Taking the (Cold) Plunge: Understanding Contrast Therapy
- Published: Monday, June 20th 2011
- in Spa 101
With temperatures heating up across the country, many are seeking relief in the form of some cool, crisp water. While immersing yourself in some frigid water can be a welcome, if not jarring way to beat the heat, many probably don’t realize that the practice of warming the body, only to give it a good shock with chilly water, is a centuries-old therapy employed by several different cultures to promote good health.
The Turks, Russians, Finns, Romans and Chinese have all used the idea of contrast therapy, transferring the body from very warm temperatures to very cold temperatures, as part of a regular health and wellness routine. The theory behind contrast therapy is simple—the heat from a hot sauna brings blood (and its nutrients) to the surface, which can soothe pain and ease sore muscles, then shocking the body in a cold plunge, which in most modern bathhouses remains at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, increases circulation and pushes that nutrient-rich blood back into the body’s core.
“Cold water is a stimulus,” explains Anne Bramham of the American Spa Therapy Education & Certification Council to Healinglifestyles.com. “Hydrotherapy is to manipulate circulation to improve our quality of life.”
The traditional ritual is to go through the hot-to-cold cycle a couple of times before taking a rest to drink some water, have a snack and let you body readjust to a normal temperature. Working up a sweat will also help release toxins, excess water, lactic acid and salt retained by the body, all while giving you a passive cardiovascular workout.
While you can enjoy some of the benefits of contrast therapy at home by shifting a very warm shower to a very cold one for a few seconds (also great for closing pores and hair follicles after skin and hair have been cleaned or conditioned at the end of a shower), contrast therapy in a spa environment can be an excellent relaxing and social activity. Many spas and bathhouses have both dry and wet rooms, and spas and bathhouses across the country are bringing this treatment to clients as a way to maintain an effective health routine, while hanging out with friends!
With a variety of spa and wellness centers offering this fabulous social spa-ing activity, finding an opportunity to experience this traditional wellness routine shouldn’t be too hard! SpaFinder Readers’ Choice Award-winner Qua Baths & Spa at Caesars in Atlantic City, New Jersey offers Roman bath experiences, as well as spas like Body by Brooklyn in New York City and Voda Spa in Los Angeles.
To learn more about social spa-ing and Russian or Turkish banyas, check out our Club Spa story on Russian Bathhouses.