I’m not a big fan of sweating. In fact, I spend most of my time trying not to sweat (or at least look like I’m not). The decision, then, to go to Shape HouseSM, an “urban sweat lodge,” on an 80-degree summer day was out of character. Knowingly sweating — purposefully sweating, even — was not something I thought I would ever do, regardless of the health benefits.
Yes, apparently there are health benefits to sweating. According to Shape House, these benefits could be anything from weight loss, cardiovascular conditioning, anxiety and stress reduction to better sleep and detoxified skin.
“Sweating affects everybody differently,” says Sophie Chiche, the founder of Shape House, “but everybody benefits from sweating.” The reasoning is that by using our body’s own detoxifying system, our sweat releases toxins and impurities that are built up over time. The more often you sweat, the cleaner your body is and is able to function at a higher level. It’s akin to getting the engine of your car cleaned.
The DUMBO, Brooklyn location of Shape House (one of four in NYC — there are also locations in Los Angeles) is a dark, quiet, industrial-feeling space. When I arrived, I was ushered past a variety of brightly-colored bottles (charged chakra waters, I learned later — used to help certain energies during the sweat session) and into a small changing room. There, I changed into the provided long-sleeve t-shirt, long cotton pants and thick wool socks. Putting on more clothes than I showed up in just to sweat through them seemed odd, but I went with it.
I was shown to a small, partitioned area that featured only a reclining bed (like a posh first-class airplane seat, or one you’d find at a dentist’s office), a TV and headphones. Laying open on the bed was something like a cross between a gravity blanket and a sleeping bag: a thick, gray human-sized pouch lined with plastic that I was told to get inside. The attendant then wrapped me in it so just my head was poking out, helpfully placed the headphones on my ears, watched me select a TV show from Netflix and left. My sweat session had begun.
Here is how it works: the “sleeping bag” that I was in emits far infrared rays (FIR), a natural light that is invisible to the eye but can be felt in the form of heat. These waves of energy penetrate the skin and gradually work to increase the temperature of your core. Instead of a traditional sauna setting (which heats from the outside), this technology helps your body to sweat from the inside out, pushing impurities and toxins from your fat and muscles out through your skin. If it sounds like microwaving a burrito, it’s not dissimilar, but this is much better for you.
Each sweat session at Shape House is 55 minutes. 20 minutes in to my session, I was resting comfortably and felt only marginally hot. The weirdness of the experience of being wrapped and heated up melted away once I got roped into an episode of Glow. Just as I was starting to feel a little peaked, the attendant appeared to place a cold lavender-scented towel on my forehead. (I had already gone through one bottle of the provided alkaline water and she quickly brought me another.)
It wasn’t until I had about 15 minutes left that I started to panic. I didn’t feel especially sweaty, though I was sure that all my clothes were completely soaked through. It was more like my body hit a sweat wall: My brain switched into overdrive and I couldn’t sit still. “No one likes that last fifteen minutes,” Sophie had warned me, and it was true. When the attendant finally came by to unwrap me, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
She led me to the “cool down” room, where I was offered a chair, another alkaline water (or a hot tea, which seemed counterintuitive) and a plate of orange slices which I gladly sucked down. According to Chiche, it’s important to cool down after your sweat session. “We want the body to find its temperature naturally,” she says, which is why they don’t recommend showering after the session if you can help it. She notes that cooling down too quickly isn’t ideal for the body and “water has chlorine in it, so it washes away the good things as well as the bad,” she says.
As I slowly cooled down, a sense of calm came over me. This is common, says Chiche. “Sweating like this triggers peace in people,” she says. “There is something it does to the body; you don’t go home and yell at people. It helps you feel better about yourself and make better choices. It gets you in the mindset of wellness.”
I certainly felt calm as I changed back into my street clothes and walked home. Not just calm, but happy, too. The sounds of the city didn’t grate on my ears as much and I had a little bounce in my step. Weirdly, my skin felt smoother and more supple — not just on my face, but my whole body. This is because “all the good things (like collagen and vitamins) rise to the surface as you detox,” Chiche told me.
I can’t be sure how many calories I burned or whether I lost any weight from sweating, but what I do know for sure is that I slept better that night than any other in recent memory. In a couple of hours, my bouncy mood had morphed into a state of deep muscle relaxation and I headed to bed early (I would recommend sweating in the evening thanks to this effect). Honestly, if a night’s sleep like that was the only reason to sweat, it was good enough for me. Luckily, there are many more reasons — and that’s why I’ve already booked my next appointment.
Products may have been gifted to the author for the purpose of writing this article.