Why Infrared Saunas Are SO Hot Right Now
Wellness buzz is a tricky thing: on one hand, can you ever have too much information about being healthy? Then, of course, there's the GOOP health/wellness/insanity factor, which can make you feel inferior, under-informed, and, well, slightly crazy (because, well, jade eggs are not a good idea, ever). I'm a firm believer in walking that fine line between hippie-kooky natural health awareness and also really enjoying things like red meat, wine and ice cream.
I practice yoga, care about the health of my pelvic floor, and have a full spectrum of adaptogens in my morning arsenal. Which is to say — I pay attention to "wellness." So when I kept hearing about infared saunas from a few of my well-informed health/wellness touchstones (trainer Amanda Kloots, go-to health site Well + Good, and the kick-ass gals at Sky Ting Yoga, to name a few), it seemed worth investigating.
While a regular dry sauna just cranks the heat to a super-hot 200+ degrees to encourage an intense sweat session, infared rays heat up your core body temperature using light rays that penetrate your skin cells and heat you from within — so you don't feel as hot, but you're definitely toasty. According to Higher Dose, an boutique NYC-based infared sauna spa, infared rays produce sweat that is 20% toxins, as opposed to the 3% toxins that result after a session in a traditional heated sauna. The "Dose" in Higher Dose stands for dopamine, oxytocin, seratonin and endorphins, all chemicals which the body supposedly produces during an infared light session, which can result in a sense of euphoria (hence "Higher Dose").
So you feel amazing, don't have to get quite so hot, and also shed tons of bad stuff that your body is harboring? Sign me up. I'm normally a steam room kind of girl, but the promise of a more tolerable heat made me more amped up to try it. Located underneath The Alchemists's Kitchen, a vegan hippie haven on the Lower East Side, Higher Dose is a sleek subterranean spa with four infared cabin suites that boast AV jacks for personalized music and medical-grade LED chromatherapy lamps, which are used for everything from accelerating wound healing and pain management to cosmetic benefits like the reduction of the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.
Chromatherapy lights provide pretty, ambient lighting within Higher Dose's infared saunas.
Ready with a beautiful, moody album to listen to (Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree), and an open mind as to what the experience would actually be like, I locked myself into my private sauna room for my 45-minute session, disrobed, and entered the small en-suite sauna cabin. There was an immediate difference in the way the heat felt in comparision to a typical dry sauna — I wasn't slammed by it upon entering, instead it felt super-warm (but not paralyzingly so).
Settling down onto the small wooden bench with tunes swirling around me and a purple LED glow above my head (chosen for its calming, tranquil properties) I felt calm — meditative almost. It took about eight minutes to feel sweaty, and while it's hard to describe how this type of sweat felt different from, say, a spin class sweat sesh or a dry sauna, the sensation was more of my body actually producing these droplets from within as opposed to as a result of the external temperature. It didn't feel like the gross, sweaty torture of an un-airconditioned subway car; rather it was like I was being exorcised from deep within me. That sounds weird, but it felt good.
As the minutes ticked on, I started to feel really warm — by 35 minutes, I was ready to cool off. Stepping out of the suana stall felt like a slight relief, but whoa, it was still warm. Toweling off and attempting to re-dress was tricky (they suggest wearing loose-fitting clothing to make dressing a bit easier), as I felt tacky and still like I was generating tons of heat and sweat. Making sure to sip a whole glass of water after I left the sauna suite was key in helping me feel grounded, and I actually felt kind of buzzy afterward — like I had run really hard and fast on the treadmill or done some crazy intense cardio.
Two hours post-sauna, my skin was really vibrant and glowy, even sans-makeup. I felt energized and calm, and my body felt really good — not stiff or achy, which tends to be a common complaint. Was it from the heat? Was it just the result of taking 45 minutes for myself to get calm and centered? I'm thinking it's a cocktail of both, but the heat experience was really, really great and left me feeling inherently healthy, which is the ultimate goal. The verdict? Infared saunas offer a super fun (and legal) way to get high on endorphins without lifting a finger, which is always a plus in my book.