Editor’s note: Wellness — we all need it. Today, allow writer Laura Jackson Roberts to take you along with her to Thrive. Next week, she’ll share a salt sanctuary with you.
Unless you live under a rock, you probably know a new wellness spa has opened on Main Street in downtown Wheeling. Thrive, owned by Jessica Barclay and Vanessa Craig, offers alternative health treatments, including cryotherapy, JOOVV, infrared sauna, halotherapy, float pods and IV therapy.
Everyone I know has been curious about the treatments at Thrive. Thus, in the spirit of adventure, I’ve tested a few of them for you.*
As the owners of Play n’ Stay Pet Camp, Barclay and Craig are always busy. But according to Barclay, though Play n’ Stay is hard work, the staff has become so proficient that the owners’ presence is no longer essential. Barclay and Craig take this as compliment, and it’s given them a chance to pursue another dream. Barclay said she’s always been into alternative wellness and envisioned a float spa here in Wheeling.
“Then I thought, ‘Well, what else could visitors do while they’re there? Well, that would be infrared sauna.’ And then once I tried cryo[therapy], I didn’t want to not cryo. And then it just snowballed and got bigger,” she said.
Of their decision to open on Main Street, Barclay said, “I’ve always loved downtown, and I feel the energy. You know, the growth and the revitalization and some of the moves that [the city is] making. I wanted to be a part of that.” The building is newly renovated.
I’m one of those “cold people” who’s wrapped in a blanket while the rest of the family roasts, so I felt apprehensive about cryo, which is essentially a closet-sized chamber chilled to -151°F. The cold triggers an adrenaline response, and the body sends nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to injured and inflamed areas.
All night long, I’d dreamed about being trapped in a meat locker, and in the morning, I almost canceled our interview because I was having autoimmune pain and anxiety. For those reasons, Barclay encouraged me to try cryo. Thrive also offers local cryotherapy for specific areas of the body.
I watched regular Thrive client Laine Gruse use the cryo chamber before me. She sees notable health improvements when she visits regularly.
“I feel like I’m at my best when I can make it at least two or three times a week,” she said. “This is the best investment I’ve ever made.” In addition to cryotherapy, Gruse receives injections. One of her goals is weight loss; she’s gone down a size and a half since she began her treatments a few months ago. (Barclay says you burn 600-800 calories in one session.) She also suffers from psoriasis and notices an improvement after regular cryo.
The staff gave me shorts, socks, slippers, a headband for my ears, mittens and a facemask. The idea is to move, so they suggested an upbeat song for the three minutes I’d be in there. (My inner 17-year-old chose the Backstreet Boys.) Many people hop or shadowbox; I went with the impossibly lame body contortions some refer to as dancing. My hair frosted over, but it was a dry cold — nothing like a winter day — and I wasn’t uncomfortable. At any time, I could have gotten out, so there was no sense of claustrophobia.
Three minutes went by quickly. Admittedly, those last 15 seconds got pretty chilly, but when I emerged, I felt phenomenal. I was happy, I was pain-free. Endorphins were flooding my brain, and I was freaking Superman. The feeling stayed with me all day.
JOOVV is a perfect after-cryo therapy. You stand nude in front of warm, red lights, some of which give off visible wavelengths and some of which are near-infrared. Many professional athletes swear by JOOVV for muscle recovery, mental clarity and performance. After my session, I felt calm and happy, and while there’s no big moment in JOOVVing, there’s a cumulative effect. It’s the case with most of Thrive’s therapies. The more you do it, the better you’re likely to feel.
Unlike a traditional sauna that reaches 200°F, infrared saunas run at a lower temperature. The air is warm, but the radiant heat penetrates your body and heats up your core from the inside. It’s akin to soaking up the sun and feeling it in your bones. As your core temperature rises, you sweat and your heart rate may increase as during exercise. Proponents of infrared saunas often use them for detoxification.
Even on the hottest days, my body doesn’t sweat, and I worry about that. The infrared sauna is the only place where my glands work. I sat in 153°F for 35 minutes and saw beads rolling down, for once. I read a book, drank water and sweated. By the time I came out, I was mellow and toasty. Infrared is a great winter pick-me-up.
People are curious about floating. I’d heard it was relaxing, and as a person who struggles with anxiety, I was excited.
The water in float pods is less than a foot deep, but it contains over a thousand pounds of Epsom salts, so you cannot sink. People often fall safely asleep in the tank; non-swimmers can do it, too. The water is 94 degrees — the same temperature as your skin. You can float with the light on or the hood up, but most people float in complete darkness. (If you’re claustrophobic, it may be a bit much.) With your ears below the water, sounds are almost nonexistent. It’s warm, it’s womb-like, and it’s weird.
I floated twice, and I’m glad I did, because the first float was so foreign that I had a hard time shutting my brain off. Also, I was surprised at how ferociously my body held onto its tension; my muscles didn’t want to let go. I realized how rigid we all are, all the time, and how challenging it is to truly relax. Meanwhile, my brain wanted to analyze things. Sometimes I felt like I was rotating in a circle; sometimes I’d push off one wall for fun and bounce into the other. (Bad idea: I made myself seasick.) And, as writers do, I found myself trying to note details for this article. Our brains want to be occupied.
When I was finished, I wasn’t as relaxed as I’d hoped to be. Craig encouraged me to try it again in a few days.
“Floating is a journey,” she said. “If you can float three times in 10 days, you’ll experience a real transformation.”
I didn’t believe it, but I went back and floated again, and it was a vastly different experience. This time, my body let go right away. My limbs found comfortable places, and my neck gave up its tree-trunk stance without a fight. Once again, my brain tried to cling to active thoughts, but after 25 minutes, it finally chilled out.
Barclay told me some floaters find themselves back in second grade or revisiting long-forgotten memories of loved ones, but I simply drifted into that almost-asleep place where our brains produce deep relaxation theta waves. It was a nice complement to the cryo high I’d been on, and because the salts are Epsom, my skin was smooth and soft afterward.
Craig said she has a routine most evenings consisting of cryo, halo, JOOVV, infrared and floating.
“I come out of there like a limp noodle,” she said. “Nothing bothers me.” By the end of my treatment, I knew what she meant. I oozed down Main Street back to my car and was an unusually calm version of my children’s mother after school. By bedtime, I was tired. Both owners say they sleep well after treatments, as I did. No more meat locker dreams.
If you’ve been feeling sick or run down but don’t know where to start, pay Thrive a visit. They can explain the mechanics of cryotherapy or JOOVV. They’ll be able to suggest options like halotherapy (a salt bed used to improve skin and breathing) or a variety of IVs and injections for things like immunity, jet lag or hangovers. (Barclay says there’s no shame in coming in when you’ve partied a little too hearty and need a boost — or maybe a nausea remedy.) They also sell a line of pharmaceutical-grade CBD products and offer an oxygen bar. Student memberships and a Frequency Rewards program are available, too.
Jessica Barclay and Vanessa Craig believe in the power of alternative healing, and they believe in the future of our downtown, too. These dedicated women are excited to bring new life to Main Street and hope to bring new life to the Ohio Valley’s residents, too.
* Thrive did not compensate me for my reviews. My opinions are my own. Discuss medical conditions with your doctor and the staff before undergoing any treatment.
• Laura Jackson Roberts is an environmental writer and humorist in Wheeling, West Virginia. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University and serves as the northern panhandle representative of West Virginia Writers. Her hobbies include hiking, travel and rescuing homeless dogs. Visit her at laurajacksonroberts.com.