Do alternative therapies rejuvenate the mind and body? I tested them to find out.
It may make claustrophobics quiver to think about entering a small space, barely clothed, to get a shot at better physical and mental wellbeing, but the advertised benefits of flotation therapy and cryotherapy are too good to ignore. Both therapies were developed decades ago, and have since been used by athletes to accelerate injury recovery and relieve muscle strain. Now, specialized boutiques are offering average consumers the opportunity to look and feel better. After trying out the practices myself, I can confidently say: I’m a believer.
THE SCENE: A nine-by- five-foot tank filled with two feet of water is heated to body temperature and mixed with 850 pounds of Epsom salt, allowing for complete buoyancy. After rinsing off, I entered the tank to find myself in a foreign state – laying weightless, naked and in complete darkness.
TIME: 60 or 90 minutes
HISTORY: The first flotation tank was developed at the National Institutes of Health in 1954 by Dr. John C. Lilly who set out to test the effects of sensory deprivation. His research led to the practice of flotation therapy which has proven to help with depression, physical ailments and stress.
BENEFITS: The body capitalizes on the rare opportunity to wholly rest its muscles (our muscles aren’t even fully dormant when we sleep) and releases endorphins in response. Many, including Hope Floats owner Kimmie Boone have used flotation therapy as a resource to battle alcoholism and other kinds of addiction.“It gets you to a different mental state,”she says,“and allows you to get to a more comfortable place within yourself.”
VERDICT: Physical benefits aside, at the very least, floating gave my brain a break. Of the 24 hours in a day and the 168 hours in a week, I don’t set aside any time for pure, unencumbered meditation.After entering the tank and convincing my muscles that the water would keep me afloat, I took the recommendation of veteran floaters and let my body decide how to spend an hour of total weightlessness. From that point on, I entered a state between wakefulness and sleep, allowing my mind to detach from my body. Getting out of the tank and back into the chaotic world was a completely exhausting adjustment, but once the languid sensation passed, I took on the day completely clearheaded and more energetic than when I started.
CRYOTHERAPY: DistrictCryo, 1300 9th St. NW, 202-232-4036, districtcryo.com, $65
THE SCENE: A tall chamber filled with liquid nitrogen vapor reaching temperatures below 200 degrees Fahrenheit.To protect sensitive extremities, I was provided thick gloves, thermal socks and special shoes before entering the chamber, which encompassed my body from the neck down (see picture). Safety regulations require that an operator be present during the treatment and I welcomed the company of DistrictCryo’s owner, Antwain Coward, to distract me from my first-timer nerves.
TIME: Three minutes
HISTORY: Cold has been used to treat injuries for centuries, but the actual full body experience known as Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) was developed by Japanese scientists in the 1970s to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
BENEFITS: The most obvious physical effect is reduced inflammation, increased blood flow, and boosted metabolism, but benefits have expanded with the practice (i.e. weight loss).The body reacts to the cold conditions by sending blood straight to the major organs and then redistributing it once back to normal temperatures. Some say the ensuing energy boost can be used in lieu of morning coffee. Cherry on top: the body burns anywhere from 400-800 calories in the reheating process.
VERDICT: The cold stung exactly how I imagined it would, sending mini pricks across my body with each gust of nitrogen-laced air. But the three minute treatment was over before I could fully register the freezing conditions. In response to the blood redistribution, an invigorating tingling spread over me and my natural reaction to “shake it off ” would have made Taylor Swift proud (Coward says watching clients dance after the treatment is his favorite part). He told me to make sure I set my alarm for the next morning because cryo promotes a good night’s rest. Luckily I had set two, because I dreamed right through the first.
This article appeared in the September 2016 issue of Washington Life.