taking the plunj with sean foster
Just East of the Utah Lake lies Provo, Utah. Home to Brigham Young University and the newly founded wellness studio, PLUNJ. While the name certainly alludes to the types of services one might find upon walking through their doors, there is something more deeply rooted than first meets the eye.
After both having reaped the benefits of utilizing the combination of a sauna and cold plunge (i.e. contrast therapy), husband and wife duo, Sean and Lauren Foster, set out to bring these incredible health benefits to their community. Founded out of a desire to make contrast therapy more readily accessible to the general public, Sean and Lauren created a space that allows individuals to come in and experience contrast therapy themselves in a clean, welcoming, and accessible environment.
One thing you’ll notice upon walking into PLUNJ are the crisp, clean, modern lines combined with an open, bright, welcoming atmosphere. The inspiration for both the services and the design are pulled from Scandinavian roots.
“I have always been drawn to Scandinavian philosophy,” Sean notes. “Especially as it relates to personal well being. The Scandinavians (the Finnish in particular) have practiced cold water swimming and sauna for centuries. It’s something that is ingrained into their daily habits and the no nonsense approach to HOT and COLD is as basic and elemental as it gets.” Basic and elemental but effective, transformative and now, accessible.
While the design of the space may be what draws a person in, it’s the philosophy and practices that keep them coming back. It can all be summed up in a single phrase – “Lagom.”
Lagom? While certainly not a commonly known phrase to those that live in the United States, Sean notes, “Lagom is a Swedish philosophy which roughly translates to “not too much, not too little.” Any Lagom definition will describe this concept as being all about balance.” Not only was PLUNJ built on the ideology of Lagom but it serves as a guide in all of our daily decisions. “As Americans,” Sean says, “I think balance is something that is lost on most of us. Most of the time, I think that imbalance is the result of too much stuff occupying our time, our attention, and our money. Lagom for us is trying to understand what is important to us, pairing down the rest of the noise, and putting our time and attention toward gaining balance in the things that give us the most satisfaction.We are nowhere close to being experts at this, and we are always looking for more ways to live a more Lagom life.”
With the idea of “not too much, not too little” in mind, it becomes clear how that shows up at PLUNJ. A welcoming space with niche offerings (not too many or too few), straddling the line between economical and luxury, that, in Sean’s words, “allows the participant to focus on being present–not having to worry about their next service, or being rushed through a variety of different treatments.”
What to Expect
So then, what services can you expect when you walk into PLUNJ? They can be broken down into what they have called “The Regime:” Hot, Cold Rest, Repeat. To start, well technically, before you start, you’ll want to ensure you’re #hydrated before getting into the sauna. Once you’re inside the sauna, it’s important to know, and likely somewhat self-evident, that the higher seats are the hottest and the lower ones will be a bit cooler.
If you’re new to The Regime, you may want to consider starting on a lower seat. Splash some water onto the stones to create löyly (The Finnish word that literally means “the steam coming off of the hot rocks”). Soak up the warmth and sweat it out for 8-15 minutes.
Next up, you’re onto the PLUNJ. What the team calls “the most rewarding, yet challenging piece of the puzzle.” After you’ve showered off from the sauna, it’s time to choose which plunge pool to submerge into. You can choose between one set for 60-65º F or 45-50º F. It may seem obvious but what’s important when you’re submerged is to focus on your breathing. The PLUNJ truly is a mind game. When your body feels like the time is right (or it’s been 5 minutes or so), you’re ready for the final step in The Regime.
What’s Sean's piece of advice for anyone who’s new to the world of contrast therapy? As with anything that you do, the more you do it, the more your body will become accustomed to what it is going through. It’s through repetition and continued practice that your body and mind will become more resilient to the extremes.”
Following the PLUNJ is the third and final step in The Regime: Rest. Wrapped in a robe, take a seat and simply let your body relax. Give yourself 10-15 minutes and then it’s your choice whether you repeat The Regime upwards of three additional times.
“Contrast therapy is meant to be an accomplishment,” Sean notes. “SISU, another Finnish term, can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. We feel that contrast therapy and the process of building your mental and physical strength has a lot to do with this mentality of SISU.”
This is an important note before embarking on a contrast therapy journey. You may be one to stay in the sauce for 15 minutes or choose the colder plunge tank. You may even find getting into the tank at all for the first time at all, incredibly difficult. “Listen to your body,” says Sean, “and try to build up on what you just accomplished. Contrast therapy is meant to be a process and a journey, so when you come in, don't stress about the specifics or how long the person before you stayed in the cold. Just come in and enjoy it.”
Why Consider Contrast Therapy
When asked why someone would (or should) consider contrast therapy in the first place, Sean replied, “Well, how much time do you have?” One could say he considers the benefits as infinite. “While we could spend hours talking about the research and science about what is happening within your body, in all reality, the main thing we want people to focus on is simple: How do you feel when you are done with the regimen at PLUNJ? We’re fairly certain you’ll feel good and that is what we want people to know. Doing this will help you feel good. Simple as that.”
Sean suggests connecting with experts in the area of contracts therapy if you’re looking to learn more about the nitty gritty science behind it all but, Sean points out that “current research indicates that when practiced on a regular basis, contrast therapy can provide long-lasting changes to your body’s immune, lymphatic, circulatory and digestive systems that enhance the overall quality of your life.”
And here’s the thing… When Sean mentions improving the overall quality of your life, he has first-hand experience in this arena.
“For as long as I can remember,” Sean says, “I have always had short bouts of what I always thought was moodiness or anger. I never really understood what was happening, why it was happening, and what these feelings were that were coming up. I slowly realized that there were things that triggered the way I was feeling, but I never really had a name for it. It wasn't until I saw a doctor and told him about what I was feeling that he let me know that most likely what I was going through was anxiety and panic attacks. Even though I knew what it was, it continued to happen, and it started to happen more and more and more, especially as my career started to ramp up, and the levels of stress continued to grow.”
As Sean’s career as a project manager grew, so did his to-do list and so did his panic attacks. Ironically, and maybe even thankfully, this time period just so happened to be around the same time that Sean started training for a trail marathon. Running just so happened to be one of the tools he could utilize to work through his anxious and panicked feelings. As a way to recover from his runs, he started utilizing cold water. And overtime, he started to realize that the cold water was inadvertently having an effect on his mental state.
I looked into it a bit more and sure enough a lot of people use the cold water for stress and anxiety relief. As I started to utilize the cold more (both plunging and showers), I started to be able to see clearer, and I started to use the cold as a “reset” button to help me through bouts of anxiety and panic. This is what first started the initial discussions of a business like PLUNJ. - Sean Foster
Oddly enough, it was during the initial creation of PLUNJ that Sean experienced one of the worst and prolonged bouts of anxiety that he’d ever had. “Suddenly,” he says, “the one thing that has helped me so much (cold water) became the direct source of my stress.” But that’s not how this story ends. Sean was able to recognize that cold water and further, contrast therapy, was just one of the self care tactics he was able to utilize when working to combat the panic attacks and anxiety. With the help of talk therapy, journaling and mindfulness, he’s now equipped with a full toolkit.
Among many things, an extremely important notion that has come out of Sean’s journey is that people need to take care of themselves. “Not only to just rest and relax,” Sean says, “but to take the time to understand yourself, however that happens is EXTREMELY important.” There are ample tools out there–it’s all about finding what works for you. As for PLUNJ, it’s Sean’s hope that this sanctuary can be one of those tools in a person’s mental health arsenal if the need arises. Whether you’re looking to recover physically, seeking mental clarity or looking to improve your overall well-being, it’s worth taking the PLUNJ to see what you might find on the other side.