You go outside. It is October, and while yesterday was 70 degrees, today is a measly 47. You shiver, you cringe, you daydream of Florida’s palm trees and sun rays.
You think back to every time you heard the phrase “global warming” but shake it off because nothing feels particularly warm about your current situation. You’ve left your house at 70 degrees and immediately jump into your car. You blast the heat, steering wheel warmer, and butt warmers.
Ah. Relief. You wish for summer, but what you are not thinking about is the blaring temperature—the AC to outdoor wall of moisture and stagnation that nearly knocks you off your feet. The times you try to get into your car and burn your bare shoulders and legs on the leather seats.
Constant homeostasis. It is the equilibrium we are confident we must maintain. Yet, people partake in Polar Plunges and recuperate. They participate in Hot Yoga and come out, yes drenched in sweat but positively glowing.
The craziest part? They do it again. What some of us refuse to acknowledge within these moments of distress is the possibility of growth.
They always say you find the things worthwhile in life when you test yourself by reaching outside of your comfort zone, but how does that relate to the body?
Cryotherapy: It is Cool to be Cold
Yes, not only are we encouraging discomfort, but we are even going to call it “therapy” to really drive the point home. While we have ignored our human biology in many ways in the previous decades, one thing remains certain: the human body is a powerful entity that adapts when pushed to its limits.
How do we take advantage of this fact and actually gain from it? Exposure therapies are a start. Our ancestors used to hunt and gather in every season.
While they arguably had more hair as a coating for them, there was only so much they could do to wither the harsh conditions that winter would bring. They did not have vehicles to help them chase elk, and they did not have Whole Foods delivery when it was too rainy outside to gather berries. What they did have was the strength to withstand these conditions and recuperate in order to survive.
They even began to see some benefits from it. How can we modernize these tactics? Not by standing in the snow and shivering endlessly, but perhaps with purposeful consideration and participation in some extracurriculars.
No one enjoys being cold. If you’re raising your hand, I still do not believe you. Unfortunately for us, the benefits of being cold are truly endless.
Cryotherapy is a recent innovation of muscle and joint healing that involves going inside a cryotherapy chamber that is filled with nitrogen gas until it reaches -250 degrees F. Chilly! This thus causes your body to switch on its survival response and sends your blood to your major organs.
Before you fret, you are only doing this for 2-3 minutes, and the real magic happens upon stepping out! Your blood rushes back to the rest of your body and, in doing so, provides benefits of cell rejuvenation, pain reprieve, increased metabolism, and muscle repair. Studies show cryotherapy helps treat injuries, sleep disorders, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and inflammation (which is truly the foundation of all bodily issues/trauma).
It does so by turning up your body’s metabolic rate to heat the body whilst shrinking the blood vessels, which inevitably relieves nerve pain. People have even said that a feeling of euphoria spreads over them upon leaving the chamber, which is perhaps the reason they continue to go back.
The tricky thing here is that cryotherapy is not exactly cost-effective or easy to find because of its newness. If you are in locations like New York City, Boston, or LA, any bathhouse will likely have one of these contraptions and glowing reviews to boot. Fortunately, there are other ways to receive cold exposure therapy without the nitrogen gas and staff-volunteered handholding.
I am sure you are already there: ice baths! Athletes have utilized cold water immersion for ages. They typically boast that it is to help reduce pain and swelling in injured areas. Not only does it help facilitate this recovery, but it is also beneficial as recreational use to help decrease soreness and reduce the risk of injury.
Inflammation is truly the root of all evil, and while our bodies are quick to heal themselves, too much of a good thing tends to come with consequences. The immune response muscular stress triggers cause blood vessels to dilate and send an influx of immune cells to the area; cold exposure therapy slows that process by reducing swelling and the pain that comes along with it.
This is also said to be helpful, particularly after strenuous activity. It reduces the strain on the cardiovascular system and brings down the previously elevated body temperature, reducing fatigue.
If you want to find relative enjoyment out of it, the trick is to do so properly and keep the self-inflicted torture to a minimum. Most studies suggest that immersing your body up to the hips at 50-60 degrees F for 10-15 minutes should do the trick. Always make sure someone is with you (in case of numbness, fatigue, or simply someone to complain to), and fully warm yourself back up 30-60 minutes later with a warm shower or drink (warm drink, not the other kind) to help with tense muscles and stiffness.
As with cryotherapy, the warming up is the vital part of any cold exposure therapy as that is when the fresh blood floods the cells and body with nutrients and oxygen, which helps flush out the waste products of tissue breakdown. It is the most shocking and worthwhile detox we know!
Now, if you are like me and do not have a bathtub or the extra funds to visit a bathhouse–cool off in the shower! Many of my favorite fitness and wellness experts push the idea that ending your shower cold is an integral part of caring for yourself, for your natural detox, for your skin, and even for your brain! I blast myself with shockingly freezing water post-wash for 30 seconds and hop out immediately.
Do that for a week, and then begin to challenge yourself by staying longer. Introducing purposeful breath (I suggest a type of box-therapy breathing exercise) in these moments of distress will sharpen your skills in mind over matter, which has the potential to leak into the way you talk to yourself and interact with difficult situations in the real world.
Being able to take deep breaths in these moments and calm your mind and heart rate allows these effects to benefit your body and your psychology. You will notice that it is not only a test of your body’s survival response but an incredible effort in discipline and self-soothing that cannot be understated.
The beauty of modernization is learning more about ourselves while also finding new and innovative ways to cater to our needs and evolution. Continue to question the difference between what once was and what is today.
Look at how far we have come! Look at how much has remained the same. Ask yourself why.
Reach new heights in experience and progress by testing your limits and seeing yourself under great distress. Confront yourself and remember to breathe deeply while doing so.
Pay attention to your thoughts. Where do they take you? How can you change the narrative to find greater peace?
Watch how you flourish afterward. Remind yourself that while there is substantial value in comfort, there is enrichment in the unknown. Challenge yourself. Do so safely and within reason. See where it takes you.