The Health Benefits of Saunas and What You Might Be Doing Wrong
Saunas and sweat lodges developed independently in very diverse cultures, from Finland to Native America to Russia and beyond. People have promoted sweating throughout the world for many reasons, including health maintenance, detoxification, and spiritual rituals. Indeed, the health benefits of saunas are numerous.
Today saunas and steam rooms are still popular places to relax and revitalize, seen by many as an opportunity to rid the body of toxins by sweating them out. But this is only part of the picture.
First off, it has to be mentioned that inducing a sweat isn’t good for everyone. People who are thin or frail, have a history of fainting or dizziness, have very low or high blood-pressure, and/or those who already sweat easily may not benefit from the fluid depletion that is inherent in sauna usage. Sauna’s should not be used during pregnancy or menstruation. There is also concern for growing children who may find high-heat detrimental to their well-being. Generally, sauna’s should not be used by children younger than 14 years of age.
Lastly, saunas should not be used more than once a week. This is because sweat is related to the Heart in Chinese medicine, and excessive sweating can deplete Heart energy, potentially leading to insomnia, restlessness, palpitations, and other dis-harmonies throughout the body and mind.
When saunas are discussed, detoxification is the first, and often only, benefit that’s mentioned by enthusiasts. But when it comes to the health benefits of saunas, detoxification is actually a secondary benefit, while surface stimulation is the most important one. Unfortunately, most people who go to the sauna neglect some very important steps to enhance the opening and closing of the pores and therefore only reap partial benefits.
Our bodies are miraculous machines. We are assaulted by germs and viruses everywhere, and even cancers cells are produced and eradicated on a daily basis. Yet most of us aren’t sick all the time. This is because our bodies inherently know how to stay balanced and fight off disease.
Thus, if an individual eats a fairly balanced diet and exercises on a regular basis, there is usually no need for detoxification except in acute cases, like the onset of a cold or flu. Notwithstanding, it’s a good idea to take advantage of every opportunity we have to boost our immune response, especially in times of extreme temperatures. When it’s cold outside, correct sauna protocol that focuses on the surface of the body is especially pertinent.
How to take full advantage of your sauna experience: When you first enter the sauna it feels pleasantly warm, but after a few minutes you start to feel hot, sometimes even to the point of discomfort. If you feel at all dizzy, short of breath, or anxious please leave the sauna as it probably isn’t right for you. But if you just feel really hot, start brushing, lightly scratching, or tapping your skin on your arms, legs, belly, and back. Pretty soon you’ll start sweating and your body will cool slightly. When you start sweating it means your pores are open and the blood is at the surface, which is a great mechanism for toxins to leave your body. You can stay in the sauna as long or as briefly as you like after you start sweating.
But then comes the important part:
When you leave the sauna it is absolutely necessary to immerse yourself in cold water in order to close your pores back up and reinforce your body’s natural defense mechanism.
Think of it as boot-camp for your immune-system. This is especially important in the fall and winter months when cold winds can more easily attack your body and throw it off-balance, making you more susceptible to becoming sick. It may not sound pleasant, but after a few times you’ll get used to it and you’ll feel great afterward.
When you immerse yourself in cold water after sweating in the sauna, you are also guiding the blood that came to the surface in the heat back into the core of your body, so you will actually lose less heat, stay warmer longer, and keep your vital organs happy and functioning at the same time. You can then relax outside of the sauna for about the same amount of time you were in sauna as your body prepares itself for another round. Feel free to enjoy a warm foot-bath or wear cozy socks while you lounge to keep your feet warm. Three rounds are typical for the sauna ritual, but you can increase or reduce this as you like.
How to mimic a sauna at home:
When time and money are limited you can still train your body’s defenses at home. To do this, take a very hot shower or bath and brush your skin to stimulate the blood to the surface and induce sweating. Then immerse yourself in very cold water to bring the blood back to the core. If you still feel cold you can finish with a quick warm rinse and still gain the benefits.
Did you like this article? Sign-up for the wellness newsletter and be the first to read new articles on Della Terra Wellness. Also, when you subscribe, you’ll get a free interactive health calendar!
Latest posts by Katerina Pozzi (see all)
- How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food Through the Holidays - November 25, 2013
- Signs You are Suffering from Burnout (And What to Do About It) - November 17, 2013
- Weight Loss Shouldn’t Be Your Goal - October 20, 2013