If I had to use one word to describe how I practice self-care, it would be indulgent. Possibly even lazy. I fully believe in another glass of wine (just generally, in life), adding prosciutto to grilled cheeses, and the importance of traditional spa days. That said, I'm willing to try any experience at the intersection of beauty and technology that achieves wellness through seemingly unconventional sources.
"It's getting hot in here." —Nelly, people who just arrived in hell, and, soon, me.
Recently, modern wellness has been trending toward rituals of the past—people are yearning for deeper, more extreme ways of connecting with their bodies. The concept behind Shape House, a sweat lodge in Los Angeles, isn't exactly new, as sweat lodges have existed for thousands of years across many different cultures. But it makes perfect sense for such an institution to flourish in our current green-juice soaked, crystal-collecting era, especially in sunny L.A.—with a little contemporary update, of course.
Shape House is a cute, unassuming cottage with quite the clientele. Celebrities (Emma Roberts, Selena Gomez, Taylor Schilling) sing its praises and the reviews have been glowing since it opened its doors a few years ago. The founder, Sophie Chiche, was first introduced to sweating-as-relaxation when she was traveled from France to the States to profile a psychiatrist who used sweating as a healing method for their patients. Twenty-five years later, she began trying out various weight-loss methods, some involving sweat treatments, which were available in tanning salons and medi-spas.
These experiences with intensive sweating techniques inspired Chiche to open a sweat-focused retreat that married mental and physical wellness with the hospitality of a spa. But Chiche added a little modern twist into the mix: Shape House clients can watch Netflix while they sweat.
So, I decided to give it a try.
I was a bit nervous when I first walked in the door, especially because I didn't know how my body would react when put under extreme conditions. The attendants talked in low, calm voices as they walked me through the process. As soon as I stepped behind the front curtain, I was bathed in a soft orange light. Sweating is about relaxing as much as it is about detoxing, and Chiche and her team have created a welcoming environment.
The person in the bed next to me, a little further ahead in the process than I was, had been shifting and groaning audibly.
I put my belongings in a crate, and was given thick, unflattering sweatpants and tube socks to change into. I was then tucked into an infrared blanket on top of a heated bed, separated from another bed in the room with a blackout curtain. There was a call button and a water bottle next to me (which I definitely needed).
My attendant fired up the Roku and left me alone to start the experience. I found it funny that the person who had been in the bed before me had been watching the second season of Narcos, which I'd been meaning to start. I wanted something as mentally stressful as possible, and the first episode was an hour, exactly the amount of time I needed to sweat for. Why not work my mind as well as my body? (This might have been a mistake).
The attendants check on you twice. The first time is 20 minutes in, and the second is at 40 minutes, when they place a cold lavender-scented towel on your forehead. Lavender is a traditionally relaxing scent, and it was truly a godsend.
The last 20 minutes is when the work truly started. It's what the pep talks the attendants had been giving me were leading up to. The person in the bed next to me, a little further ahead in the process than I was, had been shifting and groaning audibly, so I was prepared for the worst. My heart started to race like I was jogging up stairs.
The important thing is to remember to breathe. Chiche says at this point "your body temperature reaches a heightened plateau, and your body starts burning calories at an intensified rate." Your muscles are fully heated, but relaxed. Because you aren't putting stress on them, like a traditional workout, they are able to release more toxins.
When it was finally over, and I exited the bed, it seemed like I could feel my arteries opening and closing. I really felt my body, could sense every part of it. I felt lighter, more energized, and a little delirious, in the best possible way.
I was then led to the Relaxation Room where I was left to recharge and reflect on my experience. I was given a choice of water, tea, or oranges, since vitamin C is important for the body to replenish in the aftermath of toxin release. After I got changed into my regular clothes, I glanced at myself in the mirror. I felt and looked like I had just been at the gym and also like I actually drink the recommended 3L of water a day. In other words, I looked healthy and I glowed.
Another important rule is that you are advised against showering immediately after a sweat treatment. Your body needs to work on regulating your temperature on its own, as opposed to speeding up the process with a cold shower. There are plenty of other ways to work up a sweat––but you really cannot beat laying in a bed for an hour and watching TV.
It's an intense experience, but many Shape House clients are monthly, even weekly regulars. Chiche explains that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a sweat house, just as there is no one-size-fit-all workout regimen for all people. A person's goals will determine how often they come in. Some will sweat a few times a week, some less often.
A man I talked to briefly in the Relaxation Room said he comes every couple of months for a "reset." For $45 a session, it's a bit of an indulgence, but not out of reach. Just forgo that extra glass of wine.
Have any more questions about sweat lodges? Hit me up @boobs.holloway on Snapchat!