It is no secret that I love the Sauna. I’ve posted about it many times on Instagram, and my friends and family definitely know this about me. I thought it was time to share a bit about how the Sauna, and Thermotherapy specifically, has helped me with mood, anxiety, and general wellness.
My first Sauna experience
I grew up about 30 minutes outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Sometimes, on weekends, we would drive into the city to use the pool at the Holiday Inn on Quinpool and Robie, which also had a sauna. My Dad loved the Sauna. He taught me how to enjoy the heat and when to take a break. I felt so grown up being allowed to use it – I must have been eight or nine.
Since that first experience, I’ve taken every opportunity to sit in a Sauna.
West Coast Thermotherapy
Sauna, stars, & phosphorescence
My most memorable Sauna experience happened when I was in my early twenties on a camping trip at Nitinaht Lake on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Nitinaht Lake is a world renowned kite surfing spot, and fairly remote, about 150 km North of Victoria, at the end of a long, winding logging road. The campground is nestled in an old growth forest along a beautiful tidal saltwater fjord on the traditional territory of the Ditidaht First Nations people. It’s a magical spot, and I was fortunate to spend many weekends there.
One evening, I was invited to join a group in a Sauna on the beach. It was made of scrap materials and a little wood-fired stove that heated rocks, which you could pour water on to make steam – this is dry/wet Sauna. (so glad I took a photo!)
Over several hours, I went back and forth between the hot sauna and the lake – floating, suspended between the stars above and the lake stirring with bright green phosphorescence as I moved my limbs through it. It was unforgettable.
I didn’t know it then, but this was first true Thermotherapy experience (though not an easily replicable one!)
Natural Thermal experiences
My second Thermotherapy experience, also in British Columbia, was again pretty incredible. I went on a weekend road trip with two women who are very dear to me and we camped overnight at a natural Hot Springs North of Vancouver. We soaked in the cedar lined hot pools and then would hop out for a cold shower and slide back in again, over and over. I wanted to live there forever!
I experienced a similar but entirely natural hot-cold effect outside of La Ventana, on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. There were natural hot springs on a beach, and at low tide you could dig out hot pools large enough for 5-6 people to sit in. We would soak in the steaming hot pools for a while, then as the tide came in, the cool water would wash over us. Just. Wow.
A few years later, when Mat and I lived in Esquimalt, British Columbia, we had a membership to a Wellness Centre. It had a gym, saline pool, steam room, dry sauna, and poolside cold showers! Several times a week, I would ride my bike there (up and down steep hills, past giant rhododendron and rosemary plants), swim lengths for an hour, and then repeat a sauna / cold shower circuit several time, before biking home. I felt AMAZING afterwards.
When I moved home to Nova Scotia, I went years without access to a Sauna. When my Dad passed away, I inherited his Infrared Sauna, but regrettably I had to sell it because we didn’t have the space. Kicking myself now!
Cold showers and dry brushing
If you think you might benefit from Thermotherapy, you can try it out at home in your shower. Last Spring, I used Thermotherapy to support myself through early sobriety (I went alcohol free July 2017). I started each day with a glass of warm lemon water, dry body brushing, followed by a hot shower with a 30 second ice cold water blast.
(There are many health benefits to dry brushing (plus it feels amazing) – including lymphatic support, exfoliation, and a natural energy boost. Check out how to do dry brushing properly here. I use this natural sisal body brush and I love it.)
When you do the cold water blast in the shower, make sure it is cold enough to make you cringe just a little, and then try to relax your body, open up your heart, breathe, and embrace it. You can follow the cold water with hot water, and repeat the cycle as much as your like (be mindful of water use, of course).
There are scientific health benefits to cold showers – they can lower stress levels, decrease anxiety and depression, boost your lymphatic system, metabolism, circulation, immune system. If you live close to the water and are feeling really brave, you can try cold water swimming for even more powerful benefits.
Sauna makes Winter so much better
Last September, I joined the YMCA, and discovered that they have a dry Sauna in both locker rooms. The $45 monthly membership is worth it for the Sauna alone! It fits 6 people comfortably, gets super hot, and there are showers just steps away.
My routine over the last six months, 2-3 times a week, has been: an hour of strength and cardio followed by a freezing cold shower (30-60 seconds), then a 20 minute Sauna, followed by another cold shower. If time allows, which it doesn’t often, I repeat the cycle.
The benefits from this routine have been huge. This Winter flew by – and rural winters can feel very long, especially if you suffer from seasonal depression and anxiety. My mood, anxiety, and energy levels were noticeably better; I felt calm and relaxed for hours afterwards; I didn’t get sick nearly as often; and it encouraged me to exercise more: on days I didn’t feel like exercising, just knowing that I could have a Sauna afterwards was all the motivation I needed.
