Khloe and Kourtney tried it on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Lea Michele shared video from the intense experience on social media. And tons of other celebs swear by it. So, in need of some detox and re-setting on a Friday afternoon (who isn't?) off I went to try a session at the Shape House sweat lodge in Los Angeles.
Shape House, which uses FAR infrared technology, has multiple locations around town. It bills itself as an "urban sweat lodge, where ancient tradition and modern wellness meet to burn calories, deepen sleep, improve skin, lift moods, and change lives." And yes, those are seriously lofty claims. Could they be true?
Off the bat, I noticed the location's clean and sleek aesthetic. I was greeted in the lobby by a staff person who checked me in, required me to sign a waiver, and explained the process to me.
I'd be changing into Shape House-issued cotton long-sleeved shirt, pants, and socks. Then I'd head into a private, curtained-off area for the session, where I'd recline on a heated bed in something like a sleeping bag, and they'd come in and check on me twice at internals to make sure I was OK. The staffer explained that the last 15 minutes or so would be intense and I'd be getting "uncomfortable."
I changed into my gear, and followed the woman's lead into my private space. Imagine an arrangement something like a first-class flying experience: a small area with a bed that adjusts, and a large-screen TV in front. I climbed into the plastic-lined sleeping bag. Nearby sat the alkaline water provided by the studio, as well as a vaguely ominous looking panic button. (They don't actually call it that.) I also had access to a remote control, which I could use to watch all the Hulu and Netflix I wanted! This part is unusual for Los Angeles fitness fads: You are not typically encouraged to mess around with technology while you are self actualizing.
When the staffer left, I was on my own. The first third of the 55-minute session was pleasant enough. I felt cozy, but wasn't even sweating yet. Plus, I got enough quiet time away from my laptop and my two-year-old twins to start Big Little Lies! But the guy behind the curtain next to me, whom I assumed was nearing the end of his session, was groaning somewhat inauspiciously.
But between the first and second check-ins, I was starting to get — shall we say — "uncomfortable," as promised. While the bed stays a consistent temperature, my body temperature was steadily rising. The sweat started pouring. The second check-in couldn't come soon enough: An attendant came in with a wet lavender towel for my head. I spent the last 15 minutes staring intently at the clock on my phone, willing time to pass faster.
When I couldn't a minute more, it was over. I got up slowly and went to the relaxation room for some orange slices (meant as a post-sweat Vitamin C boost), and more water. I was moving slowly, shakily.
And then (contrary to what I was told I might expect, which was healthy cravings only) I was absolutely famished. Ravenous. Hungry in an animalistic way. I can only compare it to how I felt when I was finally OK-ed to eat after 24 hours without food when I delivered my children by C-section followed by complications.
When I got home from my sweat session, I devoured my entire pantry's stash worth of Trader Joe's nuts and nutrition bars. And then I went out to dinner for Mexican food. And then I came home and nibbled some dark chocolate. If I'd burned 800 to 1,200 calories sweating, as advertised, I consumed at least that in the evening that followed. And I was very, very thirsty.
The next morning, my skin seemed especially dewy, glowy. I felt inspired. I felt like I'd accomplished something — and even though I'd only reclined in a hot bag for 55 minutes, I had accomplished a challenging feat. I'd also tried something new and different, which always feels good all by itself. And that night, I fell asleep fast and stayed asleep hard. For a chronic insomniac, that result alone is worth any effort.
Will I go back? Yes — first, so I can remember to wear my fitness tracker and note how many calories I'm actually burning when my heart rate soars! Plus, I'd try it again for insomnia, and I'm interested to see any cumulative benefits of sweat sessions over time. Beyond that? I definitely need to see what happens on Big Little Lies. (Meanwhile — no spoilers!)
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