Detox: Steam Effect

Saunas are no longer considered a luxury, or confined only to expensive hotels and exotic spas

Two women at sauna

The story of people heating themselves in a small room, or cabinet, is as old as civilisation. In the ancient Mayan civilisation, sauna was a place for therapy and ritual. Many other cultures have likewise used the method, but nothing is more simple and enjoyable than the sauna in its modern avatar - a heated enclosure with contemporary gadgets and facilities.

Saunas play an important role in preserving holistic wellbeing, especially in a world that is increasingly conscious of the need to detox from within.

Most gyms today are equipped, not just with vital fitness gear, but also an accompanying steam room and sauna. Today, fitness experts and health professionals do not consider a work-out complete unless it ends within the heated confines of this specially insulated room, where sweat runs in rivulets through every pore of your body.

Saunas are an integral in our era of fast living. Many by-products of sluggish metabolism and poor dietary habits can often build up a toxic overload in your system that even regular exercise cannot completely eliminate.

The skin is the largest organ in the body; around 30 per cent of body wastes are eliminated through its surface. Studies show that profuse sweating enhances the detoxification capacity of the skin by opening up pores and allowing impurities to be flushed out quickly.

Heat healing

Not only does the heat from the sauna help cleanse your body of its toxins, it can also be extremely beneficial in inducing deeper relaxation and to preventing injury. You'd also combine sauna treatment with aromatherapy - by dabbing essential oils of your choice on your wrists before entering the heated room and inhaling deeply once inside.

The long-term health benefits of sauna are manifold.

Steam is an excellent treatment plan for respiratory problems such as chronic chest congestion, bronchitis, laryngitis and sinusitis.

It can also offer relief from pain and stiffness in joints; it is an essential part of post-exercise regimen. When you exercise, a small amount of lactic acid is secreted by your muscles which can lead to stiffness and joint pain. Reviving tired muscles through sauna allows you to continue with your exercise plan without pain, interruption, or discomfort

During a 10-20 minute sauna session, your heart rate increases by 50-75 per cent. This proves that saunas can actually provide the same results as physical exercise - equivalent to a brisk walk through the neighbourhood. Many spas and health centres now recommend time in the sauna to loosen subcutaneous fat - especially, the stubborn cellulite that refuses to budge despite a healthy diet and regular exercise programme.

With a heightened heart rate, in sauna, your blood circulation increases. Blood flow to the surface of the skin is enhanced by 50-70 per cent - compared to the standard 5-10 per cent. This brings nutrients to subcutaneous and surface tissues and promotes glowing healthy skin.

Asauna, after a vigorous work-out, will calm and relax you both physically and emotionally. By soothing tired muscles and equally jangled nerves, this treatment will usher in peaceful, undisturbed sleep. Done regularly, sauna will boost your immunity and is the key to good long-term health.

Guiding principles

There are certain guidelines and precautions that one must observe while using the facilities of a sauna regularly.

Once inside the sauna, maintain strict silence. Close your eyes, allow the heat to wrap itself around you, inhale deeply and relax. You can also use this time to meditate or allow your mind to empty itself of the debris of the day. By using the sauna as a tool to de-stress, you will be reaping both physical and mental benefits:

  1. It is considered bad sauna etiquette to sit on the bench without a towel. Be sure to take a clean dry towel with you, preferably thick cotton material. Spread and fold your towel into two layers before you sit down
  2. Wear very loose fitting clothes, if the sauna is not private. If you have a private slot, it is also best to wrap oneself in a towel. Be sure to remove jewellery and wristwatch. Metals can get extremely hot and scald your skin
  3. The temperature within should be tolerable at all times. If the heat becomes unbearable, never force yourself to endure it. Check with the gym authorities if the ventilation is appropriate. Remember, if the temperature is too intense, even steaming air can scald sensitive skin
  4. Pregnant women should avoid saunas. People with heart disease, high blood pressure and excessive dizziness [inner ear imbalance], should consult their doctor before trying out the sauna. If your doctor prescribes 10 minutes of sauna treatment, keep a vigilant eye on time, lest you overstay and reduce its health benefits
  5. Ensure that you are properly hydrated even before you enter the sauna. This will help you avoid severe dehydration, potential fainting, or loss of consciousness
  6. You lose a good deal of water through sweat. When you emerge from the sauna, the first thing you should do is to replenish water loss. But, don't reach out for a sports drink, or glass of juice. The water content that you've lost is intense. You need to replace this with at least half-to-one litre of fresh water. Add a sprig of lime, or lemon, and sugar to taste
  7. Always wait an hour after a large meal to use the sauna in order to prevent digestive discomfort or problems
  8. Shower right after you emerge from the sauna. With your pores opened up, a shower can be extremely beneficial to rid yourself of all the surface toxins. However, ensure that the water is warm. Jets of cold water, after the intense heat of the sauna, will not only give you an uncomfortable jolt, but the cold draft immediately after the heat could invite the onset of flu. Take time; and, don't rush through to enjoy your sauna practice. Because, it won't take long for you to pamper yourself with all its truly elevating, and invigorating, experience.

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Kamala Thiagarajan
Kamala Thiagarajan is a Madurai-based journalist. Her writing interests encompass a host of genres including travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle. She is a full-time freelance journalist who works from her home in Madurai, South India. With ten years of experience in journalism, she has over four hundred articles in print in leading magazines across the globe. Her writing spans a variety of travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle features read by a diverse audience in over seven count

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