 100 calories during your first session, the specialist tells me, and that goes up the more you do—there’s the incentive to stay in.

“The endorphin dump people get afterwards always surprises them,” Twohig says. “People come out and they just have a big smile on their face.”

I wasn’t smiling—at least immediately. Stepping out of the tank, I was just focused on getting back to warmer temperatures. The time did fly, and while I was relieved to get out, I soon found myself ready to go back.

“Enjoy the rest of your day, you’ll feel great,” the receptionist says as I walk out. She wasn’t wrong. Three hours later, I’m still on cloud nine.  

Chill Santa Cruz Cryotherapy, 543 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. 295-7312, chillsantacruzcryo.com.

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