Sauna promotes connection with yourself and others
Most often, I’m alone in the Sauna at the YMCA, and I take the time to meditate (read about how meditation has increased my resilience), or just sink into a flow of ideas. Sometimes, though, I share the space with other women. There must be something about the Sauna that brings people together, because there have been some interesting conversations in there! I met a few fellow Thermotherapy lovers, so we chatted about our personal experiences. I had conversations with complete strangers about postpartum depression and anxiety; cannabis for chronic illness and anxiety; parenting; rural life; and so much more.
The Finnish Way
I read a book this Winter called The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu* by Katja Pantzar. Much of what the author said about the Finnish people reminded me of a lot of Maritimers I know, at least on the South Shore of Nova Scotia.
Sisu is a sort of resilience – or courage, grit, and determination – that she argues is the quality that makes Finnish people some of the happiest in the world.
The author talks about how daily mouvement, forest therapy, sauna culture, and healthy eating are simple habits embedded into Finnish culture that contribute to wellness and overall happiness. She spends a lot of the book talking about Saunas. There are over 2 million Saunas in Finland and a population of just over 5 million – that speaks to how important Sauna is culturally there. Many people join community Saunas, which are usually lakeside, for winter ice swimming in between sweating sessions.
The Thermotherapy cycle
Ideally, a Thermotherapy Cycle is Hot-Cold-Rest and is repeated three times. It can look like this: 5-15 minutes in a Sauna or Steam room; 15-30 seconds in a cold pool or shower; 20 minutes of rest and relaxation. The hot cycle opens up pores and helps the body detox. The cold cycle creates a thermal shock that closes pores and releases adrenaline. The rest period helps slow down adrenaline and causes your body to release endorphins (happy hormones!). Repeating the cycle just increases the benefits and promotes deeper levels of calm and relaxation.
It isn’t often possible for me to complete the full cycle, let alone multiple times, so I adapt it to whatever time I have and what I have access to. This Spring weekend, my Thermotherapy was a freezing cold ocean dunk, a pile of warm towels clothes on the beach, and eventually a hot shower. This invigorating dip kicked off the earliest ocean swimming season yet. I plan to go frequently and see how far into the Fall I can manage.
I feel so fortunate to have access to the salt ocean and I fully believe in its healing powers. Vitamin Sea!
Benefits of Thermotherapy:
- promotes physical and mental health
- stimulates the immune system
- cleanses and detoxifies the body
- improves blood circulation
- reduces fatigue
- reduces stress and tension
- promotes relaxation and sleep
- can help treat chronic pain and depression
Can you think of family members and friends who could benefit from this simple therapy? Sauna is a wonderful therapy through Winter, when shorter daylight hours and bad weather can contribute to chronic pain, depression, sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet. I wish more people had access to Saunas! This is why I share my own experiences – I hope it will inspire some of you to try it yourself or encourage a loved one to try it.
Wellness Mama also loves Sauna
Wellness Mama is an excellent, research based resource to learn more about the benefits of Sauna, the risks, and the many different types. Katie Wells, founder of Wellness Mama, has been to Finland to experience traditional Sauna and Cold Swimming and has her own Infrared Sauna at home. Read her article on the benefits of Sauna here. If you’re interested in going a bit deeper, listen to her podcast episodes Lessons Learned from Finland and her interview with Ari Whitten on Fighting Fatigue and Anxiety with Sauna.
My Sauna dreams
I dream of the day I can visit a Thermotherapy Spa and spend hours repeating this cycle – I hope to make this happen in 2019 at USVA Spa Nordik in Moncton. Have you heard of this place? It was the realization of dreams and plans made by three passionate mothers in Moncton.
The ultimate goal is to have a Sauna of my very own so that I can incorporate it into my lifestyle and share my love of Sauna and Thermal experiences with others. I will build a Sauna on my property within the next few years, likely an outdoor wood-fired sauna, large enough for 4-6 people with a cold shower outside of it. Or maybe I’ll find a piece of land on the ocean or a a lake and build a community sauna complete with cold water swimming? Can you imagine floating in the lake after a Sauna watching a meteor shower?
I would love to someday host women’s gatherings with Thermotherapy, meditation, yoga, and nourishing food & plant medicine. Would you like to come?
Do you share my love of Saunas? Have you ever had a Thermal experience? Have you been to Finland? I want to hear about it! Please leave a comment, send me a DM on Instagram, or email me. 🙂