Whether you are searching for general information about saunas or are looking to invest in one for your home, the number of benefits may excite you! We purchased a sauna this year (I asked for one for my 40th birthday—see picture below!) and so we did quite a bit of research before making our purchase. Some of our clients have asked me to share what we’ve learned, so here it is…
A History of Heat
Using contained heat as a conduit for healing, relaxation, and detoxification is nothing new. The ancient Romans called the heated bathing facilities where they spent much of their time, Thermae. A Turkish variation of that same concept—where visitors would transition from one hot, dry room to another before eventually relaxing in a cold room—was simply called a Bath House. And of course the Finnish, who are credited with creating what most of us consider a sauna, have been enjoying the activity since 7000 BC! With their long history, I think there is something to be said for the importance of heat!
The Benefits of Saunas
There are myriad benefits to using a sauna that go far beyond relaxing your muscles after a workout or having a “good sweat”, and while these are both advantages to spending time in a sauna, there are many more reasons to do so.
Detoxification. Despite our best efforts, we are likely toting around an unhealthy bounty of toxins in our systems. Whether from the water we drink, the food we eat, or the air we breathe, toxins are incredibly pervasive today and any effort we can make to rid our bodies of them is time and effort well spent. One of the best ways to lighten our toxic load is by sweating them out through our body’s largest organ—our skin. Deep sweating doesn’t happen often enough for many of us (myself included!) but a sauna will help promote such sweating, resulting in a reduction of overall toxins—including heavy metals.
Let’s talk about sweating for a moment. I have never been a “heavy sweater” and have often noticed that while on the same hike as Roy, exerting the same effort and at the same pace, he would be drenched in sweat while I might have only a small “glisten” around a few places on my body. I have had other clients share the same thing about themselves over the years. Well, when I began using my new sauna it actually took a few weeks for me to even begin to sweat in there! Sweating and eliminating toxins through perspiration is clearly a wise idea and yet it seems to happen more naturally and effortlessly for some people than others.
Improved Cardiovascular Function & Blood Circulation. When body temperature rises, blood vessels dilate, heart rate increases and blood flow quickens, all resulting in a healthier, cardiovascular experience. Over time and with regular sauna usage, you’ll experience an overall improvement in your cardiovascular function. In fact, many sauna-goers experience an increased heart rate of 30%. Those with high blood pressure also benefit from adding sauna sessions to their weekly repertoire as concentrated heat like this has been proven to lower blood pressure.
Pain Reduction & Muscle Recovery. Because exposure to this degree of heat increases blood flow, it naturally contributes to a more holistic healing process for any aches and pains in joints and muscles. What’s more? The typical buildup of lactic acid that occurs during and after exercise will be eliminated as well – an honest-to-goodness relief for overworked muscles.
Increased Metabolism & Weight Loss. When exposed to the level of heat that typical saunas produce, internal body temperatures can rise to over 100ºF forcing the body to work extra hard to cool down. The result? A whole lot of sweat, a metabolic rate increase of 20%, and the potential for many hundreds of calories burned.
Mind & Body Relaxation. Exposing your body in its most natural form and enduring heat of this kind can actually be a rather meditative experience. I often couple my time in the sauna with a 20-minute meditation.
By silently observing the intricate network of physiological functions taking place—from deep breathing and sweating to a noted flushness in the skin – the mind is given the task of bearing witness to the body at work. Not to mention, sauna and steam heat actually reduce stress hormones and increase endorphins so it wouldn’t be a coincidence if you stepped out of the sauna feeling happier than when you went in!
Types of Saunas
Now that we’ve gone over a few of the more significant benefits of sauna use, let’s take a look at the different types.
Dry Saunas. Most of these produce heat via stones that are heated either by electricity or burning wood. Very low humidity coupled with very high heat – typically between 160ºF and 194ºF.
Wet Saunas. These are heated via rocks as well, the difference being that water must be poured on these rocks to produce immediate steam and raise both the room’s temperature and the humidity level.
Steam Saunas. These produce heat via water and electricity. 100% humidity with a good bit of heat but typically no more than 105ºF as anything more could scald a person’s skin.
