Ever since my friend started telling me about his whole-body cryotherapy experiences, there’s nothing I’ve desired so much as having myself frozen. Basketball players love it, so much so that the Los Angeles Clippers have installed a machine at their training facility. Lindsay Lohan attributes it (alongside ayahuasca sessions with her shaman and a regular programme of meditation) with having helped turned her life around.
I’ve heard rumours that local artist Ryan Trecartin is an acolyte, too; and at the time of writing, newspapers are reporting that an employee of the Rejuvenice spa in Las Vegas has accidentally died using its cryo-chamber alone after hours. So I find myself one afternoon walking into the premises of Cryohealthcare in Beverly Hills, within which a glossy assortment of good-looking, hard-bodied people are sitting around and chilling. I actually hate the cold so I’m a little apprehensive
This process of whole-body cryotherapy (which is to say exposure to cold beyond the cryogenic threshold) was developed in the late ‘70s in Japan, where it was found to decrease inflammation tremendously and to help joints recover and heal. Jonas Kuehne—a handsome, youthful German physician that rides motocross, and keeps a broken motorcycle in his office, and has a beautiful blonde wife Emilia who runs Cryohealthcare with him—happened across the treatment in the noughties, imported a first machine from Europe to the United States, and opened his treatment centre.
“These machines run at around minus 140 degrees Celsius: it’s basically as cold as Antartica”
Today it offers vitamin B12 shots, compression therapy, even a “cryo-facial” using liquid nitrogen vapours (which sounds like some very, very niche pornography but is actually just a way of boosting your collagen) however there’s only one thing I’m interested in: whole-body cryotherapy in the cryo-chamber.
I’m asked to strip down to my underpants (although women are allowed to forgo even their underwear if they like) and provided with a dressing gown, knee socks and slides, gloves, mask and a pair of earmuffs… I’m shown through two doors into the cryo-chamber, which is small, and filled with swirling, freezing smoke like a polar ice storm, so much so that you can hardly see your hand in front of your face. These machines run at around minus 220 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 140 degrees Celsius); for comparison, the naturally coldest place ever recorded on the planet is the heart of Antarctica, which once plummeted to minus 135.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
Weirdly it feels freezing cold but no worse, because I cannot physically fathom how far below freezing it really is. “Cold does not equal cold,” Jonas tells me afterwards, “so an ice bath or the cold in Chicago is not the same as this. Our body has a hard time perceiving this extreme temperature, but it is much, much colder than those.” What happens in there, I ask? “Your body thinks you’re going to die – and were you in there for about half an hour that would be the case. You’d be frozen solid, probably, but we allow only a safe time-frame.” For my introductory session that’s restricted to two minutes; for subsequent sessions, three minutes.
“Freezing is, as you might expect of something that tells your body that it’s dying, a transcendent experience”
Inside of me all sorts of unusual things are occurring. “What the body does initially is shunt blood away from the extremities to protect temperature in your core, in your organs and brain, so you have a lot more circulation going on there,” explains Jonas. “That’s the first thing the body does. Then it triggers any response to survive: optimising cellular processes, up-regulating your metabolic rate, releasing endorphins. All of these things to survive as long as possible.” Something I should explain is that while all this is happening to my insides, popular cryo-chamber music is being blasted into my icy world through speakers. I find myself shivering along to Fetty Wap, which is fine, but with hindsight I really should have requested ‘Let It Go’.
Freezing is, as you might expect of something that tells your body that it’s dying, a transcendent experience. Looking upwards you see lights pouring down through the smoke, as if ascending to heaven. It all feels more like a conceptual art installation – a great one, the sort of thing Carsten Höller or Olafur Eliasson might attempt – than any physical therapy I’ve ever encountered. My mates come just for the weird joy of it all, and this is common among many of Doctor Kuehne’s patients: “They just love the effect of it, they’re more energised, they’re more functional, they’re less tired. It actually improves your metabolic rate, and that’s the response of your body to this extreme temperature.”
Upon leaving the chamber I feel rushes of warmth and happiness. Afterwards I step out onto baking La Cienega Boulevard, under azure skies, with my skin tingling and a strange, dreamlike feeling of detachment, and a mild, underlying euphoria. It feels like a quintessentially Californian experience: a way of finding yourself in the cool, smoky wilderness of inner space.
With thanks to Cryohealthcare Inc, Los Angeles
Read Dean Kissick’s piece on ‘The Cobrasnake: LA’s Party Photographer Turned Fitness Guru‘
Read ‘Surfing with Killer Whales in the Arctic‘
Read ‘I Lost My Mind in a Sound Bath in Joshua Tree‘
Model in photos: Ronnie Teasdale