Arm day on Thrusday at EP was a struggle for me (more coming soon), and afterwards I decided it was time to have a good old look at my body and give it some self-love. Things have changed since New Year, most specifically that I have gone back to work and been getting up earlier than I have been over the break. I enjoyed Christmas and was ready to get back to work come Wednesday, but returning was more stressful than I anticipated and, as pole doesn't start back until Monday (I swear, I'm counting the days) all I've been looking forward to lately is EP. This felt like a recipe for disaster and Thursday night proved it: I was feeling so stressed and burnt out that I under-performed, despite really looking forward to my session.
So, Friday after work, I sat down at my computer and booked an appointment for some serious relax and recovery time at my favourite spot to chill: Alchemy Cryotherapy Centre. But rather than just booking a cryo session, I decided to do something recommended to me by one of the staff and booked in for a session of mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy (mHBOT) before my cryo session.
So, before you ask, let me answer the question I know is coming:
What is mHBOT?
According to the Alchemy Cryo website, mHBOT involves 'breathing oxygen enriched air at a pressure higher than sea level while resting inside a chamber' and that's literally the best description of it. You lie down inside a comfortable, roomy pod and, after about five minutes of pressurisation (kind of like being on a plane, you will need to swallow, yawn, rub and lightly pull your ears) you simply lie back and relax inside the chamber for one whole hour, while breathing enriched oxygen through a mask.
In today's world of smart phones, emails and constant accessibility, very rarely do we actually get a chance to completely switch off. Inside the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, you can do just that! Indeed, you have very little say in the matter, because phones and electronic devices are not allowed inside the chamber; I'm sure there are safety reasons for this, but I also think that having your phone or other device inside the chamber would take away from the point of it. mHBOT is a relaxing, rejuvenating experience, letting you switch off entirely, and it would be very hard to switch off while watching our friends on Facebook, seeing our emails ping every ten seconds, or getting that reminder that we need to go to the supermarket to get food for dinner tonight.
For me, the chance to let go - completely - for one hour was not to be passed up, although I confess I was a little nervous. As a child I suffered from terrible asthma and I have vivid (unpleasant) recollections of oxygen masks and ventilators, so I never imagined I would willingly volunteer to don an oxygen mask, let alone for an hour.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, that the mask was soft, comfortable and pliable. After the first five to ten minutes I even forgot I was wearing it, a fry cry from the hard, unyielding, uncomfortable things I remember from the hospitals in my childhood. I actually got to keep it afterwards, so I can reuse it when I return for my next mHBOT session (now that I've got a taste, I know I'll be back).
As for being inside the chamber, well, much like with the mask, you forget you're in there after the first few minutes. It looks a little claustrophobic from the outside, but is actually surprisingly roomy (I could have rolled right over without touching the sides or the top of the chamber) and is super comfy. You lie down on a padded, mattress-like surface, rest your head on a pillow and drift off into zen land without any trouble. I also brought my eye bag to my mHBOT session, so once I was comfortable and my ears had popped and equalised, I just closed my eyes, slipped the bag on top of them and took the time to breathe.
While you can sleep in the chamber, I don't think I did, although I was deeply relaxed and there were moments I found myself on the verge of sleep. I think the reason I always remained just on the edge of drifting off is that I am a side sleeper, and I chose to lie on my back for the entirely of my mHBOT session. I was perfectly comfortable, but not in the right position for sleep. I actually don't see this as a bad thing, as it means I was consciously relaxed, rather than simply zonked out, and could send the breath where I felt it needed to go.
When my session was over, I was actually quite sorry to leave that cozy little pod, although the feeling of rejuvenation once you emerge is difficult to describe. Perhaps also because I knew was heading into the cryo chamber next, there was also a little bubble of excitement in the pit of my stomach.
This was my third time in the cryo chamber, although my first directly following from a session of mHBOT.
The cryo chamber at Alchemy Cryotherapy is a full body chamber, with a pre-chamber and a main chamber. You get to play any song of your choice (today, for me, it was Before I Go by Guy Sebastian) while your body is exposed to electrically cooled air for a total of three minutes. An attendant is outside the chamber the whole time and you can exit at any time.
Oh, and it's cold.
The cryo chamber is electrically cooled to -110 degrees celsius and you will spend three minutes moving slowly through and breathing in this air. It's great not only for recovery, but for a whole variety of things, including brain health, immune function, chronic pain and inflammation among others (for a list of benefits and the science behind cryo therapy, click here to visit Alchemy Cryo's website).
A cryo session is pretty much the opposite of mHBOT: mHBOT is about relaxing and recharging your body by feeding it enriched oxygen, cryo is about kick-starting all your systems with (seriously) cold air. As a result, a cryo session is usually pretty intense, with only the last ten or so seconds being really uncomfortable. The more skin you expose the better (Alchemy cryo give you a 'Cyro Kit' to protect your extremities), so I generally wear pole gear into the chamber: i.e. a crop top and pole shorts. Usually, I usually start to notice mild discomfort at about the half-way point, but this is when the cryo is really doing its magic for my body: my systems are responding to the cold air, kicking themselves into gear and working double-time. I had this feeling today, but the discomfort level climbed quickly after the half-way point, to the point that, within about the last twenty seconds, I actually thought I was going to have to leave the chamber!
I took a deep breath, kept moving my arms and legs and told myself to keep going. There was nothing seriously wrong and I knew that the level of discomfort could mean only one thing: the cryo was working its magic! Having just spent an hour breathing oxygen enriched air, my blood was heavily oxygenated, so all my cells were being flooded with it as my heart pumped it all through me. In the cryo chamber, as my temperature cools, my heart has to work harder (not dangerously hard, mind you) to push all that oxygenated blood around my body, my cells have to work harder to absorb the oxygen, and, as that continues, the discomfort level rises. The last ten seconds were actually on the very edge of discomfort and into mildly painful, but I was pleased that I was able to see it out.
When I left the chamber after three minutes I felt like a new woman. My body was literally zinging with energy, I could not stand still, and my mind felt clear and sharp. While cryo has always been great for me physically and I've noticed it after a session, I really noticed how good I felt mentally this time as well. I was actually sure I could feel little electric jolts and bolts of energy zipping around just under my skin: it was the most amazing feeling.
And it lasted all afternoon!
My session ended at roughly 3.30pm, give or take a few minutes and it's close to 9.30pm now and I'm only just beginning to feel that nice 'let down' feeling that comes after a good day. I zipped around my house this afternoon, taking advantage of my energy to get things done that I've been putting off for a while, stopping more than once to just breathe deeply and enjoy the incredible after-glow.
I swear, I'll be doing that again the day before Pole Addiction 2019, and the day before any and all auditions for other pole comps!
So, all in all, a very successful and well spent afternoon. I've got another session on my three-session pass, so I'll be heading back to Alchemy Cryo very soon. For those interested in trying cryo and/or mHBOT for themselves, I've put a link to Alchemy Cryo's website below, and links can also be found throughout this post.
I hope you all get a chance to see how it feels to frost yourself!
Alchemy Cryotherapy Centre
Location: South Yarra, Melbourne
Barbell Dancer, out!
Barbell Dancer's Tips for Cryo/mHBOT
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