It’s late Tuesday morning, and I stand on the fifth floor of the newly opened Equinox Hotel, enveloped in a plush robe and slides, sipping a ceramic mug of decaffeinated tea as I watch the fog roll over New York’s West Side. Like Shiv Roy overlooking her spoils from her ivory tower, I tip my nose at the view of what’s below me, a stretch of rail yards lined with trains awaiting their exodus to New Jersey. I, meanwhile, am awaiting several spa treatments that have been promised to smooth, even, tighten, firm, tone, relieve, relax, and restore me to a higher state of consciousness. And yet, it is as if I had already reached a sort of capitalist nirvana, intoxicated by this panoply of glass—it’s my long-overdue first trip to the storied Hudson Yards—that promises a bounty of luxury at every corner. (That, and “charcoal bites.”)
I’m led down a long hallway by a smiling facialist, the gray sky over New Jersey inducing in me a pre-treatment state of meditative repose. I’m about to undergo a treatment called “Facexercise,” a trademarked technique involving “French palpe roule, ancient manual massage techniques, natural physiotherapy, and modern fitness science” designed to “sculpt,” “tone,” and “contour”—which didn’t mean much to me beforehand, other than that I would likely be slapped in the face. (I put off some plans for the week to prevent from straining my facial muscles with excessive socialization.) The facial, however, is less Mean Christine and more evocative of the tender process of pizza-making, as if my skin is a smooth piece of dough being kneaded, stretched, and lovingly doused in generations-in-the-making marinara sauce by a jolly man with a handlebar mustache. The facialist gently paints my November-dry skin with a mask of charcoal (there’s something in the charcoal) and moves her fingers in a mystifying trance. Somehow, when she slaps my face, it feels good. (?!)
Afterward, my pores clean as Liv Tyler’s, I only catch a few moments of post-treatment bliss before beginning my next, more involved treatment: a “cryo-massage” called “The Skinny,” which would effectively do to my stomach what I have just done to my face, albeit through cryotherapy technology. (The treatment can be applied anywhere on the body, but I figure the stomach was the easiest and least strange place to start.) The man grabs the arm of a big white machine and freezes my stomach, kneading it in and around until my fat pocket goes a bit numb. He chats with me the entire time, and I feel us forming a specific type of bond as he becomes increasingly intimate with my belly bloat. He tells me he got into cryo as a joke; when his friend tore his ACL, routine cryotherapy sped up his recovery from a year to 9 months. “Are we really freezing people now?” he had said, saying the procedure reminded him of Austin Powers. When my stomach is effectively numb, he heats it, and then gives me a lymphatic massage, clearing out the lymphatic system in an ominously named process called “lymphatic drainage.” To prove that he’s not making this stuff up, he takes a measuring tape to my waist and measures me both before and after the procedure. Sure enough, I lose half an inch. Groovy, baby.
The next phase of my wellness odyssey is the Wave Table, a sort of waterbed that uses sound wave relaxation therapy to induce the feeling of a 3-hour sleep in 30 minutes. I’m led into a dark room, where I lie atop a strangely comfortable dentist chair-like recliner. Cryo Guy gives me a sleep mask and a giant pair of headphones, and I feel as if I’m about to take off on a first-class trip to Tokyo. He hits the lights and leaves me to my “energizing” slumber, which I quickly fall into thanks to a series of low, ambient chimes that could double as the soundtrack of a Safdie Brothers movie. I wake up with a burst of excitement, my racing thoughts having slowed to a peppy jog in place. Have I finally solved the insomniac’s quandary? Do androids dream of electric sheep? Is Trump still president?
Maybe it’s my newfound six-pack—or my newfound bond with the Cryo Guy—but I see myself becoming something of a cryo convert, or at least a little bit less of a cryo skeptic. After being told cryotherapy can improve muscle tension, boost metabolism, burn 400-800 calories in one session, and help you quit coffee, I’m finally ready to be fully submerged into the cryo chamber: a room the size of a large shower so cold it appears to be snowing inside. Everyone at the spa has assured me a quick three-minute dip in the chamber is “fun, something to do with your girlfriends,” even. And so the saying goes: When in Rome, do as the tight, chiseled, well-heeled, and naturally caffeinated Romans do. I disrobe and am given a mask, Bombas socks, and what look like oven mitts to prevent frostbite. Cryo Guy asks me if I want music. Most people request classical, apparently, but he suggests something more “pump-up.” I figure Avicii’s “Levels” would only make the 3 minutes of sub-zero temperature more unbearable by recalling 10th grade binges of Four Loko, so when I open Spotify to find ABBA first on the search list, I let my memories of arctic dips in the Baltic inspire me to go with the Swedish pop classic “Dancing Queen.” If anything can get me through this, it’s ABBA.
Maybe it’s the familiar joy of “Dancing Queen”’s keyboard-inflected intro, but I quickly go from “holy shit” to “I’m more concerned about whether this guy can see me standing here awkwardly naked in socks and oven mitts than whether I will survive.” I pace back and forth to pass the time, occasionally swaying my hips when the chorus hits. When my three minutes are up (surprisingly quickly), I step out of the chamber as Cryo Guy reveals to me the temperature of the cryo: negative 150 degrees. (“I didn’t want to tell you before.”) I feel a slight tingling up my thighs, but also a full-body high akin to the aftermath of two cups of espresso, a life-threatening roller coaster, or the New York City Marathon. (Or so I hear, from people who do those kinds of things.) He explains to me that the blood would be rushing back to me over the course of the day, and that as we speak I am likely in the process of burning up to 800 calories. Instantly, I’m flooded with fantasies of a life in which I swap visits to my local gym with sessions dancing to ABBA naked in a cryo chamber, my body freezing its way to sculpted perfection.
It is as if my innate skepticism—of corporate candyland, of buying your way to happiness, of luxury gyms and people who brave the cold without a turtleneck—have iced over with the cool sheen of peak performance. I leave the spa four hours after I have entered it, cocooned in a bubble of self-improvement, my body nearly dizzy with the amount of wellness I have suddenly subjected it to, and head into the white orb-like Hudson Yards subway station. Apparently my glow is palpable; upon returning to the office, one coworker says, “Now you know what it’s like to really take care of yourself.” I have returned from the new frontier of wellness, one that reaches far beyond basic tenets (eat your vegetables, move your body) to effectively hack the human body with sci-fi-like methodology. Hudson Yards, whose mere name once induced acid reflux in me, now embodies a type of beauty: one that is entirely created, absolutely artificial, and glimmering amidst the gray.