67 degrees Celsius. That was the number glowing on the meter reading as I hurriedly made my way out of my private infrared sauna pod. After 45 minutes inside the pod, I downed my bottle of water, grabbed my belongings, hastily threw on my robe, and made my way back to the locker room to jump into an ice cold shower. The sensation of going from intense heat to the blast of the cool water running down by body was unlike any other I had experienced before. I was relieved, refreshed, and relaxed. “Many of our clients come on a weekly basis,” said one of the attendants. Despite the initial dizziness I felt right after stepping out of the pod, I could definitely understand the hype.
Beloved by celebrities such as Irina Shayk and Doutzen Kroes, infrared saunas have been heating up the wellness space. In London, aficionados turn to Glow Bar, the wellness company and café situated on Mortimer Street. Decked out in an Instagram-friendly aesthetic of pinks, teals, and golds, Glow Bar opened its doors in 2018 and is founded by entrepreneur Sasha Sabapathy. On my visit, I’m asked to sign a health declaration form and do a COVID-19 venue check-in. I’m also asked to choose a colour for the chromatherapy treatment that was to be included in my session. Blue to encourage good sleep is my poison of choice. I’m led into the locker room and instructed to jump into a robe (guests have a choice of bringing their own swimsuits or going au naturel). You can bring your own water (it’s extremely important to stay hydrated before, during, and after your session) or buy a bottle from the café upstairs. Glow Bar has a range of private pods and larger ones should you decide to come with a mate (check with the spa on availability for shared pods beforehand whilst COVID restrictions are in place). My private pod is bathed in the calming blue glow that I had picked and has a little nook outside the sauna area where I leave my bottled water, jewellery, and phone. The attendant shows me how it all works and shows me the meter where I can keep track of the rising temperature and how much time has gone by. The session is 45 minutes long, but she tells me that benefits are felt after 30 minutes, so to feel free to stop early if I want to. She explains that the last 15 minutes are usually the most challenging and that it’s ok to open the sauna door to let some air in or go back to the locker room to refill my water bottle. Some people enjoy spending the 45 minutes in silence, but she also suggests playing some music on my phone.
For the first 20 or so minutes, I am more relaxed than I’ve been in a while. Unlike normal saunas, an infrared sauna heats the body directly so that only 20% of the heat goes into the air. I find myself enjoying the warmth and the isolation without the issues I’ve had with traditional saunas in the past where I have trouble breathing and feel uncomfortable after just a few minutes. I focus on my breathing, my inhales and exhales getting deeper and more spaced out as time goes on. I alternate from sitting upright to lying on either side. With zero humidity and a temperature that increases gradually, allowing the body more time to adjust, I’m surprised at how relaxed I’m becoming. Then the dreaded final 10 minutes arrive and I feel my heart racing, sweat covering my body as I switch positions and watch the timer. I open the door for a bit to let some air in and take a gulp of water. Looking back, I should have listened when I was encouraged to jump out at 30 minutes and would recommend this for all first-timers. Just like when working out, I realise the experience really is one where you shouldn’t push yourself too much right away. After my session ends and I’ve cooled off in the shower, my mind feels clear and I see in my reflection that I’m glowing. Increased circulation, stimulated collagen production, and toxin elimination are just some of the proposed benefits of infrared saunas.
I wrap up my visit at the Glow Bar café with their best-selling Yoni moon milk, a gut-friendly and delightful blend of cacao, ginger, Shatavari (an adaptogenic herb that’s part of the asparagus family), and chicory root fibre. As the chocolate drink warms my stomach, I think about how my session forced me to stay off of my phone, focus on the moment, and just breathe. Who knew the path to wellness could be so sweaty?