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Sauna Talk: Dr. Charles Raison, Part 2

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Today we welcome back Dr. Charles Raison to this Sauna Talk podcast part 2.

I encourage you to check in with Part one, where Chuck and i work from the starting block about Sauna health benefits and research surrounding hypethermia and hot/cold contrast therapy.

In this episode, by design we go deeper.

We unpack hot cold therapy as a novel treatment for mental health.

Dr. Charles Raison: Sauna Talk


101.3 isn’t just the radio frequency for a hit music station in the Twin Cities. We have foundational research surrounding the effects on the body and the mind of achieving this core body temperature. Ashley Mason’s work at University of California San Francisco is expanding upon the psychological and physiological effects of this level of heat stress when reaching this core body temperature. Physically, from, for example the standpoint of blood pressure and heart rate variability. Yet how do these physical changes affect people’s moods? Specifically, as a possible novel treatment in the area of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.


The Japanese have a word for that nirvana feeling we get after a few sauna rounds and cold therapy action. They call it Totonu. And there is actually a published study on the neuro effects of sauna bathing. We link to this study on the Sauna Research Institute website as well as on SaunaTimes websites. In the study, it is recognized that sauna is an activity that promotes relaxation and health. Three cycles of sauna, cold, rest lowers your heart rate and makes you feel more relaxed. Intense feelings of happiness have been reported shortly after enjoying a hot sauna and cold water, what is known in Japan as the “totonou” state.

With this contrast therapy, we achieve a lower heart rate, changes of brain waves, and better metabolic health through the increase in brown fat production – known as “the good fat”. And one could argue that, for those horizontally challenged, sauna use raises heart rate to about the state we achieve with a fast walk. So there is a weight loss association to regular sauna use. But this is not something i’d get the scale out to rely upon.

japan sauna day
Japanese Totonu building (photo: Japan Sauna Association)

The Vail Project – Eagle Valley

We discuss a “Top Flight Sauna” for Vail Health’s Behavioral Health Innovation Center. Right now in development, the CHILL’D Study (“Cold and Heat Investigation to Lower Levels of Depression”) will explore ways to optimize the proven benefits of hyperthermia for depression, including whether adding cold to heat will improve outcomes and whether hyperthermia can be effectively combined with standard antidepressants.  

Vail Health is especially interested in thermic bathing within ancient practices. Many of us listening enjoy Nordic style sauna, where we pay homage to the origins of the word sauna (Finland). And sometimes many spend a lot of effort scolding its improper pronunciation. Yet, for those of us that share and know that good feeling, the definition of sauna is arguably much more important than its pronunciation. And for that matter, the definition of sauna is universal and straightforward:

Sauna Definition: A room, often lined with wood, with a heat source that heats rocks to sufficient temperature to create steam when water is tossed on rocks.

So, for example, Temascal, Native American Sweat Lodge, Banya and venik treatments, are all ancient sauna sweat bathing practices.

Anya and Dan Bondarenko with venicks, at the Banya House
Anya and Dan from the Banya House, Twin Cities, Minnesota

Chris Lindley is Chief Population Health Officer, Vail Health and the Executive Director, Eagle Valley Behavioral HealthExecutive Director at Eagle Valley Behavioral Health. I will save his bio for what I hope to be a dedicated podcast interview with Chris. But a quick note: Chris’s education and passion revolve around improving the population’s health, emergency response, and wellness. Chris is a decorated combat veteran, receiving a Bronze Star and Presidential Citation while leading troops in Iraq in 2005.

The convergence of the Sauna Research Institute, Vail Health, and the work happening with Charles through Ashley in San Francisco, Chris and team at Vail Health, as well as at Harvard are exciting examples for all of us, that right now, what we all know to be true is being studied and researched.

Sauna is good for us!

Soon, as we continue to unpack and understand how.. and why.. and how much.. I will say, I hope you enjoy my visit with Dr. Charles Raison.. and Sauna on!

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