Ensemble co-founder Rebecca Wadey is always open to new adventures and the new contrast therapy at Hana, that sees clients move between a 70℃ sauna and a 6℃ ice bath, is the kind of wacky upon which she thrives. She went along to the Grey Lynn spa to trial the treatment.
Because I am a contrarian I hate the cold but I love icy water. And I love heat but I’m lukewarm on a sauna.
It’s the strangest thing: I’ve practised yoga in some really hot countries, but I’m not a fan of hot yoga. I believe in, and indeed have experienced, the benefits of infrared saunas (and am a paying customer of the service at Hana) but I can barely stay in over 20 minutes without getting a headache that lasts all day.
I’m convinced it’s because I have too much hair and it acts as a conduit for heat but isn’t clever enough to cool itself down (I use this same excuse to explain why I don’t run).
For those unfamiliar with the benefits of infrared sauna, the best way that I can explain it, in the least holistic way possible, is to compare it to a microwave. While traditional saunas (and ovens) heat from the outside in, an infrared sauna heats from your insides out - thus allowing for speedier and more targeted benefits such as detoxification, increased circulation and an enhanced immune response.
Devotees like to spend up to 45 minutes in an infrared sauna, but as I mentioned my full head of hair and I prefer to do around 15-20 minutes. Which makes pairing it with an ice bath extra appealing.
While I’m certainly interested in the Wim Hof method, and a huge advocate for cold-water swimming (I swam daily on Stewart Island last September), the nearest I’ve come to an ice bath is cryotherapy, which I’ve done overseas by way of treating debilitating jetlag (remember jetlag? Sigh).
For cryotherapy you wear nothing but socks and gloves before being lowered into a chamber of cold air (around-110℃) for around a minute, while someone talks directly to your floating head to calm you down and keep you focused on the ticking clock. The cold is shocking, but it’s finite and distractible.
At Hana, I’m advised that anything over a minute in the bath (temperature 6℃) is ‘good’. The spa’s contrast therapy consists of a 15 minute infrared sauna, followed by a quick shower, a plunge into the bath, then back into the sauna and repeat.
The bath reminded me a lot of a mid-winter ocean dip, but without any momentum or movement to propel you through. The frigid cold literally takes your breath away and you must focus on bringing it back and under control.
Sara Higgins, the owner of Hana, had mentioned that those without an awareness of breathing practices find it tougher in the bath and I can absolutely see that to be true.
For me, I focused on a deep ujjayi yogic breath; once I’d established that pattern I was able to focus on that rather than the clock beside me. I lasted 2.15mins in my first bath, and 3.25mins in the second one.
This second dip, I made little fists and squeezed my fingers tight after noticing the extremities were the most affected. I found this helped, although I was also far more ‘relaxed’ the second time around once I trusted my heart would not stop!
Both times I emerged from the bath with the little tingling feeling I get after a glorious cold ocean swim, and the little endorphin rush that comes with it stayed with me through the day.
Sara advises the contrast therapy is great for muscle recovery. I hadn’t exerted any muscles prior to my treatment, but I did notice I slept much better than usual that night. It’s worth noting that many claims around infrared saunas and cold therapy include that of boosting metabolism and weight-loss. I personally find my appetite increases after sauna use and believe it irresponsible to undertake ‘extreme’ therapies for any medical reasons without speaking to your doctor first.
Contrast therapy makes sense to me in terms of a way promoting circulation, overall immune response and reducing muscle inflammation, but mostly I loved it for the superpowers it imbued me with - that I can handle anything by going inwards, digging deep and breathing.
Full disclosure: This was a gifted PR treatment
• Contrast therapy is available at Hana for $90 for a 60 minute session.