Infrared Saunas. Unlike dry, wet, and steam saunas, heat from infrared saunas is produced by infrared light. Infrared light is a naturally occurring element from the sun’s spectrum that travels in three wavelengths – far, mid, or near infrared wavelengths – each having its own healing benefits and level of tissue, muscle, and bone penetration.
The brand that Roy and I bought our in-home sauna system from, Sunlighten, does a wonderful job of explaining each wavelength! Click the hyperlinks below for more of a detailed explanation:
- Near Infrared Energy —best for pain relief, skin renewal, and wound healing.
- Mid Infrared Energy —penetrates deeper into soft tissue than near infrared, these wavelengths increase blood circulation, aid in oxygenation and pain reduction, and reduce inflammation.
- Far Infrared Energy —the deepest level of penetration, these wavelengths improve health at a cellular level and target the deep-seated toxins in the body.
Depending on the benefits and type of climate you’re looking for, there’s a wide range of models to choose from. Here are the two below that we know best. If you have your own sauna and love it, please feel free to comment below and let us know what it is.
Sunlighten Signature® Far-Infrared Sauna —These units use a Solocarbon heater instead of a generic carbon blend heater, to improve overall emissivity—which is what provides the benefits of the far infrared heat. I also liked that these saunas are tested to be virtually free of any EMF (electromagnetic field) emissions and are built using hypoallergenic glues and woods.
From the picture you can see that this is the sauna that we chose— in hypoallergenic basswood. We only had room in our house for the Signature I, which fits only one person at a time. One of my clients purchased her own Signaure I at the same time that we did…and another client just recently purchased the Signature II— the same sauna but large enough for two. This Signature line has saunas that can seat 4 or more, depending on your space!
Sunlighten mPulse 3-in-1 Infrared —As its name implies, this patented Solocarbon 3-in-1® system is the only sauna out there that offers all three infrared wavelengths that are customizable to one another! It comes with an integrated sound system, five different size options, and Android smart tech to help you customize each program to your liking.
This is the sauna that my brother purchased for his home in Florida (and a picture of Mia checking it out over our Thanksgiving visit). I must say that I had a bit of sauna-envy after seeing it 🙂 . In addition to everything mentioned above, it is absolutely a beautiful piece aesthetically, as well as roomy enough for two. My brother loves it!
If you are interested in getting your own in-home sauna, feel free to reach out to me and I am happy to answer any questions.
You can also call and speak directly to Nicole Carlson, my Sunlighten contact, at 913-638-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Please mention Mindful Family Medicine.
Practice Safe Sauna-ing
As enjoyable as a sauna experience can be, it’s important to remember the following when operating and/or spending time in a sauna:
- Don’t use a sauna if you have been drinking alcohol or are taking medications.
- If you are pregnant, it is safer to skip the sauna altogether.
- Drink plenty of water before entering and a good bit after as you will likely dehydrate and lose electrolytes.
- Avoid heavy or large meals before entering.
- Do not wear any jewelry as metals heat up much more quickly and intensely than you will and could result in burns on your skin.
- Don’t be afraid to adjust the temperature to a level you are comfortable with. I recommend starting at a lower temperature for your first few sauna sessions, until your body adjusts.
- If applicable, sit on the lower bench for a cooler experience and the higher bench for more heat.
- Be sure to lay down and sit up slowly as rushed movements can cause faintness.
- Watch the time. Depending on the type of sauna you are using, a reasonable amount of time is usually anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. Always step out sooner if you are feeling nauseous or dizzy.
- Wipe down your sauna after each use.
I always enjoy checking out these newsletters even though we have moved to Philadelphia. We miss Dr. Roy!
If you haven’t tried the Korean Spa then you must. Saunas (both hot and steam) and salt rooms and crystal rooms. The best part is the scrub massage. All so great for detox. Not to mention so incredibly cheap.
(There are a couple in Denver I believe. I used one frequently).
Thanks for all the great info!
My husband was just telling me how he has been looking into saunas and then you sent this! Great info and good to know you have one in your home. I’m sure well be asking Dr. Roy more about it next time we see him.
Feel free to reach out to Roy or I if we can answer any questions. We LOVE ours 🙂