Infrared Saunas Warm You to the Core

By Marni Mcentee | Photographed by Shanna Wolf

I experienced my first session in an infrared sauna on a day when it had just started turning chilly for the winter and I’d been cold all day.

Nothing seemed to warm me up, until I stepped, naked but for a fluffy towel, into the deliciously sultry infrared sauna at the Hopewell Healing Center on Madison’s West Side.

DeeDee Delkamp, a practitioner at the center who is a licensed nutritionist and herbalist, had walked me through what to expect before I dipped my toe inside the warm, wooden enclosure.

The timer was set for 30 minutes, but I could get out whenever I wanted if I felt too warm or it felt too close. The temperature was set for 170 degrees, and there were optional colored lights pulsating in the sauna, which Delkamp says have some additional healing properties, depending on the color.

I left the lights on but then decided to turn them off. Guests also can choose to play music during their session. I sat in silence.

One advantage of infrared saunas over traditional dry-heat saunas is that the light is what creates the heat, Delkamp says. So, those who have trouble tolerating the higher temperatures in traditional saunas may be able to enjoy the healing benefits of an infrared sauna.

But the many benefits of soaking in the warmth of a sauna are similar, she says. Infrared saunas can help sooth sore muscles and joints, detoxify the body due to the sweat a user generates, and help with other issues as varied as rosacea and hormone problems.

“It heats your body from the inside, out,” Delkamp says. “The infrared rays penetrate the body 6 to 8 inches.”

According to the Mayo Clinic’s web- site, several studies have tested whether infrared saunas also can be of help for those with high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis and more. But, the site says, more tests are needed to conclusively determine if saunas have long-term benefits.

As I sat in the sauna, daydreaming, I began to sweat and warm up. I got out a couple of times to cool off and to get a drink of water, but I did complete a 30-minute session.

When I emerged, my skin looked like a ripe tomato—a product probably less of the heat than of my own case of rosacea. But, boy, I felt good. I was warm, but not too warm. And the relaxation created by my stint in the hot box lasted for hours afterward.

As I write this story, we’re in the midst of a polar vortex where temperatures are expected to plunge to some 25 degrees below zero. When it gets warm enough for me to go outside again, I plan on booking another session at Hopewell. Because 170 degrees for a high is better than 25 below any day.

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