Tales From An LA Sweat Lodge

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I am not an LA person—which is to say, I’m not necessarily a lover of boutique fitness classes and organic produce. Regular oranges taste fine to me! Show me a foam roller and I will show you the door. But the wonderful thing about a yearly Los Angeles trip—in which I load up on enough vitamin D to last 525,600 New York minutes—is that I can pretend to be the kind of person who shops at Whole Foods on the reg. New York Brennan is a gloomy and anxious writer, but LA Brennan is a vibrant and active…TV writer? Give me a minute to work out the details.

After a recent trip west, I actually found myself feeling a little bit healthier after returning. You would think that LA Brennan finally murdered New York Brennan, burying his body somewhere in Griffith Park and assuming his East Coast life. But the real explanation is much less sexy, and involved a full afternoon of sweating.

Anybody who sweats in Los Angeles does it at Shape House, a quaint and unassuming sweat lodge in Larchmont Village—or at least according to a very chic lady who stopped by the Glossier office prior to my trip. “They wrap you in a big heated blanket, you watch Netflix for an hour, and then when you’re done, you feel amazing,” she told me. The idea of laying down, watching TV, and letting your body work out its own problems sounded very on-brand for me. I made an appointment almost immediately.

Her rundown of the procedure turned out to be 100% accurate. When I arrived the day of the sweat, I was given a bottle of water, asked to change into very unflattering sweats and tubesocks, and promptly burritoed into an infrared blanket. The lovely attendant set up the Roku, and the whole thing began. This was my experience:

00:00 — The beginning! I opt to continue watching House of Cards Season 4. I am so cozy, I could do this forever.
00:20 — Attendant comes in to check on me. I am definitely sweaty, but OK. Thumbs up!
00:35 — House of Cards is getting very intense. Is this dramatic-TV-watching sweat, or is it…?
00:40 — OK, I'm hot. But the attendant returns and puts a cold, lavender-water soaked rag on my forehead, which feels like I have died and gone to heaven.
00:50 — Now I’m just dying.
00:52 — I would conservatively describe the last 10 minutes of this experience as “Satan’s grip.” It ends up getting so hot that I have to remove my arms from my burrito. Sweet relief. And then it’s over!

Feeling like death at the end of sweat is normal, says Sophie Chiche, who started the whole thing three years ago. “Most of it is comfortable—the last couple of minutes, you’ll hope you never came. It gets hard at the end because the heat has penetrated through your skin and muscle, and now it’s hitting the bone. The first 40 minutes are so you can have the last 20. That’s when a lot of the work is happening.” But what work? “Your body is working really hard to keep you cool, and that’s why you sweat. It’s almost like inducing a fever—allowing your body a chance to get rid of the bad stuff. It’s not necessarily a cure-all, but it’s a start.”

It seems unusually simple, which doesn’t really jive with health fads of late (looking at you, aquacyling). But sweat lodges aren’t fads—they’ve been around for ages, and are by and large much less spa-like than Shape House. Sophie described a particularly grueling one she did for eight hours, which inspired her the idea to start her own three years ago (“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life”). The science behind “sweating it out” is pretty sound in its simplicity. Have you ever gone for a run after a long night and smelled like tequila? This is kind of the same thing.

Satisfied clients report more energy, better sleep, and clearer skin—but above all, the experience kicks your endorphins, endorphins make you happy, etc. In the relax room, the post-sweat lounge where you eat oranges and drink tea and share your sweatsperience with the guests around you, I met Christina, a woman who visits Shape House regularly and credits it as a helpful tool for weight loss. “You burn calories in the bed, but it really helps boost your metabolism.” Sounds good to me.

Also, let’s not discount the great healing power of an hour to oneself. When wrapped in a blanket burrito (or especially wrapped in a blanket burrito), is laying horizontally watching TV not preferable to… most things? I also slept like a rock for the next couple of days of my trip, which doesn’t come easily to me. But as Sophie pointed out, the benefits of sweating are best felt frequently—which is why patrons are encouraged to come by at least once a month. At $45 for a sesh, they’re indulgent but not beyond reach.

Of course, I can think of several thousand other ways to work up a healthy sweat—vigorous exercise, watching a particularly intense political drama—but nothing beats a zen experience. All the benefits of hot yoga, without the movement. Does anything sound better (or more LA)?

—Brennan Kilbane

Photographed by the author.

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