Is Gwyneth Paltrow onto something? Can you really sweat away your problems and live a healthier life?
No, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but as I count down to the end of lockdown, one of the top things I’m looking forward to doing, is being able to go sit in a tiny, dark box and sweat it out for half an hour.
Yes, while the house feels like it’s getting smaller by the day (and the neighbours feel like they’re somehow inching closer), I’ve been dreaming of wide open spaces, but also of visiting an infrared sauna – a dark, quiet, wardrobe-sized contraption, with the temperature dialed up to a slow bake.
I’ll agree that it sounds like hell, but it’s actually quite delightful. It’s half an hour of absolute silence (bar the soothing Qi Gong music my spa plays), with no distractions, no phones – just a delicious cocoon of warmth.
Infrared saunas differ to your regular kind in that they don’t require the same heat – most recommend a temperature between 40-60 degrees. The idea is that instead of using air to heat the body, infrared saunas use light, which heats from within.
Now, Gwyneth Paltrow and her pals say they’re also possible of causing all kinds of mysterious medical magic – including detoxifying the body of hard metals and nasties that are otherwise near-on impossible to purge from your system. But it’s important I point out here that although I didn’t find Gwyneth’s Goop Lab series at all offensive, I’ve also found very little in the way of scientific proof to back up any of these claims about infrared saunas.
Most medical practitioners point out that it’s the liver and kidneys that do all the heavy lifting in the detoxification process, and although it’s possible to sweat out chemicals and hard metals like copper, lead and nickel – it’s in minute, trace amounts. The consensus is that if you somehow have a build-up of those heavy metals in your system, relying on sweat alone to release them is not advisable.
Personally, all science aside, I find they just make me feel better. I figure that’s more than enough reason to keep going back.
I came across them about five years ago after I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease – hashimotos thyroiditis – and was furiously searching the internet every day for suggestions on how to feel better. Had someone suggested that swallowing fur balls would relieve the fatigue, aches, pains and constant feeling of being freezing cold, I likely would have given it a go. My fellow hashi friend Sam sent me a message she was getting some results (thanks, Sam!) so I googled locations in Auckland and booked in for that evening.
The first time I tried it I certainly wasn’t convinced. I started off with a 20 minute session and absolutely nothing happened – not a single bead of sweat. But I gave it a few more tries, built up the duration and by go three I was a relaxed, sweaty and content convert. For me, they reduce stress and I feel they improve my circulation, ease muscle and joint aches – I swear they even make my skin clearer. It could be nothing more than the fact I’m clearing my mind, fully relaxing, and feeling wonderfully warm for half an hour, but if that’s all the magic it is, it’s enough for me.
I was trying them in junction with many other lifestyle interventions, so I can’t give them full credit, but I knew my health was really improving when I started walking to my appointments, instead of driving.
I’ve since recommended them to friends suffering different kinds of ailments from fatigue, migraines to other AI diseases, and have had rave reviews, a couple of unconvinced, and a few who never said how they got on, so I can only assume they hated it and just don’t want to tell me. But, if you love feeling warm, relaxed and energised – particularly in the depths of winter, I’d urge you to give them a go. And feel free to tell me how you go – I promise I won’t be offended. I’ll likely be too warm and relaxed to be bothered.