Facials and massages are so 2016.
I always felt I had little in common with the world of wellness, one which I associate overwhelmingly with any kind of juice that costs more than a few dollars and Gwyneth Paltrow’s “Goop.”
I can’t blame it on a lack of exposure either. Living in New York City, there is no shortage of women who — either sincerely or as part of their persona — swear by yoga, supplements, eastern meditation, or some combination of the three. My mother, a brilliant woman with a master’s degree in theological studies, runs a successful company teaching meditation.
And somehow, I’ve always found more comfort and wisdom in a glass of wine and a good book. The thought of being the kind of woman who moves through life with inner peace and glowing skin has always held an allure, but the closest I’ve ever come to it was investing in both a day and a night cream.
When I found out the boutique hotel HGU New York had created a package touting the health benefits of cutting-edge wellness treatments, including cryotherapy and vitamin infusions, I was skeptically curious. So I decided to try everything in a single afternoon.
The hotel, housed in an early 20th-century building in Manhattan, first opened in July of 2016, gradually adding to their health and wellness packages. Where visitors to other hotels might enjoy facials or massages, guests at HGU New York can schedule cryotherapy sessions, find their bliss in one-on-one meditation in their rooms, or revitalize their bodies after a long flight with an IV infusion.
“We talk always about, ‘How do we make our guests lives better?’ and I think this wellness package achieves that,” said ML Perlman, executive director of wellness and lifestyle at HGU New York Hotel. “We’re thoughtful and we’re human, and we want to celebrate the thoughtfulness and humanity of our guests.”
Up first was cryotherapy, a practice that has risen to prominence in recent years. Similar to ice baths or icing sore areas in general, proponents of cryotherapy claim it reaps a variety of benefits, from easing aching muscles to combating depression to stimulating weight loss. Some have even said it could help with jet lag.
The process uses nitrogen to cool a chamber to as low as -300 degrees Fahrenheit, triggering some of the body’s emergency responses and serving as a dramatic anti-inflammatory. Full-body cryotherapy has become popular with athletes, many of whom had previously used ice baths and were looking for a more effective and timesaving method. (Full-body cryotherapy lasts a maximum of three minutes.)
Stepping into the chamber wearing a robe, booties, and knit gloves felt like something out of a sci-fi movie, and as I handed Michael Perrine of Vitality NYC my robe, the cooling process began. Three minutes in sub-freezing temperatures — the chamber at this unit goes down to -246 degrees Fahrenheit — can feel like an eternity, though Perrine did an excellent job keeping me distracted by regaling me with his own, much longer, journey into wellness.
Perrine, founder of Vitality NYC, has a deep background in health and wellness, working as a certified colonics specialist, serving as a natural food chef, and hosting his own podcast, EveryDayDetox. He has tried just about every trend in the field, and dismissed most of them as just that: lacking in long-term wisdom. But he preaches the effects of cryotherapy.
“Mostly things are fads,” he said. “This was not a fad.”
The scientific community is still undecided as to whether cryotherapy works. Within an hour of stepping out of the chamber I felt more flexible and less achy, but much of the evidence surrounding cryotherapy is similarly anecdotal. Few studies have been completed on cryotherapy chambers, and the ones that have been conducted are often inconclusive in their results.
“We’re all about evidence. So we certainly don’t have good evidence that any of these cryotherapy treatments make that much of a difference,” said Dennis Cardone, chief of primary care sports medicine at NYU Langone Health. Some medical practitioners have even made a complete reversal on the idea that icing is the best way to treat injuries, according to Cardone. In some cases, particularly with tendon injuries, the body’s initial inflammatory response is a good thing, and he discourages some patients from even taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.
Cardone expressed a similar skepticism of my next activity: a vitamin IV infusion a few blocks south at REVIV. “Again, it’s back to evidence. We have no evidence,” he said.
Perhaps it was vein constriction caused by the low temperatures of cryotherapy, or maybe it’s just my genetics, but apparently I have tiny veins. After a seemingly interminable amount of arm-flicking and needle adjustment administered by a registered nurse at REVIV, my vitamin infusion began.
The atmosphere lands somewhere between a doctor’s office and a spa, with a mix of white walls and massage chairs. There were no televisions or magazines, so I was left to contemplate the needle in my arm, as I tried to relax into the experience.
Friends, celebrities, and users of the Internet have lauded vitamin infusions as the best way to cure hangovers and jet lag, as they are essentially extreme hydration, bypassing the digestive system to put vitamins and electrolytes directly into the bloodstream. Some people even use them to ward off illness when they feel a winter cold coming on, according to the nurse who gave me my IV drip. Prices at REVIV range from a simple hydration infusion for $99 up to $249 “royal flush” that delivers two liters of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, electrolytes and medications.
In the name of journalism, I made sure to have a couple beers the night before my infusion to test the rehydration theory, and can report that I did not feel any major changes in my minor headache. I could have sworn my skin was glowing, but that might have been the soft light of the spa/doctor’s office.
After 40 minutes of sitting in the massage chair with my arm extended — it was supposed to take 20 minutes, but again, my tiny veins — I returned to HGU New York for the evening.
With posters of 1970s-era John Lennon, a rooftop bar offering views over Manhattan, and C.O. Bigelow bath products in their rooms, HGU combines elements of classic New York City style with a modern twist.
After an afternoon of purported wellness activities, I decided to balance things out with a glass of red wine (for the antioxidants) and what turned out to be one of the highlights of my stay: a burger with melted raclette cheese and truffle fries from the hotel’s room service. My proverbial hat goes off to whoever decided to combine the magic of Swiss fondue and hamburgers.
With Simkin out of town during my stay, I spoke to her over the phone about meditation and “the inner world of the soul.”
The Los Angeles-based teacher says she wants to challenge the assumptions made about who meditation is for, namely that real meditation is reserved for monks who want to give up their worldly possessions and join an ashram. Simkin was adamant that everyone can benefit from meditative practices, describing her offerings at the hotel as “an immersive meditation experience that incorporates art, music, fashion, and meditation.”
Guests can order a variety of different types of experiences, whether they’re looking for a guided meditation or more of a seminar about a given topic.
“I love creating luxury experiences for people and bridging the world of New York City crazy speed, beauty and insanity, and the inner world of soul,” Simkin said.
While meditative practice might appear to be the least scientifically oriented of the three activities, it is the one with the most evidence behind it.
Dr. Cardone was quick to praise meditation as a way to lower stress and enhance performance in daily life or sports, and the scientific community at large has found an increasing amount of evidence to the health benefits of meditative practices in decreasing stress and depression and even serving as a form of pain management.
“To get people to step away from their daily grind — these are all great daily interventions,” he said.
Amid the freezing temperatures, IVs, and bevy of information on New Age treatments, the element of intervention resonated most. Stepping away from my usual grind of deadlines and list-making gave me a feeling of restoration that lasted longer than my vitamin glow.
Room rates at HGU New York start at $200 per night.
Editor’s note: HGU New York provided the services to T+L for review.