I first heard about the health benefits of cryotherapy a couple of years ago when the Wales rugby team, in preparation for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, travelled to the Olympic Rehabilitation Centre in Spala, Poland, for its punishing deep-freeze sessions.
Team captain Sam Warburton, a six-foot plus titan who looks like he’s been chiselled out of granite, would visibly wince whenever he talked about the “evil saunas” he and his teammates endured at the behest of their sadistic fitness coaches.
But the sessions clearly paid off. Unfancied Wales reached the semi-finals of the tournament for the first time in 24 years and went on to win a Six-Nations Grand Slam five months later.
Whole-body cryotherapy, which works by releasing endorphins that speed up physical recovery, has its origins in Japan, where there’s a long tradition of cold therapy to boost the body’s immune system. One primitive method involved standing beneath an icy waterfall. But it took a group of Polish scientists to turn it into the hi-tech physical treatment of today where, typically, liquid nitrogen is used to cool a futuristic-looking chamber or pod to a sub-Siberian -120C.
The newly opened Cryo Health in Emirates Towers is the Gulf’s first cryotherapy facility, and the people behind it are keen to point out that they are not specifically targeting athletes. While cryotherapy has been proven to aid in the treatment of, among other things, soft-tissue and joint damage, it also serves as a pick-me-up, leaving clients feeling rejuvenated and euphoric.
“Eventually we’d like to target, for example, workers from DIFC to come here and have a cryotherapy session to perk them up in the morning instead of an espresso,” says Kai Stubbe, who, along with business partner Benny Parihar, has brought the venture to the city.
Having been keen to experience cryotherapy for a couple of years, I needed no persuasion whatsoever to test its efficacy, and even put in half an hour of overtime in the gym the day befo re to purposely acquire a few aches and pains.
After changing into a bathrobe and having my blood pressure checked, I was shown into a cylindrical chamber the size of a small shower, where I disrobed, leaving me in my underpants and the socks and mittens provided. Han Solo probably felt the same sense of trepidation before he was sealed in carbonite and handed over to Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back.
The machine was switched on and icy white vapours swirled up and around me. The sensation was shockingly cold, but it wasn’t intolerable and I felt safe under the supervision of the staff, who told me to keep moving so that my slippered feet didn’t stick to the bottom. Somehow, perhaps due to the fact that I grew up in a country where the default meteorological conditions are cold and wet, I lasted the full three minutes.
Immediately after stepping out, I was told to exercise on a step machine for half a minute to warm up. I could already feel my body reheating itself, as if it was overcompensating for the low temperature to which it had just been exposed. I also felt energised enough to run a marathon – or swim the Atlantic Ocean for that matter – although it didn’t quite erase my aches and pains from the previous day’s exertions in the gym.
“You’d need to come within three hours of your workout for the best effects,” explained Kai. “After that you could go back and train straight away. The day after is a bit late.”
Still buoyant and full of vigour from the body therapy, I was next taken into a nearby room for a cryo-facial. A brisk exfoliation to cleanse the skin and a relaxing head massage was followed by a treatment that made my cheeks and forehead feel as though I was walking into a Baltic squall.
Administered with a sort of space-age blowtorch, it involved blasts of freezing air being directed to different areas of my face. Through improved oxygenation of dermal cells, it claims to improve and tighten the skin. It took around 20 minutes and is painless, although, as with a chilly wind, it does numb the face a little.
I left Cryo Health sporting a rosy glow and a strong urge to return as soon as possible. At Dh400 a session it’s not cheap, but it definitely worked for me.
And I can’t help but think Sam Warburton is a bit of a wimp when it comes to the cold.