Oh the weather outside is frightful, and I'm slowly stuffing my face with holiday cookies... that's how the song goes, right? Either way, the lyrics are true. The holidays are here, along with cold weather, which means it's time to enjoy gingerbread cookies, hot chocolate, candy canes, and brightly decorated treats.
Once the holidays come to an end, though, we're left feeling a little guilty. Or maybe just a little bloated. We splurge on a way-too-pricey gym membership, we go all-in on a new fad diet... Or if you're me? You decide to hit the sauna.
Not just any sauna. An infrared sauna at ReCOVER NYC, courtesy of Sunlighten. I've always thought of a sauna as something you do after a spa session, or maybe after a particularly hard workout to loosen up your muscles. But infrared saunas have a much trendier reputation. "[Sweating] is a wellness tradition practiced in countries and cultures around the world for hundreds of years," says Candice Bruder, founder of Pure Sweat Sauna Studio in Nashville. "And infrared saunas elevate this to a modern-day, medical level." Medical? Sounds like exactly what I need to combat a high-grade food- and booze-hangover.
My session was set for post-Thanksgiving, which is arguably the most indulgent holiday, food-wise. I wanted to see if this technology could actually help wash away everything I've overdone (and overeaten) during the holiday.
Infrared rays are usual invisible to the human eye. But we can feel them — as heat. I was curious about what makes this kind of heat different from the traditional hot saunas, so Sunlighten put me in touch with Alejandro Junger, MD, a cardiologist based in LA who partners with the infrared sauna company. He said that the rays penetrate your skin's surface more deeply than a traditional sauna. This causes your body's fat molecules to vibrate and release toxins.
Sounds... interesting. Dr. Junger also said that infrared saunas can boost circulation, helping the blood carry toxins to the liver for processing — something I definitely needed after my multiple glasses of pinot grigio during the hors d'oeuvres.
I can't say I noticed any of my fat molecules jiggling around and letting go of all their gravy- and stuffing-laced toxins. Instead, I felt pretty much the same way I feel during a normal sauna session: super hot and super, super sweaty. That makes sense. It was hot. The heat in an infrared sauna raises your core body temperature approximately 2 to 3 degrees for a deep sweat, Dr. Junger told me.
There's no real evidence that sweating itself "detoxifies" your body — your liver and your kidneys do that naturally — but it still feels pretty damn good after an exhausting day (or week, or month, or year), especially during the winter. And I didn't dream up the mood boost. "The exposure of the body to heat does something physiologically that produces some sort of beneficial effect," Stacy D. Hunter, PhD, previously told Refinery29 in a conversation about hot yoga. And, of course, your mental health is just as important during the holiday season as your physical health is.
As for whether my infrared sauna successfully undid all of my holiday indulgence, I can't really say. The 150-degree session relaxed me in a way that's definitely needed post-holiday. To be honest, within a few days of Thanksgiving I was back to my usual routine and I'd mostly forgotten about the bloat. Until the next family party, maybe.