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Why you should try an infrared sauna

Our health editor heats up one winter evening at Higher Dose.


Despite the mild winter we're having in New York, the search for hygge never stops. So on a recent Monday night, I ditched the coffice for an infrared sauna, a cocoon of warmth that I heard also gives you a detox and a workout, just from sitting there.

I arrived at Higher Dose,a luxury spa on the Lower East Side, ready to heat up. Besides the fact that Busy Philipps recently told me to check it out (“You’ll feel like you’ve gotten a full body massage,” she said when I interviewed her in late December; cool namedroppping by me, huh?), I appreciate a good sweat and was hoping the experience would imbue my Monday night — and the rest of the week — with good vibes.

I entered into a private room that has a sauna within it — a wooden-paneled box with glass doors, appearing like a stand-alone elevator, with a cushioned bench inside. I disrobed, grabbed a towel and filled up with water before surrendering to my 30-minute session. (There are 45-minute and hour-long sessions, but the half-hour was recommended for my first time).

The quality of the heat is different than a regular sauna, which uses steam to fill the room with humidity, and is often too much for me after about ten minutes. Infrared feels more like a dry heat that slowly intensifies — up to 150 degrees Farenheight, that is. (Think: the difference between the Louisiana swamp and the Arizona desert). Yes, I was dripping with sweat, but I didn’t feel like I was breathing through a heavy, wet blanket; it was a more manageable warmth.

Infrared heat is actually light — emitted at a wavelength along the electromagnetic spectrum — that induces heat in the body, but is invisible to the eye. It’s said to have numerous health benefits. It can penetrate the pores, purifying the skin and loosening the joints, stimulating blood flow and increasing circulation (like a passive version of cupping.) It also burns calories, as your body works to cool itself and your heart rate increases.

Further studies are needed tocorroborate these claims,but the treatment is popular among both laymen and celebs (likeLeonardo DiCaprio, Michelle Williams and Chelsea Handler), who tout its feel-good properties.The “Dose” in the spa's name is actually an acronym for “Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins,” which is essentially everything that makes you feel good in one four-letter word.

From my session, I can attest to feeling some kind of release and relaxation, even if it was just from the cathartic act of sweating and the comfort of being alone in my own little pod.

My favorite part might have been the LED light therapy, which beamed down different colors from a square lamp in the ceiling. I selected the automatic setting which cycled through ROYGBIV, each hue meant to inspire a different mood or energy, according to the literature I was given: yellow, for awakening mental inspiration, blue, for relaxation, orange, for warmth and optimism.

Each color was pleasing to me in a different way; I might liken it to being mesmerized by a lava lamp, or spacing out as you watch your mood ring change. Purported health benefits include skin rejuvenation, pain relief and decreasing swelling, (again, morestudies are needed); I can say, for me, it felt like I was sitting below my own private, very chill disco ball.

Listening to music helped, too. Within the sauna, there are speakers with a jack so you can hook up your iPhone. As I was browsed my Spotify, I landed on a playlist of relaxing songs, so I figured I’d go through that, cycling through easy tunes from the likes of Cass McCombs, Big Star and Sun Kil Moon.

I can't say I felt radically different after my session, but I will say I felt better than my typical post-work self. Harried New Yorkers need every chance they get for a little solitude and self-care; Higher Dose reminded me of that.

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