Cold Plunges, Saunas and Breathwork are the New Recovery Craze — And Here’s Why

Booming in business and popularity, “social self-care” studios offering hot and cold therapy are attracting entrepreneurs and CEOs. Recovery is the new “wellness” where business partnerships are being formed.

The “no pain, no gain” exercise mantra has started to dim as health and wellness enthusiasts have begun to embrace more restorative wellness practices such as breathwork, cold plunge and sauna. Simply put, recovery is the new “wellness.” Although breathwork originates from ancient cultures, people like Dr. Stan Grof, Leonard Orr, Dr. Buteyko and most recognized Wim Hof have modernized breathwork and cold exposure and integrated it into practices.

Over the past decade, the business of recovery has been prevalent. From wearable start-ups like Whoop and Oura with valuations in the billions to at-home electrical muscle stimulation devices like Marc Pro and Power Dot to memberships at recovery studios like Stretch Lab and ReCOVER – entrepreneurs and active individuals are investing in their recovery. This past year and trending high for 2024, breathwork, cold plunges and saunas are all the rage.

Personally, I’ve practiced some form of breathwork over the years and invested in an outdoor sauna that my husband and I use three to four times per week. I typically sauna early in the morning after a workout and follow it up with an outdoor cold shower before rushing off to get the kids off to school. The exercise and hot-to-cold therapy grounds me, and I feel focused, invigorated and prepared to take on just about anything that’s planned for the day, including fire drills, surprises and curveballs.

In desire to experience a social wellness experience outside of a typical walk, bike ride or yoga class, I recently tried Breathe Degrees, coined “the first studio of its kind,” given its signature breathwork and cold plunge experience. I invited a colleague to join. As many of you reading likely are, I’m labeled as a ‘Type A’ highly competitive multi-tasker who, as my husband says, “sucks at relaxing.” The idea of laying down on my back in a dark room for 60 minutes to “breathe” makes me quiver. How can I possibly be still for that long? And then follow it up with a 3-minute plunge in a 40-degree frigid plunge pool?

Breathe Degrees was not what I was expecting. Prior to attending my first class, I spoke to Tyler Forbes, Breathe Degrees Co-Founder and certified Wim Hof Instructor. He told me, “This is a workout; it’s not easy, and our members go beyond the chill-hippie-types, rather more people like you; those that have demanding schedules are overachievers, and their workouts tend to be hard.” Forbes then explained the science of his method, and benefits inclusive of stress reduction, improved immunity, better sleep, reduced inflammation, better and increased longevity. He finished with, “do you like loud music?” Sure, I’ll take it.

I highlight Breathe Degrees because no one else in the country is doing this type of intense 60-75 minute breathwork followed by a cold plunge, then a hot experience. While many offer cold plunges and saunas, Breathe is the first of its kind to include all elements at full intensity.

This was NOT your typical meditation. My eyes were covered with a thick plushy mask, and after a pre-class demonstration, the breathwork experience kicked off following the Wim Hof method — a series of breathing deeply through your mouth and exhaling at a rapid pace. After about 40 rapid deep breaths, where you are guided to tense every muscle in your body on the inhale, you then hold your breath for about a minute before you finally exhale. You repeat the cycle five times, all synched to loud music, and the instructor prompts the class with breath timing, inspiring messages, and mantras. During the practice, I felt chills run through my body, saw white spaces and different colors of light orbs, and experienced moments of euphoria, almost as if I had been transported to a different planet. Class closed, bringing us back to normal breathing and more relaxed meditation.

Related: 11 Health and Wellness Podcasts to Help Keep You Calm and Inspired

Immediately after class, I changed into my swimsuit and my colleague and I entered the 40-degree cold pool for 3 minutes. This. Was. Hard. We hesitated, but she and I reinforced that we were doing this together. Within the first thirty seconds, I was ready to get out, but our instructor, Cory, gently placed his hands on my shoulders, reminded me to breathe, and somehow gave me a feeling of calm. This is where you truly realize the power of the mind. The plunge was followed by a hot jacuzzi, which, to my surprise, was also uncomfortable for the first 30 seconds, and then my body relaxed. I felt amazing. No stress, no tension, no monkey brain. It was so good that I asked if I could get back into the plunge for 1 minute.

Aside from the knowledge I’ve learned via research and Dr. Andrew Huberman’s podcasts, this is where Forbes later explained how the cold releases norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that can create feelings of euphoria and profound awareness. My colleague and I walked out of the studio, talking about business goals and ways that we could better work together. For the rest of the day, I felt so relaxed, was incredibly productive, slept well, and had a positive mood.

Related: 8 Best Health and Wellness Podcasts

The Global Wellness Industry is now worth $5.6 trillion. With buy-ins from world-class athletes (like Cristiano Ronaldo and Usain Bolt), musicians (like P!nk and Lady Gaga), and executives, breathwork, along with cold plunges and saunas, are fueling self-care, wellness and the economy. Consumers are adding cold plunge tubs to their houses almost the way they purchased Peloton at the onset of the pandemic.

Growing at a CAGR of 4.1%, the global cold plunge market is expected to reach $429M by 2030. The global sauna market, including residential and commercial segments, will surpass $4.6B by 2025. We are seeing more social clubs and wellness studios respond to the growing demand for the cold plunge, now called “social self-care.” More advanced versions of these social clubs include Los Angeles and NYC-based Remedy Place and Kollective in Austin, Texas.

In my experience, the new “social self-care” studios can be excellent for networking and developing relationships. Put bluntly, can you get more vulnerable and comfortable with someone than by sitting in a 40-degree pool together or sweating like crazy during a 20-minute sauna session? Add a post-plunge bar offering healthy snacks and mocktails, and you’re primed to negotiate or even close a deal.

Related: These 3 Peloton Instructors Went From Struggling Freelancers to Rising Entrepreneurs — Here’s How They Did It.

Devon Low, co-founder of Kollective, reinforced this when he shared with me that a lot of business comes out of his members being together. “There’s no posturing in here,” said Low. “It’s a place where people are most authentic, show their true colors, and look forward to the face-to-face connection. We have many high-level CEOs and creatives here at Kollective, and we see multiple partnerships being formed.” Kollective now has two “social performance clubs” in Texas and is looking to open a third in Nashville given that their member wait lists for the Texas locations are so long.

Most human beings seek community and aspire to be healthier. In a recent study from McKinsey, 79% of consumers stated that wellness is important; 42% said it’s a top priority. In 2020, it was ‘together as one’ on the Peloton leaderboard, but now, it’s looking more like new personal and business highs are being attained in person — in a state of post-breathwork, cold plunge and sauna euphoria.