Othership: An Oasis For The Sober-Curious

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Young people are increasingly deciding to embrace sober and sober-curious lifestyles, and for good reason: as a recent study shows, for those under the age of 40, drinking carries significant health risks and has no benefits. But with so many venues centered around alcohol, it can be challenging for non-drinkers to find a place to socialize, especially in the company of other people who also choose to lead more health-conscious lives.

Othership, a dreamy modern bathhouse offering classes that combine breathwork, sauna, and cold plunges, was created, in part, to fill this need, after founder and CEO Robbie Bent quit drinking and began experimenting with the science-backed wellness practices to help maintain his sobriety.

What started pre-Covid in his garage is now a destination for more than just Toronto’s non-drinking crowd. Under the guidance of staff and using nothing but their breath, guests are encouraged to embrace the discomfort brought on by the extreme heat and cold and move into altered states of consciousness, with the goal of improving physical, mental, and emotional wellness.

Backyard Ice Bath Builds Community

“I was struggling with addiction, and then I got into psychedelic medicines and meditation. I was going to bathhouses because I didn’t want to be around alcohol,” says Bent, who had learned about the benefits of heat therapy and cold water immersion from experts like Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Dr. Andrew Huberman, and Wim Hoff.

Bent and his co-founders decided to build an ice-bath in his backyard. Every night, they’d invite friends over for a cold plunge. “Things started to shift,” he says. “We thought of it as a health practice, a meditation practice.” (Sometimes, their practice might look like getting to the shivering point in a cold plunge, letting go with a loud scream, and then following the icy dip with some breathwork, explains Bent.)

They experimented with adding sound bowls, aromatherapy, and different meditation techniques, and before long, more than 300 neighbours knew about the backyard ice bath and were visiting regularly, often hanging out after a plunge to socialize.

“That’s when I thought, this could be a class,” says the founder. When winter rolled around, they built a sauna and moved the ice bath into his garage. Through word-of-mouth, the community grew from 300 to 2,000. It was clear, Bent says, that there was a need for the booze-free social environment they had created.

Then Covid hit, and Bent and his team decided to record the breathwork classes they had been leading in person and offer them through an app. As soon as pandemic restrictions in Ontario lifted, they opened Othership, a 3,000-square-foot bathhouse complete with a 50-person sauna, four ice baths, and a cushy tearoom for socializing.

Why Sauna And Cold Plunge?

Spending your evening switching between extreme heat and cold might not sound like the ideal night out, but there is plenty of research to show that regular sauna use and cold water immersion can be beneficial, in more ways than one.

The practice of combining heat exposure in a sauna with a dip in freezing-cold water puts the body through stress, creating hormonal responses that can help reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and boost the immune system. But above and beyond the physical benefits, Bent highlights the emotional ones, pointing out that the sauna and ice bath serve as excellent containers to shift one’s body into a different state and promote emotional regulation.

“The concept was to create a new place where you could go to these classes that could be light, relaxing, and energizing—but also deeply emotional,” he says. “The experience speaks for itself. If you go into a two-minute ice bath, you’re going to feel it. You might start to cry. You might feel super alive. The cold also creates a 2.5 times boost in dopamine and norepinephrine, which reduces social anxiety, boosts mood and allows people to connect without relying on alcohol.”

While shifting out of one’s normal, waking existence and into a state that’s more transformative, instructors use a combination of techniques including breathwork, affirmations, positive thought, and fear releases to guide guests through difficult moments.

“You’re teaching your body to move from a fight-or-flight state when you’re in this intense hot and cold, and to use your breath to move into a parasympathetic state, the rest-and-digest state. In that state, you’re able to find more meaning, to connect to your emotions. You’re teaching your body how to breathe, how to work through that state.”

Being in community while this happens can lead to profound shared experiences for guests, says Bent.

“Yes, the magic [is in] the ice bath and the sauna and the classes, but if they also make a new friend in that space, something really special happens,” he says. “This is healthy socializing, this is community… We see this as a way to reduce loneliness and help people make behavioral changes.”

New Locations Coming To L.A., New York

If a trip to Toronto isn’t in your calendar, Othership’s breathwork app offers a flavor of what you might experience at the bathhouse. It offers a wide range of sessions combining guided breathwork and music, including shorter sessions that promote stimulation or relaxation, and longer holotropic sessions.

So far, Othership’s flagship location in downtown Toronto has tripled the founding team’s projections and they are currently in the process of expanding. A second location is set to open in New York’s Flatiron District sometime in the spring of 2023, and there are plans for additional locations in Brooklyn and Venice Beach.

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