Anyone who thinks that the winter days are unbearably cold has never tried cryotherapy. The trip to the cold chamber at 110 degrees minus is said to work against many things. A self-experiment high above Lake Lucerne.
A place for wellness and self-discovery. So it reads as a greeting in the Waldhotel, that sounded like relaxation and deceleration, after gentle hands that massage and balm my troubled back, like a whirlpool and exotic scents. But it should be very different. My short trip to the Bürgenstock should not be a well-washed wellness excursion, during which you will feel more tired than before, but something you can feel and what will work.
The Waldhotel is the latest achievement in this luxury resort high above Lake Lucerne in the heart of Switzerland and far from a life characterized by rents and installment loans. Those who go on vacation here collect rents and grant loans. Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Sean Connery have been regulars. And now I am there and try cryotherapy in the Waldhotel, a glazed building with a Matteo-Thun design with a view of mountains, forests and cow pastures. Cryotherapy stands for the targeted use of cold stimuli for therapeutic purposes, and this has existed since ancient times. But they didn’t have that at the time: a cold chamber with a maximum of 110 degrees minus. In addition, I sneak noticeably in a bathrobe and slippers through the long corridors in the spa area past many doors like someone who is on the way to the sauna. But the direction is opposite. I don’t sweat, I freeze.
Shorts and face mask
The cold chamber is said to have quite impressive effects. It should stimulate metabolic processes, help against rheumatic diseases, also against sore muscles, which appeals to competitive athletes. In addition, it is said to have a positive effect on psychological problems such as panic attacks or sleep disorders, which I as a layperson cannot imagine. At the cold room I am greeted by a glass door with an equally inconspicuous anteroom, where I, with my slippers and bathrobe removed, are instructed by an employee. Strictly speaking, there are three cold chambers: ten degrees minus to warm up, 60 degrees as an interlude, and finally the crowning phase with three minutes at 110 degrees minus. The wardrobe is limited to shorts and a face mask. No hood, no gloves, nothing.
I try to reassure myself that there is enough professional support here and that many have already survived the procedure. A person for whom 20 degrees minus in winter without long underpants was the limit experience should endure in shorts at 110 degrees minus three minutes? Difficult to imagine. The supervisor consoles with the information that it is a very dry cold, the humidity would be two or three percent, which is therefore easier to endure. On the other hand, you can interrupt at any time and leave the cabin. There is not much time left to ponder. It starts. First chamber: minus ten degrees in swimming trunks – a shock. It burns on the skin. I feel paralyzed, don’t know whether to move or just wait. The warm-up, which is a cool-up, lasts 30 seconds, then I switch to the next cabin, which is just as simply equipped: light gray paneling, handrail. The change from the first to the second cabin doesn’t seem as extreme as the entry. I feel like a pool of ice cold water. The skin starts to burn again. It is difficult to concentrate on anything mentally. The real experience begins after another 30 seconds: the 110-degree chamber. I shuffle through the door, stop in the middle and wait to see how the body reacts. Does he still react? There are three minutes ahead of me, an eternity. The skin is like an alarm, irritated to the pores. I try to move, I distract myself with any thoughts of how nice it would be outside or in the sauna. But that doesn’t help much. I feel helpless but proud enough to get through this. Three minutes can’t be that long. They are. I stare out the window into the hallway, where thank god there is no one who can watch me.
Finally the bell rings. I push myself stiffly back to the reception room, crawl into my bathrobe and only hear the words of praise from the Waldhotel employee. It takes some time before I get back to normal temperature. After that, the warning says, the body reacts with hot flashes like frost attacks. A strenuous number for the body, in which it consumes many calories, which explains hunger and fatigue. To achieve a lasting effect with cryotherapy, you should do it regularly. Whether I want that too, I have to let go of my frozen head. On the other hand, I’m also proud to have endured such an extreme. There is no certificate that I can hang over my desk. But that’s what we have the social networks for. Or not. As I shiver in shorts in the cold room, I didn’t have to apply for a bachelor’s degree. That’s only enough for a portion of pity.
Compliance: The research was carried out with the support of the Bürgenstock Waldhotel.
(“Die Presse”, print edition, December 28, 2019)