Just five minutes in and, along with the sweat beginning to flow from my skin, I can feel the stress of the day melting into the towel beneath me. I shift a bit to get more comfortable and then close my eyes, focusing on the music that washes over me in gentle waves. I wonder briefly about falling asleep in here, but then allow the thought to pass, settle into the heat and just be.
The scene I describe above was from my first 40-minute session in Mountain Yoga Sandy’s new infrared sauna. Heated yoga classes have been a part of my fitness repertoire since I discovered them more than 15 years ago. But over the last few years, more and more of my exercise time has been dedicated to outdoor pursuits like cycling, hiking, skiing, and climbing, which has, unfortunately, crowded out much of the time I have to spend in the hot yoga room. But, now with MYS’s infrared sauna, I can have my cake and eat it, too.
Infrared saunas are different from the saunas my friends and family had in their homes in my native northern Michigan. (If you’ve never run out of a hot sauna to sit in the snow in sub-zero temperatures, you haven’t lived!) Infrared saunas, as the name implies, use infrared light to heat the body from within rather than heating the air, as a traditional sauna does. Because of this, infrared saunas need to be heated to only about 140 to 150 degrees versus the 200 degrees that most traditional saunas are set at, making infrared saunas much more energy efficient while allowing users to reap the same benefits of traditional sauna bathing.
And, oh, the benefits! Since MYS infrared sauna was installed earlier this year, Assistant Manager Catherine McKenzie has taken a deep dive into the scientifically proven rewards people can enjoy from simply sitting in a sauna. “Pain relief is a big one,” Catherine says. “If used regularly—as in one to two times per week—infrared saunas lower inflammation in the body and can help alleviate muscle or joint pain.” She also says that spending time in an infrared sauna gets your heart rate up without placing stress on the body the way say, running, downhill skiing, or mountain biking, does. “It’s a great way for people who might have an injury to maintain their cardiovascular fitness,” she says.
I did a little poking around on my own and came upon this Harvard Health Publishing story about sauna research completed by scientists at the University of Eastern Finland. The investigators tracked 2,300 middle-aged men for just over 20 years and found that regular sauna bathing is strongly associated with lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke.
After all that sweating during my sauna sesh, I felt clean from the inside out—as is the case after I do a hot yoga class, which made me wonder if sauna bathing helps the body get rid of anything other than salt and water. “There are mixed reviews on whether or not sweating removes toxins from the body,” Catherine says. “But what evidence I did find points to how sweating helps our bodies get rid of some heavy metals.”
For me, the biggest benefit of sauna bathing was how I felt both in the sauna and after. Sitting in there, under the chromotherapy light, felt as restorative and calming as sitting in the sun—minus the blaring brightness and the well-documented dangers from UV rays. (Not coincidentally, it turns out, color-changing chromotherapy lights help release serotonin in the body when combined with the saunas infrared rays.) I got that cleansed-and-centered feeling I experience after a hot yoga class, but after just 40 minutes in the infrared sauna. And that sense of well-being carried into the evening; I didn’t feel the residual tension that I typically notice at the end of the day, and, best yet, later I slept like a baby … All. Night. Long.
You can find out more about MYS’s infrared sauna and sign up for a session by clicking here. Some other personal tips for making the most of your infrared sauna session:
- Find a Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, etc. station that speaks to you—or even a podcast—and have it ready on your phone before your session. MYS’s infrared sauna is equipped with Bluetooth speakers and Internet access allowing you to listen to what you want while you’re in there. Playing music also completely blocks out any sounds that may filter in from outside the sauna room.
- Feel free to wear a bathing suit or nothing, your choice. The door on the sauna room locks and all sessions are private, so your time in there is completely your own.
- Bring an extra towel. One is included in your session, but I was glad to have an extra to roll up and place under my head while I was in the sauna and for my post-sauna shower.
- Finally, booking a sauna session either before or after a hot yoga class is probably too much sweating for most people. “I think the most ideal time for sauna bathing is after strenuous outdoor activity,” Catherine says. I’m already looking forward to booking post-ski-day sessions this winter!
Written by Melissa Fields for Mountain Yoga Sandy.