Each year on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, my sister and co-host Elizabeth and I reveal our lists of things we want to do by year’s end, based on the year’s number. For instance, the first time we did it, we did “17 for 2017.” This approach is a whimsical twist on the New Year’s resolution and seems more fun.
I’ve always been so curious about whole-body cryotherapy—brief exposure to very cold temperatures—and because I’m writing my book about the five senses, I wanted to push myself to try this extreme sensation. Even though I wasn’t convinced by the claims made by people offering cryotherapy, I still wanted to try the experience.
I was curious—but I also dreaded doing it! I’m someone who is always, always cold, and I shivered at the thought of willingly subjecting myself to a very cold temperature—and even paying for the privilege. But if I were going to do it, I wanted to go when it was still hot outside. The idea of going to cryotherapy during wintertime was very unappealing.
The months passed, and I kept procrastinating.
But a few weeks ago, a friend who’s also always cold tried it, and she assured me that it wasn’t a miserable experience. And another friend told me that he’d found it very invigorating.
As an Upholder, for me, the Strategy of Scheduling is very powerful; if something’s on the calendar, it happens. So after my friend told me she thought I’d be fine, I went online and booked an appointment. (The great thing about New York City is that if I can dream it up, I can probably find it.)
I found a place that was within a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment—and went.
After I was checked in, I was relieved to learn that I did get some protection. I was given socks, slippers, a gaiter to pull up over my nose, a fleece band for my ears, a hat, hand liners and mittens. I stripped down to my underwear and put on a thin cotton robe for privacy. I took off all my jewelry.
The attendant was very friendly and reassuring. She did check a few times to make sure my skin was dry. “You haven’t put on lotion,” she asked, “or anything like that?” She showed me how I could push open the door to leave at any time, and how one side of the chamber was clear (though frosted for privacy below head-level), so I could see what was happening outside the chamber. It was surprising how much more comfortable I felt, being able to see out into the hallway.
When I was ready, I entered a chamber that was divided in two parts. Sometimes, in cryotherapy, you’re in an enclosure where your head sticks out, but I walked into rooms the size of roomy walk-in closets.
I entered and stood in the very chilly antechamber for ten seconds, then when instructed, opened a door to stand in the truly frigid room for 2 minutes 50 seconds. I slipped off my robe (which, thin as it was, was surprisingly warming) to get the full experience.
I was happy to see a countdown clock, so I knew exactly how much time was left in my session.
The cold was interesting. I was very cold, but I didn’t shiver, and it wasn’t the kind of agonizing cold that I’ve often experienced. It didn’t seem to penetrate through me, somehow. Near the end of the time, I started to feel a change in my skin, it felt tingly and almost…crackly.
I didn’t have trouble staying until the end, but I didn’t want to stay one second longer, either. When I got out, I discovered that as a first-timer, for me the chamber had been set to its least-cold setting. The person getting in after me had done cryotherapy seven times, and her session lasted thirty seconds longer and was set to the most-cold setting.
So, how did cryotherapy make me feel?
I warmed up very fast. I did feel good. I had a curious trembling feeling—quite pleasant, but odd—that lasted several minutes. And my nose kept running for about twenty minutes. Did I feel more energetic or upbeat? I couldn’t really tell.
I’m very glad I did it. It was a sensory adventure.
The attendant told me that the chamber was big enough to accommodate four people, and it occurred to me that this might be a fun adventure for people to do together.
Over the course of researching my book, I’ve realized that a great way to connect with other people is to share a sensory experience. It’s very common to share meals, of course, or to sight-see together, but there are other, less obvious ways to share a sensory experience. I took a cheese-tasting class with my daughter Eliza, I went to a sound bath with a friend, and just a few nights ago, a friend and I realized that we’re both textured-focused, and he and I talked about texture for a long time (satin makes his skin crawl; we both love a massage; neither of us like polished cotton; we both like velvet; etc. etc.).
We delight in our five senses. It’s fun to experience something new and unexpected, either alone or with others. Two of my favorite immersive sensory experiences: I visit the Metropolitan Museum every day and I often walk in Central Park.
Have you tried cryotherapy—if so, what did you think?
Do you have other intense sensory experiences to recommend? I’ve tried Flavor University, a sensory deprivation tank, the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, and I’m always looking for new experiences to try.