Updated: Wednesday, September 6, 2017, 7:18 AM
Before we delve too deeply into this frigid story, let me be frank: I hate to be cold.
I despise it so much that the onset of fall — despite its beautiful, fiery foliage and my birthday — saddens me, because the next stop is winter.
That said, one might wonder: “Elizabeth, why on earth would you even think about trying cryotherapy — a full-body wellness treatment that requires the immersion of one’s nearly naked body into liquid nitrogen cooled to subzero temperatures?”
Sigh. I do believe in the age-old adage of trying everything at least once.
But, more interesting, this kind of therapy, devised in 1978 by Japanese rheumatologist Toshima Yamaguchi, is said to work wonders on relieving chronic body pain caused by inflammation. Over the years, top athletes like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have sworn by cryotherapy’s chillingly good effects on their athletic performance.
There is anecdotal evidence that the ice-bathlike experience treats a host of chronic ailments, including arthritis, psoriasis, osteoporosis, and several other autoimmune diseases. Some say cryotherapy improves sleep, helps with weight loss, and helps improve one’s overall mood.
But although scores of salons and day spas have started offering cryotherapy to their clients amid the ever-growing holistic approach to beauty, the Food and Drug Administration has yet to give cryotherapy its stamp of approval, citing the lack of scientific evidence supporting the claims.
Still, in addition to the beauty establishments that offer the arctic experience, there has been an increase in the number of facilities nationwide — there are at least three such establishments in Philly — that offer only cryotherapy. So for about $30 to $60 a pop, a cool and arguably healing experience can be yours.
Enter Robin Gupta, 45, owner of Conshohocken’s friendly neighborhood bar Guppy’s Good Times. In 2015, Gupta attended a Tony Robbins seminar. And on the last day of the life coach’s in-your-face positivity fest, Robbins started singing cryotherapy’s praises. He underwent a session nearly every day, and, Gupta said, “He told us it was the single-best thing you could do for your health. I wanted to find out everything I could about it.”
The facility closest to his home in Conshohocken at the time (Gupta now lives in Old City) that offered cryotherapy was 45 minutes away, in Holland, Bucks County. After a few sessions, Gupta noticed he felt more calm and relaxed. He even felt an energetic rush. He was sleeping better and thinking more clearly.
“I knew I had to bring the business in to town,” said Gupta, a lifelong entrepreneur who for a time worked in real estate development. “I knew I could do it so much better.”
In July 2016, Gupta opened the 1,400-square-foot flagship Orange Cryo — now the official cryo home of Temple University’s football team and a few select Eagles and Flyers players — on Fourth Street between Northern Liberties and Old City. There is one in Conshohocken and one in Avalon, too. And Gupta has plans to open two other Pennsylvania locations, in Blue Bell and West Chester. He also plans one for Voorhees and another in Las Vegas.
Despite Orange Cryo’s frosty business practices, Gupta has created quite the cozy setup. There are hardwood floors; inside each locker are a pair of orange Crocs and a plush terrycloth bathrobe. Orange Cryo muscle-cooling creams line the shelves. The facial room is nestled in the back.
And in the right front corner of the space is the rather imposing, 8-foot stainless steel cryo sauna, where I would painfully learn that the only steam rushing out is gelid.
I’ve spent the better part of two years nursing an aggravated hip flexor, so I was game to see how cryotherapy would help. Still, I was terrified when I entered Orange Cryo one recent rainy afternoon.
After a quick rundown, I ducked into one of the changing rooms, where I removed all my jewelry and peeled my clothes off down to my undies. I slipped the Orange Cryo padded socks and gloves over my extremities, wrapped myself in a robe, and tentatively walked out.
Vapor frothed. They told me it was minus 256 degrees Fahrenheit.
I took a deep breath. Got in. And quickly handed my bathrobe over.
Thirty seconds in. This isn’t bad. I think I can do it. A minute in. Hmmm. A minute and a half. Oh, God, this hurts. I want to get out. But I’m no punk. Store manager Mike Pacitti starts to talk to me. He goes in as often as he can, he says. Really? Oh and did you know Danny Simmons, the brother of hip-hop entrepreneur Russell (a serious cryo fan) and rapper Rev Run, is coming in later?
I love my fellow Hollis, Queens, brother and all, but now I’m starting to get angry. At 2½ minutes, the countdown starts. Ten seconds. They are handing my robe back. At exactly three minutes, I’m so out of there.
“How do you feel?” Pacitti asked me.
That night, I slept better than I had in recent weeks. As for my leg, it was a little achy right after. But the next morning, I did a vigorous sculpt practice at Core Power Yoga and the nagging pull was gone.
To really see a difference, Gupta recommends three $29 sessions in one week.
I’m going to have to take his word for it. There is no way I’m going back in.