To Your Health – Week 1: Hot & Cold

travel

Hi wellness warriors and welcome back! This week’s theme is temperature. Why and how is temperature essential for healing? To answer this we have to look at our ancestors. Millions of years ago, our bodies evolved in pretty damn inhospitable environment: ice ages and African savannas among many other intense natural challenges. Early man adapted to use those temperature swings as a benefit instead of a burden, and luckily for us, we haven’t changed much over the millennia and there have been dozens of studies proving the benefits of both hot and cold therapy on the body. Whether you heat up or chill down, positive cardiovascular, digestive, and neuronal changes follow. People have been using temperature therapeutically in some form or another for centuries (see: bathhouses, sweat lodges, ice packs, etc), but in our air conditioned and temperature controlled homes and offices, we do not expose ourselves to this healing modality often. So let’s talk temp!  

SAUNA

You know how when you get a flu or other infection it always comes with a fever? Have you ever thought about why that is? It’s because your immune system needs to be extra hot to function at its peak and kill whatever is ailing you.  Sure, you feel crappy for the time being, but it’s the only way your body can take control of the illness.  Saunas do this artificially, you’re essentially inducing a fever on purpose to get your attack cells in gear.  And aside from maybe being dizzy or sweaty, you aren’t going to actually feel feverish, in fact, you’ll feel great.  Secondly, sweat is one of the main elimination pathways that our bodies use to expel toxins, so no matter what you did to yourself the day before, a sauna will always help. The Nordic and Scandinavian people have been using saunas for centuries. It’s tremendously beneficial no matter where you are on your journey.

Wanna sauna? Here’s how to get the most healing out of the experience:

Any sauna will do. Don’t throw away money on infrared saunas; it’s not necessary.  I belong to 24 hr fitness and the gym in my city feels like a dungeon (pretty sure it actually was a dungeon since all the businesses are housed inside old Spanish architecture). But I go there all the time and I sit in that tiny underground sauna and I make small talk (or deep talk) with the random people in there and I sweat like a champ.  

Drink a ton of water. Get one of those gallon bottles from the grocery store and bring it with you to the sauna. Take breaks every 5-15 minutes depending on what you can handle and drink the water during the breaks.  For an added benefit, put drops of trace minerals into the water to keep your electrolytes up (saves you a ton of money in the long run)

Wear stuff to sweat in and bring a towel.  If you’re lucky to be in a single sex sauna or an individual one, go nude. If you are in the presence of co-eds like I am, wear shorts and a sports bra or no shirt for guys. Less clothing is better and the towel will be incredibly soaked and you won’t believe how much you are capable of sweating. Pat yourself dry, don’t rub the sweat into your skin.

Don’t overdo.  Start slow and small. Maybe twenty minutes with two breaks slowly working up to an hour with even more breaks. Listen to your body; if it feels too intense or you’re getting really faint, leave.

Essential oils. Mix eucalyptus or tea tree oil into a water bottle and spray it onto the walls of the sauna for a nice aromatherapy experience (but make sure your sauna compatriots are cool with this first… Generally they will be, as oils smell much better than sweaty humans)

End with a cold shower if possible. Don’t let the sweat air dry on you if you can help it.

COLD SHOWERS

This sounds like the opposite of a sauna, and in some ways it is, but it’s essentially the other side of the same wellness coin. Cooling the body down forces your cardiovascular and nervous system to work extra hard to heat you up, which lends tons of benefits to your brain and heart, circulation, and neurons.  You don’t have to sit in there for half an hour – even just turning the water to very cold for thirty seconds at the end of a hot shower is greatly beneficial. Here’s how you do the cold showers:

Start with warm shower, end with 30 seconds of cold water, do that for a week or so.

Start with 30 seconds of cold, warm, then end 30 seconds of cold. Do that for a week.

Ramp up to a minute of cold on the front and back end of the shower, keep increasing the time.  Once in awhile take an entirely cold shower for five to ten minutes and warm up at the end.

Studies have shown that with therapeutic cold exposure your immune system will improve over time.  If you want to get really hardcore about this, check out the Wim Hof Method. Wim Hof is this guy who is so badass that VICE made a documentary about him.  He performs feats like climbing giant, snowy mountains in his shorts.  His method is a combination of cold therapy, breathing exercises, stretching, and mindfulness training, culminating in going out and jumping into the freezing ocean or icy lake, and handling it.  I’m currently halfway through the program and loving it so far.  If you feel so inclined, check out the website or watch the film.

EPSOM SALT / MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE BATHS

If you don’t have regular access to a sauna, another fantastic way to elevate body temperature to fighting form is baths.  You’ll want to make sure the water is pretty damn hot, but not scalding, and again if you start to feel faint, run some cool water over your face or get out for a few minutes.  For an added benefit, put a cup of epsom salt or half a cup of magnesium chloride flakes into the water and let them dissolve before you get in.  These are available at every pharmacy and you can get a two pound bag for cheap. They are both ionic compounds – salts if you will – that are super detoxifiers for the body.  Epsom salts are Magnesium Sulfate and the sulfur helps build the various amino acids and other enzymes involved in metabolic breakdown of toxins. Some people have a sulfur sensitivity (like me) and do better with Magnesium Chloride, which helps the liver and the gut because it helps build hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Magnesium on its own is a powerful detoxifying agent, but we’ll wait for another column to go in depth.  You could even throw some essential oils like tea tree or eucalyptus into the bath or diffuse them into the air for added sinus benefit. Go crazy.

And since this is about treating yo’self, make the bath enjoyable while you kick up your immune system and detox.  Light some candles, bring a book of poetry in there, listen to music if you can manage to not drop your phone in the water. But don’t sit and text or scroll Facebook – this is time for you to relax and get out of the ever-constant plugged in existence we all live.

COLD SLEEPING ENVIRONMENT

I’ll keep this one short, but it’s been shown over and over that a cooler room is better for sleep than a hotter room.  You may have noticed this yourself if you’ve ever woken up pouring sweat and cursing yourself for leaving the heater on overnight.  This is also true if you have a bed companion who runs hot (me, in that case) and you need the rest of the room to be cold to balance the space heater emanating from his or her body.  To achieve this, I’m not suggesting you turn your house into an icebox, but during the winter cut the heater at least an hour before you go to sleep, and in the summer run a small AC unit if you have one, around 65-68 degrees. Sleeping naked also helps create a blanket of body heat around your core while your face and lungs get cool fresh air all night.

Stay healthy my friends!

It’s All Gucci…