Health Benefits of a Sauna

One of America’s foremost naturopaths, Dr. John R. Christopher, understood the importance of sweat baths (saunas) to release toxins from the body. He said, “One of the most important procedures … are the sweat baths. These will bring the poisons out of the body, wonderfully. There are various types of (sweat) baths, and these are all very valuable, very invigorating and health-giving.”  

What is a Sauna?

Simply stated, a sauna is the process of submitting the body to extremes of heat and cold; a sweating period followed by a cool-down period.   Saunas have become very popular, but many Americans may be missing out on most of its health benefits by doing it incorrectly. Unless you come from a country where saunas are prevalent, or have been instructed in their proper use, you may not know how to use one correctly.   The first thing to understand is that a sauna is not a weight-loss program. If you do lose a few pounds, it is only due to heavy sweating, but the increase in metabolism is not enough to cause true weight reduction. However, do not be dismayed! There are many wonderful health benefits that can be obtained from using the sauna on a regular basis.  

If you are new to the sauna experience  

Newcomers to the sauna may find it a little uncomfortable at first, particularly the burning sensation that occurs when you try to breathe through your nose, if you are using a dry heat sauna. Until you adjust, try breathing slowly through your mouth. Also, be aware that the higher up you are in the sauna room, the hotter the air will be. If it becomes too uncomfortable the first time, you can move to a lower level (if you are on the top bench), or you can stay in it a shorter amount of time. If you can, though, it is best to stay until you at least being to perspire.   There are other types of saunas, such as steam saunas and far-infrared (FIR) saunas. In opinion of this author, the FIRS are the best type because they also have a specific health benefit on the muscles and internal organs. These units are used in hospitals and other medical settings.  

What a sauna will do for you

  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Reduce colds and flu·
  • Give younger-looking skin·
  • Improve sleep
  • Detoxify the body by releasing heavy metals from the body
  • Relieve chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis and hay fever (regular sauna users have fewer respiratory tract infections)
  • Help regulate high blood pressure
  • Improve and heal acne and other related skin problems
  • Reduce muscle pain and tension
  • Help improve blood circulation
  • Strengthen the cardiovascular system
  • Ease joint pain and stiffness (without toxic side-effects)
  • Relax muscles and increases flexibility
  • Relieve pain
  • Deep cleanse skin
  • Remove toxins and mineral waste
  • Burn calories
  • Reduce stress and fatigue
  • Lift depression
  • Help balance the psyche and emotions·
  • Provide a deep, total-body cleansing
  • Improve circulation

Equipment you will need

  • The sauna – Public saunas are not bad, but if you are able, it is far better to install one in your own home. Home saunas are affordable and one need not worry about picking up some bug from someone else’s sweat. An in-home sauna is also so much more convenient that you will undoubtedly use it more often. Consider the cost as an investment in your good health.
  • A very small bikini (if it is a public sauna). Your birthday suit works best, though, and is another good reason for installing your own sauna in your own home.
  • A body brush. These can be obtained from most health stores.
  • Shower shoes (for public sauna use) and access to a shower. Shower shoes are not needed if you have your own sauna at home. The shower afterwards is a very important part of the sauna experience. It cools you down quickly (keep in mind the principle of hydrotherapy) and rinses off the toxic-laden sweat your body has just produced.

How the sauna causes the body to detoxify  

The blood stream is composed of about half water and half cells. When you sweat, some of the water is removed and the blood gets thicker. The body then tries to maintain the balance in the blood by drawing water from the cells. As it does this, toxins are also pulled from the cells and the detoxification process begins. Once the toxins are in the blood stream, they will be delivered to the excretion organs-the liver and kidneys. About an hour after the sauna, the balance (homeostasis) is regained, whether you drink water or not. However, if you drink water during the sauna, it goes into the blood stream very quickly, which means that intra-cellular water is not needed and therefore the detoxification process is undermined.  

Things to Do When Using the Sauna

  • Remove all jewelry, as metal heats up quickly and can burn you
  • Do all of your exercising before you use the sauna, not after
  • Use a body brush to dry-brush your entire body before the sauna. This will promote faster sweating and stimulate your lymphatic system.
  • Make use of the restroom facilities prior to using the sauna
  • Spend 6 -15 minutes in the sauna. It is best to lie down, if possible. In any case, do not sit with your feet hanging down.
  • Use the second bench (or third, if there is one)
  • Relax, close your eyes. If some areas of your skin (such as elbows or shins) get too hot because they do not perspire, use your hands to move some perspiration from other areas.
  • After the time is up, take a cold shower (getting wet from the feet up) and spend an equal amount of time drying off, cooling down and relaxing. You may want to wear a robe so you don’t get chilled.
  • Repeat the above process at least 2 times–3 times if you can spare the time
  • Taking the sauna in your birthday suit (naked) is best, but for the public sauna, wear the smallest bikini or bathing trunks (made of light unlined cotton) that you can find. Or, you could wrap yourself loosely in a bath towel. A full bathing suit will trap the heat next to your body, which will hinder evaporation and your body will heat up too much under the clothing
  • Drink water to replenish the fluids after the sauna.
  • Eat lightly afterwards
  • If you can work in a full body massage afterwards, so much the better. You’ll want to drink plenty of water after the body massage.

Things Not to Do When Using the Sauna

  • Drink water during the sauna as it undermines the detoxification process
  • Go into the sauna with a wet body or wet swimsuit (you will not start to sweat until the moisture has evaporated).
  • Talk, read or exercise during the sauna
  • Dangle your legs over the edge of the bench. It is best to lie down, if possible. Dangling the legs over the edge causes blood to flow to the legs and collect there
  • Skip the cold water shower afterwards. This is import for several reasons.
  • Use a hot tub between or after a sauna session
  • Exercise after the sauna

 Do not use the sauna if you have:

  • Advanced arteriosclerotic conditions
  • Acute inflammatory arthritis
  • Acute infectious diseases, including tuberculosis
  • Cancer and other malignant degenerative problems
  • Uncontrolled circulatory or heart conditions
  • Extremely low blood pressure
  • Epilepsy or other seizure disorders
  • Serious liver or kidney problems
  • Advanced thyroid dysfunction (hyper or hypo)
  • Angina pectoris
  • Recent heart attack
  • Extreme acne vulgaris, eczema and open boils (in public sauna)

What Type of Sauna is Best?  

Many saunas utilize an electric heater. Sometimes rocks are piled up around the heater element to help retain heat. The rocks also can be doused occasionally with water to temporarily increase the humidity. The temperature inside is usually kept around 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This type of sauna usually takes an hour or two before it is ready for use and is probably the most expensive to use in terms of the use of electricity.  

The whole point of the sauna is to make your body sweat, which in turn helps it to get rid of toxins that have been building up inside. Sweat therapy is an excellent means of overall purification. The skin is the largest eliminative organ in the body and the elimination through sweating is more passive and requires less expenditure of energy than elimination via the kidneys and bowels. To aid and enhance the process of elimination of toxins, you can add herbal teas such as yarrow, elder or peppermint. Do not drink them during the sauna process, however.  

The heat from the infra-red sauna allows your body to produce a great deal more perspiration through your pores and it requires less time to be ready for use. Far-infrared therapy is FDA approved for pain relief, decreasing joint stiffness, detoxification and increasing blood circulation. It is both safe and natural. As one who has relied on this therapy, I can vouch for its effectiveness on pain. After using the FIR unit, pain I experienced from a case of frozen shoulder decreased by about 80% or more, and when used regularly, the pain reduction was almost 100%. I personally would not be without a FIR unit.  

Copyright © 2009 Jayne Baer.  All rights reserved.

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