So what do I, a middle-aged, Upper East Side mom, have in common with Michael Jordan, the Victoria’s Secret Angels, and Jennifer Aniston? Well, not much, honestly…except that, like them, I have actually paid money to dance in front of a perfect stranger—wearing only my swimsuit, mittens, and tube socks—in a phone booth–like chamber set to minus-250 degrees Fahrenheit. And I’d do it again!
My hippest L.A. friend, a publicist who has the inside scoop on beauty and wellness trends, recommended I visit the recently opened Fuel Stop on Central Park South. Owner and founder Mila Jouravleva, a beautiful mother of two, has spent her career studying nutrition and antiaging methods—and it shows. Her body is lithe and toned and her face looks naturally wrinkle free. Recognizing that New Yorkers in particular have limited time, Jouravleva sought to create what she calls an “antispa,” where clients can go for “one-stop shopping for the body and the mind,” and get in and out quickly. Within an hour, it’s possible to jump-start your immune and nervous systems, increase collagen production, reduce inflammation, hydrate after a night out, and lift your mood, via a “circuit” consisting of full-body cryotherapy, facial cryotherapy, and an IV, all for less than $250. If you’re really short on time, you can elect to do just one of the three parts of the circuit.
Cryotherapy, the use of cold temperatures to treat damaged tissue, has been around for about 30 years. It was first introduced in Japan as a treatment for arthritis and eventually got the attention of spa owners and naturopathic doctors, who encouraged their patients to try it in an effort to avoid harsh drugs like anti-inflammatories and steroids. There are now at least a dozen cryotherapy centers in NYC, with more on the way as the treatment becomes increasingly popular and affordable.
When you sprain your ankle or jam a finger, you’re instructed to put ice on it to reduce inflammation, increase blood circulation, and decrease pain. That’s cryotherapy. At cryotherapy spas, you’re not just icing a sore spot, you’re submerging your whole body in freezing-cold air. Complete submersion, the theory goes, is a quick fix for your entire system. “I got into this because of my background in nutrition,” Jouravleva explained. “I believe people can heal from the inside out.”
Unlike other cryotherapy labs that use nitrogen, the Fuel Stop has a patented machine that is nitrogen free, meaning there’s no chance of fainting from the gas or burning your skin. The extreme cold shocks the exterior of your body so that it responds by going into survival mode, constricting blood flow (vasoconstriction) to the extremities and directing it to your organs. When you exit the cold, newly oxygenated blood rushes from your organs back into your extremities (vasodilation), creating a rush of endorphins that lifts your mood and stimulates your immune system.
Even better? Three minutes in the chamber and—voilà!—800 calories burned! “It doesn’t really matter what went down the night before—too much food, booze, whatever,” Jouravleva said. “We actually have hangover parties in here! People will plan a big night out and then book a slot here for the next day. I’ve had people come in after staying out till 5 a.m. They are puffy, exhausted, and look terrible. Forty-five minutes later, they leave refreshed, clear-eyed, full of energy, and hydrated.” (Good to know!)
But cryo works best when it is part of a healthy lifestyle: “If you spend the money to come here, chances are you’ll spend money on eating well and exercising. We hope this is a piece of the puzzle for people,” said Jouravleva
I hadn’t been on a bender the night before, so I wondered if I would feel a difference. Jouravleva showed me to a locker room and handed me a cute tote bag with gloves, a surgical face mask (so the mucus in my nose wouldn’t freeze), a headband for my ears, socks, slippers, and a robe. While the Fuel Stop has disposable bras and panties on hand, I chose to wear a swimsuit from home. “Pick any music you like,” she advised. “I’ll dance with you while you’re in the chamber. We will just groove!” I chose “Fireball” by Pitbull. I mean, why not, right?
Step one: Remove robe and enter an antechamber that is a toasty 32 degrees for about 20 seconds. Step two: Enter the cryotherapy chamber set to minus-250 degrees. It really wasn’t as miserable as I thought, in part because I knew I could open the door and flee at any time. Jouravleva stood right outside the glass, dancing along with me as “Fireball” blared and the chamber filled with a cold mist that provided some merciful cover for my rather stiff moves. She counted down every 30 seconds, letting me know how much longer I had left. Honestly, had she not been there, smiling and shimmying away, I don’t know that I could have stuck it out. But it was all so ridiculous (I kept thinking, OMG, if anyone is videotaping this, I would die) that I just went with it. I was determined to go the whole three minutes, but will admit that I spent the last 45 seconds literally jumping up and down to stay warm. I expected my face and arms to be in pain from the cold, but it was actually my legs that were the most affected. They were bright red with that freshly oxygenated blood by the time I was done.
When my 180 seconds were up, I donned my robe again and went right to the Power Plate, a vibrating skateboard-like thing, where I stood for another three minutes, giggling away to warm back up and return blood flow to my extremities. Next, I received a lovely toner treatment and a soothing mask in the facial room. Liquid nitrogen is used for the facials, since the room is open and ventilated. I was a bit nervous about having an arctic chemical blown on my face, but Jouravleva reassured me. “I have Wall Street guys come in here, and within two minutes they are snoring and enjoying a lovely power nap,” she said. “You’ll wake up with reduced puffiness, tighter pores, and fewer wrinkles. Just go to sleep.” The cold mist, administered via a wand several inches from my face, was reminiscent of a fresh breeze while skiing; invigorating but not painful at all. I might have actually fallen asleep if the procedure had lasted more than 10 minutes.
Finally, I headed into the IV room, where I found myself chatting with Abby Nelson, Natalie Portman’s stunt double in Black Swan, who is also a new mom. She swears by cryotherapy as a cure-all for injuries and an energy booster now that she has an infant who doesn’t sleep. “I’m a total believer,” she told me as we both had needles injected into our arms for our respective vitamin drips. “I do whatever I can to feel good, especially now that I’m often tired. This has been a godsend.”
But is cryo the new magic bullet? Sabrina Strickland, M.D., associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, is on the fence. “Cryo is the latest fad treatment to fix everything from arthritis to anxiety. My response to these treatments is usually, ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,’” she said. “However, cold therapy can certainly reduce inflammation. If administered over very short periods, it’s unlikely to do harm and may reduce muscle soreness, aches, and pains.”
So why would I do it again? Truthfully, I didn’t really enjoy the IV and neither my husband nor my kids noticed any real difference in my face. But that night, I slept harder and deeper than I have in years. I felt a little “off” the next morning and called Jouravleva , who answered right away and assured me that the mild dizziness and nausea I was experiencing were typical for someone going through a rapid detox. By the afternoon, I felt amazing and the feeling lasted for several days. The thought of alcohol in particular had no appeal, and I needed only one cup of coffee instead of my usual three. So, clearly, something worked for me.
Cryo isn’t that expensive compared to a lot of other wellness treatments out there (at the Fuel Stop, it’s $75 per three-minute session). And Jouravleva’s philosophy is efficiency: “We have very busy people who have limited time. They come in here and want one-stop shopping and that’s what we give them.” All in all, it was an amusing, relatively affordable hour that left me feeling great for the rest of the week. I can understand how people might get addicted to the post-cryotherapy endorphin and adrenaline “high.” I might be on my way to an addiction myself…I’m going back to the Fuel Stop tomorrow.
The Fuel Stop
200 Central Park South (at Seventh Avenue), Upper West Side
Whole-body cryotherapy starts at $75; vitamin infusions range from $35–$425; facial treatments range from $45–$425