The first time I visited Oregon I was invited to a sauna by a friend. This secret hideaway was a small cedar sauna perched directly over a creek. It was a dry sauna heated by a wood stove under a canopy of maple trees with the sweet gurgle of the creek just beneath my feet. On the barrel of the hot stove we took turns dropping essential oils of eucalyptus and lavender that calmed me and cleared my head as I sweated. In between sweats I emerged from the sauna to stand on the creek bridge. Out there in the fall air the steam rose off my body which was really exhilarating. Back inside the sauna, as we talked in foggy whispers beads sweat formed on my brow and I could feel the pores of my skin breathe in tranquil relief. That was one of the most peaceful mini retreats I have ever had that didn’t cost a scent thanks to friends.

Saunas are an ancient custom throughout the world used for myriad ailments and relaxation. Sweat Lodges have been an indigenous tradition with tribes throughout the Americas since the Mayan Era. These tribal gatherings were historically ritualistic ceremonies for cleansing and revitalization that were observed by the first settlers as early as 1665 in the New York region. In Chitchen Izta we find that the ancient Mayans had sweat houses for purification and cleaning rituals. The Islamic hamman of Turkey feature saunas called harrars that are social places to sweat it out. In Japan “hot bath soaks” are used for releasing tension and regeneration of the mind while socializing publicly. Saunas continue to be places of healing for the mind, body and spirit spanning both east and western hemispheres.

By sitting in a sauna for a half hour you can burn the same amount of calories as a 2-mile bike ride. Enduring the sauna heat stimulates the production of collagen in your skin while it unclogs pores or blackheads and helps to shed dead skin cells. So if you have eczema or psoriasis a sauna is ideal for releasing those itchy layers of crocodile skin. When you sauna you are literally rinsing your glands and pores throughout with a deep detoxifying cleanse. Your system will be flushed of free radicals and toxins like pollution, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. The sauna experience is also incredibly rejuvenating for your skin, body and mind. As the heat relaxes your muscles you feel less stress which is an excellent way to reduce the signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles that appear easily with tension. Your blood circulation significantly improves with just one sauna visit. As most athletes know a sauna before a workout actually reduces the chances of muscle cramps.

I recently read a really funny article about a new craze in Japanese skin care using a plastic bag or saran wrap over the face to create a mini sauna for softer, younger looking skin. This at-home, what I call “asphyxiation skin care,” remedy is an attempt to recreate the effects and results of an actual sauna. While I laugh at this nutty ritual there are women who attest to the positive results. If you can take the time I suggest 30 minutes in a dry sauna that provides the respite of a cedar lounge. If you prefer steam for your sauna, your tiled room you will get the same wonderful benefits. There is also an infrared light sauna that induces sweating for better health and well being. You may not find that free bucolic sauna hideaway tucked in fall forest, but rest assured you will be invigorated by the experience wherever you find it.

Guest Post by Joanna Vargas

Joanna Vargas is a graduate from the University of Chicago and is a celebrity facialist well known for her unique facials and skincare treatments. She has been written about in Vogue, Allure and many other magazines. She is also the inventor and retailer of a full body LED light therapy bed and her own skin care products will be available soon.

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