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Developing Sauna Yoga: part 1

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For a couple of months, we have been chatting at Saunatimes about investigating the combination of Sauna with Yoga.  We started with searching the Internet and the typical health and medical databases but really couldn’t find anything out there. Of course there is a ton of information on Hot Yoga and Bikram Yoga which can be traced back at least a few hundred years but nothing on combining Sauna with Yoga.

We found one reference to Sauna Yoga put out by Sauna from Finland. This was the closest match we could find. As reported, the folks at Sauna from Finland kicked up the intensity from the usual 105° F temperature to 122° F. The problem was that they used a very unrealistic looking sauna that did not resemble the pragmatics found in a typical sauna. Additionally, the 122° F was really too low to call it a sauna experience. So, if 105° F is better than 72° F and 122° F is better than 105° F, why not kick it up to the typical temperature found in a sauna and crank it up to 180° F?

Furthermore, what I don’t like about the typical hot yoga studios found in the malls of America is that their means of generating and managing high temperatures are uneven, too dry, and just overall lousy. A Finnish-style sauna is a time-tested means specifically designed for using high temps with people.

Now we needed to get a real yoga instructor and start experimenting: Enter Robin Bailey-Callahan, RD. Robin is a registered dietician and licensed yoga instructor. She works for Cherokee Choices, a diabetes prevention program for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. I contacted Robin and she agreed to come out and help. Here are the results of our initial investigation:


Overall the experience was positive. Robin was very impressed with the possibilities of the combination. She is interested in developing a yoga routine, specifically for a three-round sauna experience. We agreed to meeting weekly for a period of time to develop a recommended Sauna-Yoga routine. Robin is keeping her own log of the experience.

Below are some helpful points noted:

  1. Overall, the stretching was experienced as very complementary to the muscle relaxation caused by the sauna experience and vice versa, the sweating made the stretching more enjoyable.
  2. Standing yoga positions were quickly ruled out due to the small quarters. Sitting and lying down positions worked well.
  3. It seems better to go in with two towels: One for using as a prop and one for wiping one’s brow.
  4. The firm backing of the sauna wall served as a helpful prop for the yoga positions.
  5. I expected that, since both yoga and sauna are forms of exercise that combining the two would be extremely difficult and cause making it to the end of a 15-minute round, excruciating. This idea was bolstered by the fact Hot Yoga/Bikram Yoga takes place at 120°F and we had the temperature up to 170°F. The opposite was true. The time seemed to fly by and we in fact stayed in the sauna longer than usual. It seems that the meditative quality inherent by the intense focus required by the yoga movements, took attention away from the intensity of the heat.
  6. More mellow meditative music was recommended by the yoga instructor.
  7. Apparel concern raised: The women noted that they would feel more comfortable wearing running shorts and a supportive running tank-top. One woman noted that the sitting position in a sauna is different than in a typical sauna studio. In a sauna studio, people are on the ground often facing one another’s back, whereas, in the sauna, one is on an elevated bench facing others. This would likely be a common concern for the general female population in the U.S. but perhaps less so in other cultures.

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