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The fitness of your dreams is now a reality with L.A.’s Shape House, an "urban sweat lodge" that encourages lazing about, with a catch: you’re trapped in a 160 degree-blanket. (Did I mention you get to watch Netflix?)
The latest health and wellness fad goes like this: you spend $45 to arrive at a spa-like destination, where you are handed a large glass of Alkaline water along with a long-sleeve shirt and sweat pants. From there, an attendant guides you to a private room in which your limbs are tucked into a FAR-infrared heated sleeping bag. You are crowned with headphones and handed a remote to browse anything on Hulu, Netflix or HBO. You then spend 55 minutes sweating toxins from your body as "Crazy Eyes" exerts her intensity in the prison dining hall.
Sound simple? That depends. You gotta be able to handle heat and slight claustrophobia. Those last 20 minutes in which perspiration slowly drips down your face — but you can’t brush them aside! — can feel like a torture method straight out of the Saw series. But for many, it’s worth it for the "cleansing sweat" that follows; an almost-euphoric like high that simultaneously energizes and relaxes.
As countless fans attest, the benefits range from sounder sleep to glowing skin to burned calories to, as one put it, #greatforhangovers. And almost all attest to its therapeutic effects. That’s because the FAR-infrared heat penetrates and warms muscles, releasing built-up lactic acid. I was so zen following my session that, for the first time, I did not claim primae noctis rights to my boyfriend’s dinner.
As Shape House founder Sophie Chiche explained, it’s the release and relaxation that gets people hooked. "As you regularly sweat, your system starts to function better," she said of the Shape House process. "We go to bed way too hyper and then we do substances because we've had too much coffee all day, then you have wine to relax, and your poor body is just trying to process it all."
Indeed, simply lying down — with no pressure to keep up with a group fitness class or outshine your fellow SoulCycle rider — does transport you to a different, almost spiritual state. It’s this exact feeling that inspired Chiche to launch three locations in Los Angeles.
"As you regularly sweat, your system starts to function better," she said of the Shape House process.
The Parisian discovered sweating at a young age. Chiche was just a teenager when she was treated for a broken arm with heat-infrared technology in a French hospital, which used it to help fuse broken bones. Later in life, she turned to sweating sessions for a 200 lbs.-weight loss — because she loved it, but also because she didn’t have too many alternatives: high-intensity workouts ran the risk of injury.
"As I was sweating on a regular basis, my meditation would go deeper and my life in general would improve," she recounted. "I could feel that my body was happy to release toxins trapped in my body… it literally melts you." And so, thought Chiche, how could she bring this liberation to the masses in a quick and clever way?
With Netflix. "You lay there and catch up on TV," she said matter-of-factly. "An hour to yourself is something we don’t do much anymore."
It’s that little nugget of time that appeals to so many overworked women, and especially over-scheduled celebrities. Plenty of A-listers are regulars, including LL Cool J, Emma Roberts, Taylor Schilling — it was even featured on a recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Selena Gomez is downright obsessed, thanks to her trainer and lifestyle guru Amy Rosoff Davis.
"I mostly became addicted because I started watching Friday Night Lights and I made a pact that I couldn't watch it unless I was sweating," Davis said of her initial interest in Shape House. The celebrity trainer admitted she found it oddly satisfying to be "locked in a burrito without the ability to move" and let herself watch television for an hour.
"It allows you to take a break from life," she explained, adding that it’s especially important for celebrities who rarely savor a moment to themselves. "It’s great for Selena to have a minute where she's just lying there and can watch TV and zone out. It’s its own form of meditation." As Kourtney Kardashian echoed to her sister Khloe, "Aren’t you excited to just lay and relax?" (Khloe’s response: "Dude, I can’t talk… my ass is on fire.")
Though Davis says she "loves a group class more than anyone," she also enjoys being utterly alone. "There's something about checking out for a minute during the day and being by yourself. It’s your own little gift of time that you can do what you want with, be it TV or meditation." The combination of exercise, spa, and meditation constitute a nice mental break from life.
