Getting Started with Sauna Safely
Slow and Low is the Tempo
Starting out with sauna?
Don’t know where to start? How long to go? What temperature to set it at?
I got you!
The first thing to realize is that no two saunas are the same. You can take two walk-in far infrared saunas and set them to the same temperature and they will heat up at different rates and feel different heat-wise when you get in. Having tested out many different saunas I have found that 120 degrees F in one is not the same feeling in another. This may be due to the size and materials of the sauna, amongst other factors.
As for sauna protocols, I call BS. You can listen to my podcast episode on the topic, but the quick and dirty is that YOU are your own best gauge to what is right for you when it comes to sauna.
While it's comforting to some to have protocols and to know that data shows that at “THIS temp for THIS many minutes THESE outcomes happened”, if you look at it logically, sauna was around long before science was trying to quantify it with protocols.
Sauna is part of water cure, an old modality in Naturopathic medicine dating way back. We Naturopathic physicians were trained to utilize hot and cold water and water-based modalities to stoke a patient's vitality.
Sauna, at it's core, is a vitality builder. Our vitality is our life force, and we can utilize different tools to stoke it. Sauna is a potent tool in this arsenal.
I often get messages from folks telling me they followed whatever protocol for a set temperature for a set amount of time and it left them feeling all sorts of crummy.
When you are just getting started, the key is SLOW and LOW. Slow and low is the tempo, to quote the Beasty Boys.
Start at a tolerable temperature and get in for a tolerable amount of time. We are NOT going for any awards here.
My best tip for safety and tolerability is to get into the sauna WHILE it heats up. That way your body will be forced to adapt in realtime and there will be no shocks to the system.
Letting my body heat up with the sauna is what I've found to best stoke my vitality. This is also how I encouraged patients to use sauna when I had a FIR unit in my clinic.
Yes, detox is great. Yes, sweating it awesome. Yes, gaining cardiovascular benefits is a goal. Yes, tightening my skin up is a great side effect, as is shedding some bloat. And yes, sauna is a potent exercise mimetic.
But at the end of the day, what we are really doing is stoking our vitality. So that it beams out of our face and our auras like sunshine!
First things first, make sure you are hydrated. Now, like with anything, there seems to be protocols around that as well. More details to take into consideration that I personally find hangs people up. So, drink some water before you go in. Throw some electrolytes and magnesium in if you like. Sip on it, drink it before hand, drink it during, who cares. Just hydrate! Consider electrolyte use.
Next, consider a hat. Traditionally sauna hats were wool. I use a heat lock hat I bought from Walgreens that has fuzzy sherpa lining. Some say it's to protect your hair, but I understand it to help you tolerate the heat better and/or to not let it all escape out of the top of your head.
I prefer to sauna naked, but usually start with my clothes on. I get in, turn on the heat and get warm. When the sauna hits around 95 degrees F I am normally hot enough to shed the clothing. I leave the hat on.
Within minutes I start to sweat. By 105 I am dripping sweat. That said, not everyone sweats readily! And that's ok. I've got my theories, one being that folks who are hypothyroid have a hard time working up a sweat. Other theories are that folks with a high toxin load, or chronic illness, or low vitality all will have a harder time sweating. Regardless, with regular sauna nearly everyone begins to sweat in time. Sometimes your sweat glands need some practice. And nervous system.
Ironically I am sitting in my Sunlighten Signature II sauna as I write this. It's been on for 25 minutes and it's up to 108. I am sweating like crazy!
When you are just starting out, especially if you have some health concerns like cardiovascular disease and/or nervous system dysregulation like POTS, I encourage you to first get clearance from your doctor, then start SLOW. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, working up steadily to 20-25 minutes. At what temp? Again, that’s up to you.
It's NOT only about how you feel whilst inside the sauna, it's how you feel directly after and even days after. If you overdo it your body will let you know. You might experience anything from fatigue to dehydration to more severe detox reactions. So GO SLOW.
Consider lower temperatures as well when starting out. 100 degrees may feel wildly different from sauna to sauna, and even day to day depending on where your nervous system is at, so start LOW and work your way up.
Again, we are NOT trying to win any awards, we are trying to stoke our vitality and build resilience.
As far as how often to sauna, again, SLOW & LOW. Stick with what feels best. One to two times as week is a great starting place, while we have studies showing 4+ times a week giving great cardiovascular benefits. My opinion is that more often for shorter amounts of time is going to be more potent than 1 time a week for an hour.
Get out when it's time! Do not be a hero. If your body says it's time to get out, it's time to get out. You can always rest and return a few minutes later, or you can get out and come back another day.
Yes, there is an uncomfortable moment where your body wants to run away, and while I do encourage folks to try to relax and see if it passes, if it doesn't, then get out! Common sense over protocols.
If you can stick it out, if it really is a passing feeling of discomfort, just know that in that moment you are releasing dynorphin. This is the chemical released with the classic “runner’s high”. When dynorphins are triggered, they sensitize your entire opioid system. This makes your entire body more sensitive to endorphins and leaves you feeling pretty awesome.
As you continue to make sauna a habit in your weekly routine you will get better at listening to your body and what it best needs.
Pro-Tip: Sometimes cracking the door or zipper to the sauna can give you a bit of relief to the point where you can continue on. But if you don't feel good, get out.
Afterward I encourage you to towel off completely and lie down to rest. Perhaps sip on some room temperature water or luke warm tea.
After resting you can either hop back in the sauna or rinse off and be done. Do be sure to rinse off as you don't want to reabsorb the toxins you just sweated out.
This routine grows up from here, but when you are getting started I encourage you to follow the above outline and get to know your sauna while getting to know your body.
My sauna sessions don't look the same from day to day or week to week. Some days I can't handle more than 10 minutes, other days I'm cooking at 130 for 45 min plus. I have one goal and that is to leave the sauna feeling better than when I entered it. To trigger heat shock proteins and dynorphins. That's it. Simply trying to stoke vitality and build resilience.
My favorite sauna company, hands down, is Sunlighten. They make beautiful walk-in cabinet units as well as a portable individual unit called The Solo. Use THIS LINK to get in touch with them and mention me to get up to $600 off with my affiliate link.
Check out my interview with Sunlighten’s co-founder Connie Zack:
You can find other sauna options to accommodate a variety of prices and size of space on my website HERE.
I hope this is helpful and please let me know in the comments what other questions you have about sauna. I’ll be writing more regularly on the topic in 2023 as it’s such an absolute game changer and critical tool for me personally in my wellness journey.
I HIGHLY encourage everyone to consider either acquiring an at-home sauna or finding a place nearby and making it a regular part of your 2023 health goals.
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