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Infrared saunas: What are they, and do they work?

When it comes to wellness, I feel strongly that one should be open-minded to any and all solutions and strategies. It was in this vein that I grabbed the opportunity to try an infrared sauna, writes Wellness Daily journalist Jerome Doraisamy. 

I've never been good at mindfulness. I find it all but impossible to switch my brain off, no matter how much I want to. I've lost count of the number of times I've resolved to be better at it, downloaded an app, and then deleted it again days later in frustration at my inability to just sit in the moment. 

What I'm much better at, I've discovered, is being mindful by way of an activity that demands my full attention: team sports, reading books, cooking. Full immersion in such activities allows me to disconnect from whatever it is that might be occupying my mind, such as work, emails or my to-do list.

I've always seen saunas in a similar way… an activity that requires you to leave everything else behind (literally, as you're only in a towel) and just be. 

So when I was invited to check out an infrared sauna in the eastern Sydney suburb of Bondi, it seemed like a great chance to not only expand my wellness horizons, but also be mindful in a manner I don't utilise as often as I'd like. 

I had no idea what an infrared sauna was, though. My understanding of a sauna was that one pours water over hot stones in a confined area, as Finnish people did hundreds of years ago. I barely understood the word "infrared", too, as I'd only ever associated it with kitchen microwaves. 

But as Nimbus Co's website explains, "infrared saunas use infrared heating panels that emit light, helping your body detoxify, giving users a deeper cleansing experience. The infrared light can't be seen by the naked eye but it gives off what's called radiated head, penetrating deep within your tissues, muscles and cells. Unlike traditional saunas, the air in an infrared sauna is a lot drier making it easier to breathe. This form of slow heating makes infrared saunas a much more comfortable experience than a traditional one."

I got my opportunity last Saturday to go into the Bondi studio to try it out. The box I was in was likely no more than a few cubic metres, and – as a six-footer – my head scraped the top. The confined space denoted a singular purpose: you're here for your health. 

I had a 45-minute slot, in which I could adjust the temperature on the dial from anywhere between 0 to 70 degrees Celsius. Wanting to sweat as much as I could, I turned the dial right up to 70. I was also amazed to see I had a TV in my box as well, through which I could play Netflix or Spotify (in addition to reading up further on the benefits of infrared), and while the prospect of sweating it out to some sweet tunes or an episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine was enticing, I instead opted to just sit and be in the moment… as I wanted to focus solely on the experience. 

I did, however, spent a few minutes flicking through the screen to read up on the supposed benefits of infrared sauna: detoxification, weight loss, anti-ageing, skin health, immune boosting, pain relief, stress reduction and improved sleep. As an overly stressed 30-year-old with a crook neck, imperfect skin, sleeping problems, whose vanity demands he lose a few kilos, I felt I was sitting exactly where I needed to be. 

Within minutes of sitting down, I was dripping in sweat. This is what I can come for. As an F45 devotee, who also plays mixed netball and indoor soccer every week, I find there's nothing better for stress relief than a good sweat to flush everything out. I was sweating in places I didn't even know had sweat glands, I was loving it.

The confined nature of the box also had an additional benefit that I hadn't anticipated: to alter the temperature, I just had to lift my arm to turn the dial, rather than getting up from my seat and moving across the room. Further, I was spared the mental debate of when is the appropriate time to do so.

I don't remember what I thought about while I was sitting. It clearly wasn't important if I can't recall. I do remember, however, being grateful for the physical disconnect from everything – my phone, laptop, contact with any other being – which meant I could just appreciate my surroundings and the effect of the infrared light on my skin and pores. 

My 45 minutes came and went quickly, and I was grateful for the cold jug of water that awaited me on the other side of the box's door. After a quick shower, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror… I had more colour in my face again, the spots on my skin didn't appear as prominent, my neck pain had subsided and I'd certainly sweated out a bit of weight. 

On my way out, I asked the lovely receptionist Charlotte if she had any pamphlets I could take to learn more about the process. She didn't have any, for the reason that Nimbus Co looks to be environmentally friendly, and doesn't use any paper where possible, and directed me instead to the website. This pleased me, as I took it as a display of holistic advocacy from a business that looks to promote a better way of being. 

This was articulated by Nimbus co-founder Neil O'Sullivan: "[Fellow co-founder] Su Tuttle and I have always been entrepreneurial, but we wanted to create something that was giving back to the community. With life being so hectic nowadays and the constant requirement of being 'always on', we felt it important to do something of good. The sauna experience can mean many different things to our customers, which is the best part. Some come due to chronic health issues, some want to detox and for some, it's the only hour they get a week on their own. Meaning the mental health benefits alone are huge. How many of us can say we give ourselves an hour's worth of meditation or personal time a week? Our aim is to help people live healthier lives, on their terms," he said. 

"To be honest, Su and I were over all the bad shit in this world… Trump, stress, anxiety. We both suffer. And the studio has provided a haven for people just like us, who are overwhelmed, to have somewhere to go to where you can leave those issues behind."

As with any wellness solution or strategy, sauna is not for everyone. But from my perspective – whether it is a traditional Finnish room or the more modern infrared version – sauna is but another way through which one can not only be mindful, but also achieve desired physical results. 

It's not a magic solution, but nor is anything else. In the context of a balanced wellbeing schedule, infrared sauna can play an important role in blocking out the noise, ticking physical boxes and switching off, literally and metaphorically. 

I've never been good at mindfulness. But my experience in a Nimbus Co infrared sauna gave me an avenue through which even I could do it. I strongly recommend giving it a try. 

Rating: 4.5/5

Nimbus Co is located in Bondi, NSW. To learn more, click here.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain