I’m SO very excited about my upcoming sauna therapy appointment that I wanted to share how you too can reap the most benefits from your own sweat session(s)! 


From sauna culture and “sauna diplomacy” to sauna therapy


While summer is not a time where you may be enthused over (or even accustomed to) getting in a hot room, the Finns have a cultural obsession with saunas year round. There exists a tradition of practically living within the confines of a sauna: eating, giving birth (heat and soot provide a nearly sterile environment), and making decisions about state affairs (The Parliament House and consulates have sauna chambers for debates and diplomacy) are all things that have been done. The practical appeal of having a warm dwelling during Scandinavian winters is undeniable; however, saunas play an important role in wellbeing independent of the seasons. 


The goal of my sauna “journey” later this week is to relax my mind and body after a hectic month, so that I am better equipped to make some important choices. If government officials can calmly negotiate with foreign heads of state in upwards of 127 C (260 F) heat, then surely, I can battle with my own inner thoughts and leave with more mental clarity. Plus, the physiological act of sweating supports the release of emotions, be it anxiety or excitement!


Still not convinced? Your body produces more heat-shock proteins overtime with acclimatization to hotter temperatures, which not only protects you from oxidative damage but also helps you cope better day-to-day without air conditioning.  


What is the best type of sauna? 


During my visit to “BC’s largest sauna centre”, I will not only be enjoying a traditional Finnish sauna but also seven other thermal rooms, some of which are infused with aromatherapy and ionized minerals. 


Humidity, ventilation, temperature, heat source, and steam will vary depending on the type of sauna you choose. Dry saunas tend to run hotter than steam saunas as water carries heat in and out of the body 25X faster than air, i.e. water is a better conductor of heat. It also happens to be a better conductor of sound, so be sure to keep your voice low when sharing secrets in the steam room! In fact, many renowned saunas and hydrotherapy centres have a zero-talking policy to create a more peaceful environment. 


A note on infrared saunas: An infrared sauna uses light to gently warm you from the inside instead of heating your surroundings like a traditional sauna. The average infrared wavelength, especially far infrared (FIR), has low penetration and won’t dramatically alter the temperature of either your body or the room air so you feel comfortable longer. Some hot yoga studios even offer classes inside a FIR room! Infrared saunas tend to pre-heat more quickly and are less expensive to run owing to their lower temperatures, 45 – 77 C (113 – 170 F) vs. 70 – 100 C (158 – 212 F), and compact technology. It is a good choice for portable home units; also the most affordable approach to deep-acting repeat sauna therapy.  


Should I be bare naked?


Due to local customs, North American saunas are typically not clothing optional, even though it is quite the opposite in many saunas around the globe. Throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, going “textile-free” is not only the norm but done for health and hygiene reasons (e.g., chlorine trapped in swimwear causes toxic fumes). In other countries, bathing in the nude (while often but not always seperated by sex or accompanied by a bath wrap or small towel) is seen as the only way that every part of the body can be properly cleansed. It is a best practice to sauna naked as clothing traps toxin-filled sweat against the body. Further, it is recommended to have a clean towel or specially designed disposable tissue between you and porous surfaces like wood or fabric to, again, prevent reabsorption of sweat and also possible damage to any of the sauna’s components. 


While your bare skin may yield the greatest benefits from the sauna, you may want to consider donning a sauna hat (made of wool or felt) to protect your hair and head and prevent premature feelings of light-headedness and damage to your locks. 


Making the most of your experience, while playing it safe!


With any physical activity, it’s important to warm up and cool down your body. Always start and end your sauna journey by washing / showering.  Sit in a lower temperature sauna or hot tub for 10-15 min. to see how your body is tolerating the heat before graduating to more hard-core treatments. The ideal duration and extent of treatment are determined by your health, vitality, and individual tolerability.  When you’ve reached a comfortable limit, it’s important to allow your body to cool down by jumping into a body of cool water or taking a cold shower. The contrast effect of alternating temperatures is especially powerful for stimulating circulation and expediting recovery from injuries and local infections. This cycle of long-hot short-cold can be repeated as many times as desired, but you may find yourself reaching a point of diminishing returns after 6-8 cycles and feeling rather tired. Thus, most centres have rest areas, a lounge or even a solarium with daybeds that you can access anytime you need to check-in with yourself. 


With certain acute conditions and diseases, including but not limited to colds, flus, and infections of any kind; cancer; cardiovascular disease and circulatory disorders: high / low blood pressure, thrombophlebitis, hypercoagulation, varicose veins; pregnancy; and skin problems: dermatosis like erythema multiforme, hives, and eczema), sauna therapy must be approached with caution and adjustments. Please consult your healthcare provider prior to starting a course of sauna therapy. 


Looking for more information on saunas and other ways to support detoxification? 


Please watch my Facebook Live Masterclass: Sauna therapy — What your sweat says about you. A sauna (or any kind of sweat session) a day can help keep ill health at bay. 


In health and solidarity,
Dr. Vanessa