Just like any average gym-goer, there are days when the last thing I want to do is train. Honestly, most of the time I would prefer to be home, lying on the couch while binge-watching the latest Netflix series. In fact, it was on one of those days when I was feeling unmotivated that I came across Shape House, an urban sweat lodge that I later learned is well-loved by celebrities like Selena Gomez, the Kardashians, and Emma Roberts. (Apparently, Selena Gomez loves the practice so much that she has her own heated bed at home.)
So, what’s all the hype? At Shape House, all you’re expected to do is lay in a bed while wrapped in an infrared heated sleeping bag and watching TV. The best part: You sweat out an estimated 800 to 1,600 calories. Intrigued, I did more research. I mean, burning all those calories while doing nothing seemed too good to be true.
According to Shape House, the wellness practice dates back to Greek bathhouses in the 6th century B.C., the Scandinavian sauna to the Mesoamerican temazcal, the Arabic hammam, the South African sifutu, the Japanese onsen, and it was also popular with Native American tribes. The indigenous tradition was done as a spiritual sweat ceremony intended to cleanse the body and rebirth tribe members. They would use a sweat lodge that they believed mimicked being in your mother’s womb and drums played during the ceremony to symbolize her heartbeat.
As a wellness junkie, I loved learning that, aside from the physical benefits, there is a spiritual component of sweat lodges. When I set up my 55-minute detox appointment at Shape House, I was instructed by staff to make sure I drank plenty of alkaline water ahead of time and to have a small meal beforehand. They also informed me that they would give me clothes to change into for my sweat session and to bring a clean change of clothes to put on afterwards.
Upon arriving at the dimly red-lit studio, which was more spa-like than lodge-like, I learned that it started out in Los Angeles and was founded by entrepreneurs, Sophie Chiche and Craig Winner. Due to its popularity out West, they decided to expand to New York City and recently opened up a location on the Upper East Side, followed by another in the Flatiron district. According to their site, the purpose of these sweat sessions is to help you sleep better, get clearer skin, lose weight, encourage the processing of lactic acid in your muscles after a rigorous workout, and detox your body from the inside out.
Photo: Giselle Castro at Sweat Lodge
Jessica Olsen, a manager at Shape House, told me that in the five weeks she’s been sweating at Shape House, she’s seen a vast improvement in her sleeping patterns. “I had struggled with sleep ever since having my daughter who is now 3, and I noticed more solid sleep immediately after I started sweating,” she said, adding that she does about two to three sessions a week, which allows her to sleep soundly.
Before I started my session, I was given a milk crate stocked with clothes (a long sleeved cotton shirt, pants, and socks) to change into. You can bring your own clothes if you’re a germ-o-phobe, but I decided to go with the full-blown experience. I changed in one of their bathrooms and placed my clothes in the crate, which was later placed in a cubby next to my sweat space.
The rooms are dimly lit and curtained off, and they have a single bed along with a flat screen TV on the wall. I was helped into the bed and then tightly wrapped into the infrared heated sleeping bag. A little vent in the bed is left open for your hand to move freely to grab the TV remote or water bottle as needed. Once I was all settled in, they gave me a glass bottle filled with Kangen alkaline water that fit into a space next to the bed, and I was told that I could watch any streaming service I wanted.
The staff mentioned that they routinely check in with you after the first 10 to 15 minutes of the session to make sure that you’re doing okay, and they check in 15 minutes before the session is over because that’s when the body gets most uncomfortable during the detox process. For safety reasons, I noticed there was a button on the bed that you could press if you needed assistance during the session. Once they placed a set of headphones on me and left the room, I surfed through Netflix and settled on watching old episodes of Frasier to get me through the session.
I found the first 15 minutes to be tolerable, and I was really starting to break a sweat. I had taken hot yoga classes in the past, so I knew what type of discomfort my body was going to experience in a heated environment. However, it did get tougher as the session progressed. I could feel the soles of my feet burning, and I had to continuously shift my feet towards the side of the bed that felt less hot.
As for those last 15 minutes they said would be the hardest? They definitely were taxing, and it felt like an eternity waiting for them to end. Luckily, by that point one of the staff members came over and placed a cold, lavender-infused towel across my forehead. It made me feel better, at least temporarily, but soon I found myself flipping it upside down to the other cool side.
Finally, when time was up, I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. I could feel how heavy my damp clothes were after sweating out my bodyweight, and I was a little woozy. Next, I was walked over to their relaxation room to cool down after my sweat session. I sat in one of the seats in the dimly lit room and relaxed as my body went back down to its normal temperature. To help you cool down and replenish electrolytes, you’re given more alkaline water and are offered orange slices or tea.
Surprisingly, it was in this moment that I felt the most zen. I was told that I would be able to feel and see the positive effects right away and up to 36 hours after the session. My skin seemed to appear bright and dewy (like it normally does after training at the gym), and as someone who has trouble sleeping, I slept amazingly that night.
Although I would personally prefer to put more of an effort into a sweat session, I would recommend taking a session like this if you’re looking for a place to zone out while also sweating it out. You would just have to be okay with handling the slight discomfort of the heated bed and dishing out $70 for a single session. One important note is that the sweat lodge advises against pregnant women and those with cardiovascular health conditions from doing a session.
So, if you have the funds to splurge every now and again, grab a friend and bond at a sweat lodge after a long day of work. The company will make the session a little more bearable, and you’ll both burn hundreds of calories all at once.