Wellness

We dive into the cold plunge craze at Othership Yorkville

Is cold plunging really as cool (sorry) as everyone says? We head to Othership's new Yorkville location to try out the hydrotherapy health trend for ourselves. 

Ice baths in the cold space at Othership Yorkville

From the moment I step into the building on Bloor Street, I'm overtaken by the alluring smell of essential oils and relaxation wafting up from basement. Down the escalator, Othership is in a cavernous space that feels more like entering a modern temple than one of Toronto's spas.

I'm handed two towels and a bracelet to indicate that it's my first time. After removing my shoes and coat in a common area, I head into the co-ed change room, a curving wood space lined with lockers and changing stalls on one side, and bathroom stalls and mirrors on the other. 

Othership Yorkville: What is it

Once in my swimsuit and inside, I'm approached by a friendly, floaty staff member who walks me through the experience in a soft, lilting voice. Similar to other hydrotherapy experiences I've had at Nordik Spa-Nature and 124 on Queen, guests move their way through a hot experience, then a cold plunge, followed by a rest period.

At Othership, the 90-person dry sauna delivers a 90 C heat. Guests shower off, then plunge into one of eight ice baths that hover between 1 C and 4 C. The Social Commons relaxation space is a comfortable lounge with tiered seats that mirror the sauna, but with cushions, cozy corners and seats right by the fireplace. 

Othership Yorkville: The experience

When I first enter the sauna, it's almost too hot to bear. But my airy guide from earlier instructed me to stay inside until I feel like I've had enough, and then stay just a little longer. Sweat immediately pools above my lips and before long is running down my back, but I stay seated, trying to be zen. I'm focused on myself, but I can tell others are looking around, waiting for the moment to strike up a conversation with strangers and connect in the shared experience.

One of the guides bursts an aromatic snowball on the sauna's coals, and the space is filled with a beautiful scent and a wet heat. She waves a towel around in a ritualistic motion, wafting more of the hot air onto each guest.

After a soothing shower, it's time for my first real cold-plunge. The guide walks me through it, breathing with me as I step into the icy water. I'm waist-deep in, gripping the sides as if holding on for dear life, and totally in shock. I barely notice her holding my hand and gently saying soothing words into my ear. When she says I've reached 30 seconds, I clamber out, unsure if my feet will even work. Sitting on a bench next to the tub, I'm still in shock, but I feel profoundly connected to my body in a way I haven't felt in a long time. Relaxing in the Social Commons with a tea, it all starts to sink in.

I'm partway through another cycle, when we're told our time is up and the entire group of us are ushered into the change room at once in a total frenzy. Having just stepped out of another cold plunge, I stand in the corner shivering in my swimsuit while I wait for the chaos of the crowded space to die down. 

Othership Yorkville: The verdict

While I didn't get the rush of endorphins or euphoric feeling that a lot of people talk about, and I was quite overwhelmed by the tight time constraint and hard stop, I can see why Othership has a cult following. The relaxed, social atmosphere is enjoyable, especially when there aren't a lot of mainstream, entry-level wellness activities that encourage socialization without involving alcohol or drugs. People who love Othership really love it, and it's easy (and feels good) to get caught up in that energy.

The Free Flow feels more health and fitness adjacent than a spiritual wellness experience, which can be more accessible, and the price point is more approachable than most spa experiences in and around the city. If you want a quick injection of wellness and human connection into your daily grind, Othership is the place. 

Othership Yorkville, from $55 a session, othership.us

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