The spa experience is a big part of it. Each guest is assigned a caretaker, who not only shepherds you to your cocoon-oven, but checks on you every 20 minutes — sometimes even applying a cool, lavender-scented towel on your forehead. Rooms are dimly lit, with sleek, modern furniture and motivational signs ("sweat like a pig to look like a fox"). Following one’s session, you’re escorted to a "relaxation lounge" complete with tea and orange slices. A reward for your stinky hot mess.
"I thought: how can we make self-care something really comfortable and beautiful and fun?" Chiche says of her attention-to-detail, no doubt influenced by her native France. A former home designer, she personally oversaw the details that went into crafting the zen-like environment.
That attentive experience manifests itself in different ways: how a caretaker routinely adjusts your headphones or pillows, or as one guest recalled, how they even recommend what to watch. "The young lady that assisted me was telling me about a cartoon with Will Arnett called BoJack Horseman," she wrote on Yelp. "Great recommendation, hilarious show." (It should be noted: While critically acclaimed shows such as Orange is the New Black and Casual top Shape House’s watch list, many guests prefer to indulge their former favorites: Gossip Girl, The Real Housewives, and of course, SATC.)
During those heated 55 minutes, your heart reportedly works as hard as if you ran a 10-mile run, while the detox is comparative to that of a marathon.
And yes, there is an element of exercise. During those heated 55 minutes, your heart reportedly works as hard as if you ran a 10-mile run, while the detox is comparative to that of a marathon. If done correctly (i.e, if you don’t "cheat" by unwrapping your tortilla) a sweating session gets the cardiovascular system whirring, boosts endorphins, and burns roughly 1,000 calories. Also, says Shape House, the detoxification makes it easier for one’s body to deplete fat.
"You definitely get a workout… I feel like all my organs work to a better capacity," confirms Davis. "Your heart pounds and you sweat so hard that your face is beet red, but it feels amazing." Davis likens that amazing feeling to what some experience at SoulCycle. "It just has that cathartic, I-made-it-through-this-sweat thing."
Men, who make up roughly 25 percent of the clientele (and are often the most committed), seem particularly enamored with their perspiration. "They love looking at the sweat on their clothing," laughed Chiche, comparing them to children obsessed with looking at their pee. "They like the evidence."
So, does this mean you should cancel your gym membership and give in to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 2? Probably not.
"You're getting a lot, but not all, of the same benefits of exercise," cautions Davis. "Obviously you need to exercise too."
Though popular, Shape House has had its share of critics. Some health professionals claim you’ll only lose water weight at first, which is somewhat true, but your body is still working hard to thermoregulate, thereby increasing your heart rate and metabolism. Then there are some who wonder why it’s all even necessary if our bodies already possess a functioning toxin-cleaning system.
"Of course, your body temperature will increase and that will stimulate your cardiovascular system," Dr. Michael F. Bergeron, CEO of Youth Sports of the Americas, said of sweating sessions. "However, the healthy human body does just fine in managing and ridding itself of toxins and waste products via the kidneys and colon." Bergeron further explained while sweating will help people relax, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it relieves other conditions.
"We're frankly not equipped to deal with the toxicity levels in our modern environment."
But Shape House claims that FAR-infrared heat simply gives bodies an extra efficiency boost. They point to a recent study which states FAR-infrared technology-induced sweats yielded 20 percent more toxicity release than traditional methods of sweating (i.e., exercise, moving apartments).
"The systems that our bodies have developed to flush out toxins have remained largely unchanged for millennia, and we're frankly not equipped to deal with the toxicity levels in our modern environment," explained Tanya Lesh, media manager for Shape House. "From the air we breathe to the products we apply to our skin, we live in an age of unparalleled chemical exposure."
It’s a sentiment shared by Chiche, who views sweat sessions as a more advanced process to eliminate toxins, not necessarily a whole substitute for one’s health regimen. "It’s a piece of the puzzle," she said of sweating. "Is running better than swimming? Is swimming better than yoga? Is yoga better than jumping rope? I don't know, it’s all good."