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Hot Yoga is a Gateway Therapy to the Authentic Sauna Experience

These are good building blocks to begin accepting and understanding the authentic sauna experience. Once more start coming through the gates to sauna, the authentic sauna experience will become much more popular. For now, we must do the best we can with hotel saunas, health club saunas and the infrared light bulb closet. Wait, there is an alternative. Come join us.

Is Yoga Better Inside the Sauna or Outside the Sauna?

If sauna and yoga aren’t brothers and sisters, they are at least twin sons from different mothers. For those into sauna inside the hot room, we can’t help but draw parallels to hot yoga here. For those into sauna outside the hot room, between rounds, we welcome great poses.

Personally, I’m more of a fan of yoga after a sauna round, outside in the garden all misty wet with rain. Either way, thanks to the heat, and the rubber band theory, our muscles and joints are more relaxed and our bodies more flexible. Additionally, our minds are hopefully more calm from our time on the sauna bench. We are enjoying a mindful (with a lower case “m”) presence (lower case) living in the now. There is no secret. Yoga inside the sauna or outside the sauna can be a beneficial part of our sauna sessions.

Sauna Yoga Music

Sauna Yoga is gaining interest and momentum. I have been building an ongoing list of recommended music for sauna yoga. Below is a good start and I look forward to your additions:

  1. Toumani Diabati. The legendary Kora player from Mali.
  2. Stephen Halpern. Helps with your inner core and inner peace.
  3. Nightmares on Wax. Carboot Soul – good reboot for the soul and Mind Elevation.

Sweat Therapy Theoretical Model

From Sweat Therapy Theory, we know that sweat rituals operate by a combination of Exercise, Self-Regulation, Interpersonal Factors, and Metaphorical Contextual Elements. Adding Yoga to sauna, kicks up the intensity in exercise and self-regulation. According to the theory, this should create the opportunity for corresponding amplification of Interpersonal and Metaphorical Contextual Elements thereby causing greater positive effects to Mind, Body, & Spirit. In other words, if these four factors make up the sauna engine, we’re souping it up.

Developing Sauna Yoga

Dr. Steven Colmont investigated the combination of sauna and yoga for many months.

Enter Dr. Colmont:

I found one reference to Sauna Yoga put out by Sauna from Finland. This was the closest match I 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.

After the research, I 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.

Overall the experience was positive. Robin was very impressed with the possibilities of the combination. She was 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.

The Sauna Yoga Protocol

While developing Sauna Yoga, it became clear that it needed to be a holistic experience. Here is the protocol that emerged for a three-round Sauna Yoga experience:

Round 1 – Yoga

Round 2 – Meditation

Both yoga and sauna indirectly include meditation. We found it useful to make meditation a prominent feature. See Sauna Meditation for guidelines. You might think the yoga round is the most intense of the three rounds. It’s not. The meditation round is by far the most intense and challenging round, hands down.

Round 3 – Socialize

A main purpose of sauna and in fact, all sweat rituals, is to relax and connect with others. Relax, interact and have fun. Soulful rock music works nicely during this round.

Each round refers to the interval inside a sauna. The interval should be approximately 15 minutes and the temperature should range from 160°-180°F. Each round is separated by a 5-minute cooling off period outside the sauna and don’t neglect your recuperation period.

Some Helpful Points

  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.

Three Yoga Positions that Work Perfectly for a Three Round Sauna

I am pleased to share information from Mary St Onge, RYT-500,Yoga Therapist and Kirtan Wallah. Practicing, teaching and beginning again every day.

Enter Mary

Yogis say we are only as young as our spine is flexible. Adding one of these three yoga poses after each sauna round will flex and rotate the spine and assist in the internal detoxication that the sauna provides.

Round 1

Side Lateral Stretch

Standing in Mountain pose, press feet into ground, reach arms overhead while relaxing the shoulders down and back. Extend through fingertips lengthening the spine and arch over to the right keeping feet grounded and legs and buttocks engaged. Hold for 2-5 breaths. Release on an inhale, pressing feet down and reaching fingers upward to bring the spine back to neutral. Repeat on the other side. Crescent Moon deeply stretches and opens the side of the body and improves core body strength, balance, and circulation. Avoid if you have had a recent or chronic injury to hips, back or shoulders.

Round 2

Standing Back Bend.

Stand with feet hip width apart and parallel. Place hands on lower back, fingers pointing down. Interlace fingers behind your back and let the arms gently pull down toward calves and the ground. Then reach arms skyward shoulder width apart. Imagine placing your heart in that space between your arms as you stand tall reaching upwards to the sky and back as though you are reaching backwards over a large beach ball. Hold for 3-5 breaths lengthening the front of the body with each inhale, reaching back with each exhale. This pose stretches shoulders and opens the chest.

Round 3

Seated Spinal Twist.

Sit with legs extended and both sit bones firmly and evenly planted on the floor. Bend the right knee and bring the sole of the right foot outside of the left thigh while reaching the right hand behind back by the right hip. Reach left arm to sky, lengthening spine and bend left elbow bringing it to right knee as you twist to the right from the waist keeping both sit bones firmly planted. Gaze is over the right shoulder. Hold for 3-5 breaths and repeat to the left side. Seated spinal twist opens shoulders, hips, neck, cleanses internal organs, stimulates liver and kidneys and relieves sciatica. Do not perform if you have a spine or back injury.

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3 thoughts on “Sauna Yoga”

  1. G – Hot Yoga is on fire and more than a latest craze! Afterwards, sauna up and lather up with SAUNA SOAP.


  2. I have been trying for a couple years now to integrate yoga with my sauna regimen. I am so grateful to Mary for finally cracking the code. Like so much in life, when one keeps it simple and boils it down to the power of three, great things can happen! I feel great!!!! Thanks Mary!!

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