A lot has happened so far this year already, and not all of it good. Someone I’m very close to suddenly lost a loved one right around New Year’s. No warning at all. Not a very nice way to start a new year. This is the second year in a row this has happened to one of my family members or friends (as in they were the people who lost loved ones). Where’s my Not Like button? Because I want to press it about a million times.
However, recently, I had a chance to experience something very cool. Not so sure I’m excited to try it again any time soon, but I’m glad I’ve tried it once!
My husband and I had the opportunity to stay overnight at Sparkling Hill Resort in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, which happens to house the first and (so far) ONLY cold sauna in all of North America! Cold saunas are very popular in Europe. If you’re a fan of The Amazing Race, one year participants had to endure the cold sauna experience, although I can’t remember where the sauna was located. Sparkling Hill is principally owned by Gernot Langes-Swarovski, former head of the Swarovski crystal company, so the resort is filled with crystals. It’s very beautiful. And it features a first-class view of Okanagan Lake.
For those not in the know, a 3-minute “walk” in a cold sauna at around -110 Celsius (MINUS 166 Fahrenheit) is equivalent to 15-20 minutes in an ice bath. So the saunas (cryotherapy) are great for athletes recovering from injury, those with arthritis, etc. Here’s an explanation.
So. My husband suggested that we try the cold sauna, because he’s nursing a knee injury. They instruct you to arrive in a bathing suit and bathrobe, and you enter the spa. There was a receptionist and our, um, spa assistant, I guess you would call her. She was indispensable! For all sorts of excellent reasons, you do not enter the sauna on your own. Someone from the resort accompanies you.
First, we each had to get our blood pressure checked. Mine was 127 over something good (very pleased with myself, considering I’d downed a cup and a half of coffee, which I rarely drink, an hour beforehand, and I was nervous). Then we removed our robes, donned masks over our noses and mouths, headbands over our ears, little booties on our feet, and two layers of gloves. I was dumb enough to bring along my only swimsuit that had a metal clasp between my breasts. So a headband also got shoved in my “cleavage” (as in, that’s where my cleavage would be if I, er, had enough bounty to warrant cleavage!). Our assistant, “Em”, explained the process while we stood outside the three-chamber unit.
We entered the first chamber. It was around -11 Celsius (12 Fahrenheit). “Not a problem,” I thought. It was like going outside in your bathing suit in February. Or stepping off a plane in Montreal. We spent about 2 seconds in chamber one before entering chamber two, which was around -50 Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit). Woo-ee! At this point, I wondered if this was a good idea. However, we were assured that Europeans did this all the time. It’s only the North Americans who are wussies.
At -50 Celsius, you pretty much want to be bundled up, and your skin starts to tingle. But after maybe 2 seconds in chamber 2, we entered chamber 3, which was, during our 3-minute stay in that last chamber, -112.5 Celsius (-170.5 Fahrenheit). You still with me?
The first thing I noticed was that it was freezing!! I mean, really, really cold. But you don’t feel it inside your body. Just on your skin. The Bobby McFarrin song, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, played our entire 3 minutes in chamber 3. Em was with us, thank God, or I would have left right away. We had been notified prior to entering that we would be advised of the 1.5 minute mark. Meanwhile, we were to walk in a slow circle, slowing waving our limbs, like dancing penguins, but not to dance too fast or we would create too much breeze, I guess, and then we would get even colder.
Tip #1. Don’t put on mascara before entering the cold sauna. They had advised us not to have any portion of our bodies wet before entering the sauna, but no one had mentioned mascara. Or maybe it only felt like my eyelashes were sticking together because I kept my eyes closed most of the time. When my calves felt like I’d developed frostbite, we hadn’t even made it to 1.5 minutes! But Em talked us through it.
My husband was having the same thoughts I was, but he didn’t voice them until later. So I thought he was enjoying himself. I expressed enough desire not to continue with the experience that Em asked if I was okay, and she also told me to remember to breathe normally, which was very good advice.
When the backs of my knees felt frozen, I reminded myself that if I could fly over the Nasca Lines in a loop-de-loop plane (I get motion sickness and am afraid of heights), and if I could go zip-lining not once, but twice (same fear of heights and motion sickness), then I could do this. What was more, if I left, then my husband could lord it over me that he experienced the entire three minutes. Lastly, if my freaking grandfather could go tandem skydiving for the first and only time in his life at the age of 100 (if you hit that link, scroll down to the second Q&A entry), then surely I could endure the three minutes. Honestly, it was the latter that kept me going.
The backs of my ankle bones felt frozen past the 1.5 minute mark. When the voice over the loudspeaker says, “1.5 minutes,” you’re pretty much thinking, “Ack!” And I said, “I am never, ever doing this again!” Em continued to talk us through it. We switched direction and kept penguin-waddle-dancing while Bobby McFerrin sang about being stupid happy. Then the loudspeaker voice began to count down, “Five-four-three-two-one!” and we escaped into chamber 2. Immediately, my skin began to tingle (as in defrost). Then, two seconds later, we were in chamber 3, at a mild -11 Celsius again. Then we were out of the contraption for good.
You sit down and slowly begin to divest yourself of your cold sauna do-dahs. Meanwhile, my skin was tingling like mad and was also bright red. As you slowly defrost, energy fills your body and you feel quite exhilarated. That said, Em enters the cold sauna up to three times a day. I can not fathom it. As she said, the trauma was mostly in our minds. Europeans do this all the time. In fact, athletes (like hockey players) stay at the Resort and will enter the cold sauna up to three times in one day to help speed healing. It’s like a massive ice pack.
So, I survived. And I never have to do it again. But I might, if given the opportunity.