The Hot and Cold Treatment…

August 15, 2014

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Welcome area at Aire Ancient Baths, TriBeCa, NYC

It doesn’t take much for me to try something new, but it takes a lot for me to jump into cold water. The day I decided to go for it, my body was experiencing intense soreness radiating in every direction not to mention a pinched nerve in the neck, tendonitis in both shoulders, and an old injury in the right hip. Unaccustomed to taking medication, over the counter or prescribed, and always choosing the natural path, I started researching ancient practices that would help relieve an aching body that felt older than its years.

I had heard of communal baths that were used during ancient Roman and Greek times. In those days, communal bathing was embraced as a social activity by people of varying economic means. The Greeks also believed that such baths were blessed by Gods and had healing powers. Balneums, or bathhouses, were often formed around hot springs on hillsides, a concept the Romans took to the next level, building elaborate bathhouses, heating various pools, increasing the temperature with each. Additionally, rooms were built around these pools, with one hotter than the next. There were three types ranging in temperature from cold to hot including the frigidarium (cold), tepidarium (warm or body temperature), and caldarium (hot). The idea was to go from one pool to the next, experiencing shifts in temperature, from hot to open the pores, allowing the body to release toxins while relieving any soreness in the body, to cold to close the pores while tightening of the skin and reducing inflammation.

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some of the pools

While in New York, I decided to try one of a handful of traditional bathhouses to see if it would make a difference to the aches and pains I felt. Aire Ancient Baths of New York in TriBeCa, is a one-of-a-kind spa, from decor to treatment. More than 16,000 sq.ft. of wall-to-wall exposed brick, multiple pools, steam room and massage rooms, with just enough lanterns and candles to light the stone paths. The minute I stepped in, I forgot I was living in New York. I was immediately transported to a different time and place. The decor, though modern, is based on the ancient Roman and Greek outdoor and indoor bathhouses. The calm of the space makes it easy to settle in. The well lit pools are both enticing and intimidating. “I’m here, now what?” was my first thought as I stood in my bikini looking at the various pools. The ritual of bathing in varying degrees of water was intriguing, even if the idea of bathing with strangers was a bit uncomfortable at first. I quickly realized, though, that it was no different than jumping into a swimming pool full of people, so I got over my discomfort quickly.

My next fear was jumping into a 57°F pool, and worst yet, a 50°F pool. I had no problem getting my body acclimated in the 97°F pool, or even relaxing for some time in the 102°F pool. Hot water has never bothered me, but the idea of jumping into cold water was too much for me to even consider. During a two-hour ritual of hopping from one pool to the next, and adding a steam bath in the mix, became easier and easier. True, I was anxious about the cold baths and didn’t go near those, preferring the whirlpool or better yet the salt bath, imagining what it might be like to bathe in the Dead Sea. But my curiosity grew stronger, especially after an amazing massage by David, who suggested the steam bath immediately following the treatment and before the 50°F pool. Two men also encouraged me to jump into the cold pool. “It feels really good,” they kept saying.

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steam room

I started training, going from the 105°F steam room for 5 minutes or so, to the 102°F pool for another 5, going back and forth a couple of times, passing by the cold baths, going back to the salt bath to meditate, but soon returning to the 102°F pool, remaining there a while to stretch my limbs. And finally, after contemplating what it might feel like, I decided to just do it and jumped right into the 57°F pool. I probably lasted about 30 seconds, my whole body submerged except for my head. It was definitely cold. I immediately got back into the hot pool, and went back and forth between the two a few times.  I then decided to go back to the steam room for a few minutes and cool off in the 50°F pool for 30 seconds. My circuit quickly became 102°F, 57°F, 105°F, 50°F, 102°F, 57°F 105°F, 50°F, 102°F, 57°F 105°F, 50°F, nonstop several times, staying in the hot water for 5 to 7 minutes and the cold baths for an average of 45 seconds, each time becoming easier. The cold pool ceased to be cold. The hot pool ceased to be hot, my body acclimating to the self-imposed vigorous circuit training that took place in a span of 2 hours. It was both invigorating and satisfying. I had faced my fear of cold water and in the process had felt a huge relief in my aching body. I felt it heal by the minute. It was just water!

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Entrance

Aire Ancient Baths is a wonderful place to spend your afternoons. I would recommend doing this on an empty stomach. It requires mental strength for sure. The best is to design a circuit and stick to it and not think so much about the temperatures once you’ve gotten used to jumping from one pool to the next. There is a purpose to the changing temperatures. It is indeed quite healing, not just for the body but the mind as well, so don’t skip the cold pool. Step out of your comfort zone and experience this ancient tradition fully. You might regret it otherwise. The big plus is that once you surrender to the experience, a deep calm is felt.  I can’t wait to go back!

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