THUNDER BAY, ONT. — If you have an urge to take one of those deep-winter, nordic icy plunges and can’t find any frozen waterways, then Afloat will accommodate you.
For more than seven years, the Thunder Bay business has been suspending people in body-temperature water for a relaxing and soothing health experience. Owned by Tracey and Gavin Barrett, the business has acquired quite the following with numerous regular customers, some of whom prefer an icy dip.
Tracey Barrett says soaking in ice is for pure health benefits and is just one of the services they provide.
“Friends of ours got together all winter and we would go into the Cascades where we would drill a hole in Oliver Lake and plunge in there in January, February and March,” she said.
“Now that we have summer and a growing amount of people in the community wanting to partake (in the ice plunges), we ordered the ice barrels to provide the service.”
Each Tuesday and Thursday between 3-6 p.m., people are invited to take the plunge for $15 a session.
“We walk everybody through it and we support everybody. We let them hit their ice-plunging goals,” Tracey said.
Gavin explained that they operate float tanks where people are submerged in body-temperature water to experience sensory deprivation.
“It’s a big tank called float pods with 10 inches of water and 1,100 pounds of Epsom salt, and as soon as you lay flat in it, you just float,” he said. “We keep the water skin temperature. There’s a light button and a music button in there and if you want, you can shut those both off. So the whole idea is to try to take away as many of the sensory inputs coming into your brain and nervous system as possible. And then you can just really relax and just let it go.”
Tracey says the company began changing to more of a health and performance-based business. The float pods, which offer float therapy, are still their main service while the ice barrels have developed a growing clientele.
Gavin explained that when you submerge into a tank of ice water, the body’s fight or flight side of the nervous system kicks in.
“Every time you go in, you get a big increase in epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine and those are all the neurochemicals that upregulate your nervous system. They have really powerful benefits for mood and alertness,” he said.
“After you get out of the ice, you still have elevated dopamine for hours after, which means benefits on your mood for hours after you get out.”
Submerging into ice water deliberately puts the body into a state of stress, while you’re consciously breathing and relaxing into it. Gavin says you’re teaching yourself that you can have a calm mind even when your body is in a stressful state.
“There’s a lot of carryover for managing stress in your daily life,” he said.
“When you get good at just relaxing in an ice barrel, you can carry that over to stressful situations in your life. And just because something stressful happens, doesn’t mean you have to be in a stressful state of mind.
“Also, it’s got powerful metabolic benefits giving you a big increase in your metabolic rate after, because that’s how your body warms itself up. That’s what the shiver response is — your muscles just kind of get active to produce heat. You’ll burn more calories for hours after you get out because your body is warming itself back up.”
Afloat client, Lenore Doran-Bonk challenged her father Peter Bonk, who was visiting from southern Ontario, to take a dip in the ice barrel to see who would last the longest.
“It’s very shocking to the body, but Gavin and Tracey gave some great tips on my first time and after the shock, it’s just really peaceful and really energizing actually,” Doran-Bonk said.
“I feel very relaxed. I feel proud of myself like I’ve accomplished something kind of cool.”
She says what better thing from Thunder Bay to offer her father than cold water.
“He’s really competitive. He played it very cool and we were challenging each other to see who could stay in the longest,” she said. Her father was the first one out of the barrel.
Meanwhile, while closed for one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gavin used the time to train to perform metabolic testing for their clients.
“We can measure your VO2-max, which is how much oxygen your body can consume while you’re exercising,” he said. “I can measure your resting metabolism and tell you how many fats versus carbs you burn at rest, and while you exercise too. This gives the client a sense of heart rate zones for appropriate cardio training and interval training, personal training and strength training as well.”
Gavin says the company has now perfected therapeutic measures for health and injury recovery as well as a maintenance program for fitness and training purposes.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal