Benefits of infrared sauna therapy

This post has been a LONG time coming! I first posted about infrared sauna therapy on Instagram months ago and immediately received a ton of questions - what is it? what are the benefits? AND (mostly) where can I experience this myself?

I'll try to answer these questions here + share a bit more about what to expect if you choose to try infrared sauna yourself! Alright, let's get right to it!

What is infrared sauna therapy?

Infrared saunas use heat and light to relax and detoxify the body. These saunas omit infrared light waves that create heat in the body, causing you to sweat and release stored toxins.

What are the benefits of infrared sauna therapy?

In addition to helping your body release stored toxins, infrared saunas can help you lose weight, relax, relieve unwanted pain, increase your circulation, and purify your skin. The biggest researched benefit seems to be the coronary benefits, most notably in their ability to help normalize blood pressure and reduce the chance of congestive heart failure.

Are all saunas the same?

There are three different levels of infrared sauna: near, middle, and far. These different levels represent the different sizes in infrared wavelengths and refer to the intensity of the treatment. Most people find that:

  • near-infrared levels are best for wound healing and increased immune function
  • middle-infrared levels are best for increasing circulation and promoting muscle relaxation
  • far-infrared levels are used primarily for detoxification purposes

In addition to the different infrared wavelength size, there are two different physical types of saunas: a sauna room and a sauna bed. I'm going to briefly cover what you can expect with each of these experiences.

Before you go...

I think this goes without saying but it would be irresponsible of me not to emphasize it: You need to be well hydrated, well rested and properly fed before heading to either the sauna room or sauna bed. Think of it as you would a workout - drink plenty of fluids before your session and make sure you've eaten something solid. You'll also want to give yourself time after to re-fuel (both food + liquids) and recover (i.e. don't plan drinks with your girlfriends for 30 minutes after your appointment).

What to expect - sauna room

What to wear: bathing suit or your birthday suit ;)

How long to stay in: Varies - usually you start between 15-30 minutes and can work your way up to an hour.

My experience: I visited the HigherDOSE sauna at ABC Carpet and Home in NYC. The "room" itself was pretty tiny - I booked with a friend and we were both surprised at the size of the sauna (barely big enough for us both to sit comfortably - you could definitely not lay down). I did appreciate that the door and part of the ceiling of the sauna room was glass - this made it feel less cramped, but if you are claustrophobic this may not be the option for you.

Once I got in, I started sweating pretty quickly. I stayed in for 30 minutes and while I was definitely hot, I was not uncomfortable and felt like I could have lasted longer. Afterwards, I felt good, like I had just had a few hours in the sun (which was wonderful considering it was the dead of winter in NYC!). My skin was glowing and I slept super soundly that evening.

What to expect - sauna bed

What to wear: comfortable, breath-able clothing that covers your skin (i.e. cotton leggings, socks and a long sleeved shirt).

How long to stay in: 55 minutes. According to Shapehouse (where I've done all my infrared sauna bed sweats), this is the ideal amount of time for this treatment because 45 minutes is the absolute minimum time and after 55 minutes you don't see any increase in benefits.

My experience: I visited Shapehouse in LA for my sauna bed session. After changing into my sweat clothes (Shapehouse provides a set of clothes or you can bring your own), an attendant took me back to my bed. The sauna bed is sort of like a sleeping bag set up on a massage table. The attendant helped "tuck" me in and set me up - adjusting the headrest, asked me if I needed support under my knees, anything to make sure I was comfortable. She also helped me find a show to watch (at Shapehouse each bed has it's own TV with everything from HBO to Netflix).

The first half of the session was quite pleasant - I felt warm but not super hot, and I was watching TV! Fun! Probably around 35 or 40 minutes, things got a little more intense. I could feel myself sweating more, and even felt my heart beat increase (which I read is totally normal). 10 minutes before the session was over, the attendant came back in with a cool lavender towel which she placed on my forehead. These last 10 minutes were hard - I was VERY hot and feeling pretty worn out. It's recommended that you stay in the bed the whole time, but I was told I could take my arms out of the bed if I needed a little break.

After my time was up, the attendant was back and took me to the "Relax room" where I was given tea and orange slices and had a chance to cool down. I felt like I had done a hard workout, which was great since all I had done was watch TV for an hour! Ha! That day and the next few days, I noticed that my body felt more toned, lighter even, and my skin was visibly brighter and clearer.

Are there risks?

From my research, there are no major risks if you are in good health. That being said, if you do have a health condition or take certain medications, you may want to talk to your doctor before booking your sauna session. Also, sweating is not recommended for pregnant women.

The bottom line

I love infrared sauna therapy. I prefer the beds, but see benefits from both types and definitely want to continue this fun form of self-care moving forward.

 

 

Where I sweat:
HigherDOSE // NYC
Shapehouse // LA
PORTABLE SAUNA // At home

 

Want to learn more?

Here are a few articles I found helpful in doing my research:

- Why Sweat? - Shapehouse

- Health Benefits of Saunas - Wellness Mama

- Why Infrared? - HigherDOSE

- Infrared Sauna Treatment - Dr. Axe

 

WHEW! That was a lot. I hope that this blog post answered your questions and helped you understand a little bit more about infrared saunas. Now I want to hear from you - have you tried an infrared sauna bed or room? Did you enjoy the experience? If you haven't tried it yet, is this something you're interested in doing in the future? Let me know in the comments below!

Hood to Coast Race Recap [+ what I ate!!]

Exactly one month ago I embarked on one of the most amazing experiences of my life (dramatic, I know, but so true) - I ran the Hood to Coast relay race. This race came at the tail end of my Summer of 2016 Epic Adventure {read more on some of that here!} and it was the icing on the cake, the peak of the mountain, the part of my trip that stands out more than anything else.

The group before we started - our team name was 'Put a Bib on It'

The group before we started - our team name was 'Put a Bib on It'

WHAT is HOOD TO COAST?

Hood to Coast is an overnight, long-distance relay race held in Oregon, annually in late August, traditionally on the Friday and Saturday before the Labor Day weekend. Teams of 12 run a total of approximately 200 miles starting at Mt. Hood and ending at the Oregon coastal town of Seaside (hence the name Hood to Coast).

WHY RUN HTC?

Everyone has their own reasons for running the race, mine is simple: the opportunity presented itself to me and the timing seemed almost serendipitous. My friend Erika texted me one day asking if I would have any interest in running this race. I had already planned to spend the month of August on the west coast so it seemed like perfect timing and when else was I going to get this opportunity???

Van#2 all decked out and ready to go!

Van#2 all decked out and ready to go!

HOW does it WORK?

This is the question I was still asking the night before the race began. I had never run a relay race before and literally had no idea what to expect (and... had not done my homework... whoops!). Here's the breakdown of how the race actually works:

- The course is divided into 36 legs, ranging from 3-8 miles. Each person on the team is assigned a number that corresponds to your lineup on the team and this determines which legs you will run. For example, I was #12 so I ran legs 12, 24, and 36 (yep! I got to cross the finish line. So cool!). The team is then split into two vans of 6 people (#1-6 in one van, and #7-12 in the second van). 

- Van 1 begins the race. They drop #1 at the starting line and then hop in the van and drive to the first handoff point, where runner #2 will hop out, grab the "baton" (which is really a slap bracelet) from runner #1. Runner #2 will take off on their course, runner #1 will get in the van, and the van will head to the next handoff point to do it again.

- In the meantime, Van #2 is chilling out, awaiting their time to race. Van #2 will meet Van #1 at the end of runner #6's leg. The first runner from Van #2 will grab the slap bracelet from runner #6, and then Van #2 is off. Runner #6 will hop into Van #1 and then Van #1 has a few hours to rest (shower/eat/foam roll/etc... sleep really didn't happen).

- This leap frogging continues to the finish line where the whole team will meet runner #12 (that was me!) at the end of leg 36 and cross over the finish together, which is along the beach in Seaside, Oregon.

- This whole process takes anywhere from 18 (SUPER fast) to 38 hours [see 2016 results here] and there's a huge party at the end. Most teams spend the night in Seaside, and then drive back to Portland (or wherever they are going) the next day.

- Another note: There is a waved start, which means not every team starts at the same time. The slower teams begin first (early Friday AM) and the faster teams have a later start (into the afternoon on Friday). This way, teams all end within a few hours. For reference, my team started at 1:15PM on Friday afternoon and we ended around that same time on Saturday.

Leg #1 ready to rock - headlamp, reflective vest and all!

Leg #1 ready to rock - headlamp, reflective vest and all!

WHEN and HOW FAR did YOU run?

The total distance, difficulty and timing of your legs depends on your leg assignment (your runner #), your teams start time, and how fast your team runs.

Like I mentioned above, I was runner #12 and my team started around 1:15PM on Friday afternoon. I also had a *very fast* team (on average we ran 7:15 minute miles for this race). As a result, here's how far and when I ran:

- Leg #12 / 6.4 miles / Difficulty = Medium / 8:30 PM Friday night

- Leg #24 / 4.87 miles / Difficulty = Easy / 5:00 AM Saturday morning

- Leg #36 / 5.19 miles / Difficulty = Medium / 12:30 PM Saturday afternoon

Different people had different challenges with their legs - someone ran 5 miles in blazing mid-afternoon heat, someone ran 7 miles on dusty back roads at 2AM. Someone had 6 miles all up hill. Someone had 3 miles straight down hill. There were many more factors than just the difficulty of the leg itself that contributed to an individual's race difficulty level as a whole.

Feeling sassy/tired between legs #2 and #3

Feeling sassy/tired between legs #2 and #3

HOW did you FEEL?

ALL the FEELINGS. HA!

Yes, I was exhausted. Yes, I doubted my ability to finish strong. Yes, my digestive system hated me for part of the race. But really, most of the time I felt amazing. We felt great as a team, we pumped each other up before each start, we congratulated each other with GUSTO at each finish, and we encouraged each other in between legs to rest, to fuel properly, to let our bodies (and our minds) recover as best we could.

Ah... so that brings up the question...

All the healthy snacks!

All the healthy snacks!

WHAT did you EAT?

You are probably not surprised to hear that I was the official snack-master of our van. Before starting up, we stocked up on healthy, nutrient dense, easy to digest foods like nut butter, fruit, whole foods bars, trail mix, hard boiled eggs and YES chocolate. We also had ALL the hydration options: coconut water, chocolate coconut water (tastes like chocolate milk), water, all natural electrolyte drinks, more water and cold brew coffee (we took shots before our legs for a little energy boost!).

Here's exactly what I ate before and during the race {to the BEST of my memory}:

FRIDAY

Pre-race - Lunch time smoothie with bananas, almond butter, protein powder, and greens; late afternoon "snack" of a kale salad with tempeh (keep in mind that I wasn't running my first leg until 8:30/9PM).

7PM / Fuel / This "phat fudge"

8:30PM RUN

10PM / Refuel / Smoothie with banana, coconut water, protein powder {we were lucky enough to have a break in Portland and one of my van mates lives there so we showered and rested at her apartment, and I made smoothies ;) ).

Electrolyte drink + lots of water, chocolate covered almonds

SATURDAY

3:30AM / Fuel / Almond butter sandwich on gluten free bread + cold brew coffee

5AM RUN

6:30AM / Re-fuel / 2 hard boiled eggs, and then a little later an Rx Chocolate Sea Salt bar (egg whites, nuts, dates)

Electrolyte drink + lots of water, tea, probably a few more chocolate covered almonds

10:30AM / Fuel / Banana + this weird bulletproof coffee shot

12:30 PM RUN + FINISH!!

2PM / Re-fuel / Water, beer (a rare occurrence for me!), salad with double veggie burger

The whole team met me to cross the finish line together!

The whole team met me to cross the finish line together!

WHAT did you LEARN?

Oh, so much. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom:

- You are stronger than you know. I did not train for this race, and honestly my running has been on the back burner for the past year or two. That being said, I still managed to run, and run fast - I surprised myself at what I was capable of. And this made me realize that sometimes we need to push ourselves a little harder than we are used to in order to realize our potential, and grow!

- A support system is crucial. I 100% would not have finished without my team. They were in my head cheering me on when legs got tough or I wanted to slow down. This has carried forward into my running post-race - when I'm feeling un-motivated or just bleh I text or call one of them and *boom* instant support and motivation.

- Just keep going. One foot in front of the other may be all you can focus on but just keep going [applicable to pretty much all challenging situations].

We did it!

We did it!

 

WHEW, that was a lot. I hope this post was interesting for you.

Now I want to know - have you ever run a relay race or participated in a similar group fitness challenge? Or maybe you have considered doing something like this before? I'd love to hear your thoughts or personal experience in the comments below.

 

Workout Review: FHITting Room NYC

Want a high intensity workout that won't totally kill ya? Fhitting Room is the place to go! In my opinion, this workout is a step down from Tonehouse but still super intense in a totally different way. It is more self directed (and everyone is doing things at their own pace) so if you want to slow down or ease up on yourself, you can.

Here's my recap of the FHITing Room experience:

The space: [I've visited the Flatiron location] Big, bright lobby. Friendly front desk staff who will point out studio ammenities if its your first time. Room is more like a group fitness studio you would find at a gym - mirrors on one wall, other walls are home to the various equipment. Bright lights, clean. This location has another, smaller studio downstairs, as well as multiple bathrooms and showers (complete with lush bath products)

The workout: Warm up - jumping jacks, lunges, etc. Some with weights, some without.

Next up is circuit work. The class is split up into groups that rotate through different exercises. Rowing + skier machines are used, as well as TRX resistance bands, boxes (for lunging and jumping. Fun!), and a Fhitting Room signature: kettlebells!

Fhix: The final portion of the workout is a 'FHIX' - a series of exercises that you complete at your own pace (you are given a number of reps to complete). This may be more burpees, lunges, squats, ab work, kettlebells, or whatever! But it definitely pushes your heart rate up and ends the class on a strong note.

The last few minutes of the class are left for stretching and cool down.

The instructors: Two coaches in every class so you will get personalized attention. Like Tonehouse these instructors are TOP notch. They are more accommodating here and will come give you assurance or easier variations of movements if they see you are struggling.

Overall: I love this workout because it challenges me, but doesn't scare me. It's hard, but not I-think-I'm-going-to-throw-up hard. And I know that as I come back again and again, I will get stronger, and I'll be able to take it up each time by selecting heavier weights or pushing myself to do more reps, go faster.

Workout Review: Tonehouse NYC

Without a doubt Tonehouse is the hardest workout I've ever done. You may ask yourself multiple times throughout the workout if you will make it (you will) if you will throw up (you might). You will leave with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, and perhaps a new friend or two.

Here's my recap of the Tonehouse experience:

The space: Dark, red lights, minimalist. Simple desk for check-in at front, but basically the workout space is the whole space. There is a bathroom and water fountain, but no locker rooms or showers.

The workout: Think high school sports conditioning. Before we officially began, there was a pump-up huddle (which explains why this workout reminds me of team sports!). Then, the warm up: sprints, ladder drills, agility work. Some say that this is hardest part of class - I don't necessarily agree. Yes, it gets your blood pumping, but in my opinion not the hardest part.

After the warm up, we had a quick break for water, then back to it! We started with more sprints, relay type work, and what in my opinion is the hardest exercise in the class: the gallop. Even the strongest, fittest of the group struggle with this - it's just that intense. Quick tip: think very, very hard about what you choose to consume the morning (or evening) before this workout. There's a good chance it may resurface.

From there, we moved into work with the TRX bands - lunges, planks, ab work and more.

The final portion of class was a circle agility drill of sorts - we all circled up and then did whatever the coach called out: planks, squats, burpees, side shuffles, etc. At this point my body was so exhausted and it took all my focus to keep my body moving as each exercise was called out.

We ended with a few minutes of stretching plus one final group huddle. Despite how worn out everyone was, we were elated to be done, and proud of what we had accomplished. The "team" spirit is a big part of the workout, which is cultivated by the intensity of the class, but also by the awesome coaches.

The instructors: These coaches are incredible. They will not let you off the hook even if you are struggling, but instead will push you (in the most supportive way possible) to finish.

Overall: I will go back. Maybe not every week, but every so often when I need a kick ass workout that leaves me feeling challenged, accomplished, and sore!