Things that go with Netflix: wine, sweatpants, chilling, and… sweating? Shape House, a self-decreed “urban sweat lodge,” just opened its fourth location in Los Angeles (in WeHo), and describing it out loud makes it sound like the most L.A. thing ever: For $45, you can be wrapped up in an infrared-heated blanket, burrito-style, and proceed to sweat away toxins, pounds, and last night’s bad decisions. Oh, and did I mention that every sweat bed is equipped with a TV featuring all of Netflix’s vast offerings? Like I said: the most L.A.-sounding thing ever—except for the fact that there have been numerous studies published on the detoxifying health benefits of sweating, and various cultures have used sweat lodges for hundreds of years for reasons both physical and spiritual.
In fact, it was an experience at one of these traditional sweat lodges that inspired Shape House founder, Sophie Chiche, to create Shape House. “My very first exposure to sweating was in a traditional healing lodge, which I was assigned to cover when I was working as a journalist for a French magazine,” she tells me via email. “Later, I found myself sweating in a more modern way as part of a weight-loss routine that encompassed everything under the sun. What these vastly different experiences showed me was that sweating can represent a multitude of things to different people, with different needs. It's a way to relax, rejuvenate, and repair your body and mind from the inside out, and there's really no wrong way to approach that sort of process.”
Anyone who’s emerged from a Barry’s class drenched in sweat and feeling like a butterfly emerging from a (dimly lit, EDM-filled) cocoon can attest to the truth of that statement: Sweating makes you feel good. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people who sweats buckets while working out (okay fine, I’m not one of those people who works out). Thus, I was eager to try out Shape House, which promises me all the benefits of an exercise class—800 to 1600 calories burned—without the exercising. Being the dubious and semi-jaded beauty editor that I am, I was suspicious. It seemed too good to be true. But Selena Gomez swears by it (she told Elle.com: “It's changed my skin, it's kind of changed my body as well, so it feels really good”). She seems like a happy, healthy human being with good skin so it couldn’t possibly be all that bad, right? Keep scrolling to read about my experience with the “burrito sweat bed” Selena Gomez loves.
I decided to lose my sweat virginity at Shape House Pasadena, a nondescript gray building I drove past the first time around. Who would have guessed at all the sweating, turmoil, and gnashing of teeth happening inside? After signing a waiver and answering a few general health questions on an iPad, I was handed what I at first thought was an orange prison uniform. One of my life goals is to avoid finding myself in a situation where I’m wearing prison garb of any kind, so I was relieved to find that it wasn’t a jumpsuit—it was just an oversize bright orange long-sleeved shirt and baggy sweatpants.
My boyfriend was experiencing this sweat session with me because I read something on the internet that claimed experiencing new things can bring couples closer. (I forgot that this new experience would entail me roasting like a pig in a blanket, sweat pouring out of every pore, but I digress…) We giggled and took a photo of ourselves in our matching prison outfits, and then we followed the very nice receptionist to a dimly lit room where two futuristic-looking beds awaited us. As I slid under the infrared heated blanket, I couldn’t help but think that it felt nice. I felt like I was in the womb, or what I imagine a womb to be: warm, cozy, and safe. Twenty minutes in I would be feeling very differently, but, for now, it was comfortable. I even (naïvely) thought I might be able to fall asleep.
As I settled into my cozy, heated bed, I flicked through the familiar territory of Netflix's offerings, finally deciding on Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City (which is basically the Japanese version of The Real World; as in, everyone is very polite and there's lots of bowing, but the undercurrent of tension and drama is still there. I highly recommend it.) Just as Misaki was finally getting up the nerve to admit her feelings for Hiraku, I was suddenly aware of the fact my body was heating up rapidly. I went from feeling like I was basking happily in the sun to, well, like I was being smothered by a heavy, hot blanket. I glanced over at my boyfriend (the receptionist had taken down the divider between our rooms, perhaps because she thought it would be romantic to stare into each other's eyes as our bodies slowly roasted), and he seemed unperturbed and engrossed in an episode of Vice News. In the room behind me, I heard a male voice moan like something very horrible and tragic was happening to him.
Over the next 30 minutes, this stranger's moans mimicked what I felt internally, and I felt a strange kinship to my fellow sweatee. My heart rate was way, way up, sweat was pouring into my eyes in rivulets, and I more or less felt like my entire body was suffocating. I tried to focus more on Hiraku's reaction to Misaki's profession of love and less on the extreme discomfort of my body, remembering what Chiche told me before: "Although some people do choose to listen to relaxing music or meditations while sweating, many of our clients have found that watching Netflix actually helps them mentally detox, rather than hindering that experience. Catching up on your favorite shows can also really help enhance feelings of well-being and satisfaction by giving clients some much-needed, uninterrupted 'me-time,' something we really can't overstate the importance of when it comes to mental health." I clung to her words, willing myself to ignore my body's cries for help, visions of Selena Gomez's zen, lucid smile dancing in my brain.
The last 10 minutes of sweating were the most agonizing. I finally had to cheat and stick my right arm out from under the blanket, grasping desperately for the water bottle next to me. (They are very big on drinking water at Shape House, and offer a special kind of water called Kangen Alkaline water, which supposedly allows for "faster and deeper hydration" according to the website. It tasted like normal water.) I yearned for the days of my innocence, when I had never experienced such a thing as being slowly roasted until every cell in my body felt like it was being melted. Is this what lobsters feel like when we boil them to their death? The thought plagued me for days afterward.
Finally, finally, the receptionist, my angel, harbinger of happiness, came back and anointed my forehead with a cooled, damp washcloth. A few less excruciating minutes later, she was back by my side, and I was bursting forth from the bed like Lazarus brought back from the dead. My entire body felt like it was buzzing, and I was aware that my face was very hot and probably resembling the shade of a persimmon. The orange shirt I was wearing appeared darker than it had when I first put it on, which I realized with a start was because I had sweat completely through it. As someone who sweats very minimally, this was a shock. I have never once in my entire life sweat through any type of shirt, much less a thick, orange, long-sleeved cotton one. I took a quick Snapchat and sent it to my closest friends, and they reacted in disgust and admiration like I expected.
My boyfriend and I were then led to a dark room with an unexplained patch of fake grass in the middle of it. The receptionist informed me that this would be a room where I could gather my thoughts, relax, and sip some tea (I picked turmeric, because turmeric is the answer to everything). I was aware of the fact that I was suddenly feeling very euphoric; it was the same feeling I get when I emerge from a particularly grueling workout class twice a year. I suddenly felt the urge to stretch my limbs and reach my arms to the sky like I was welcoming the desert’s first rain. That urge turned into the desire to do downward dog, which turned into me doing chaturanga and an entire yoga rotation on the patch of fake grass in the middle of the room (now I realized what the grass was for! It all made sense now!). As I went through my second rotation, I looked up to see my boyfriend staring at me strangely. “I feel so energetic and happy!” I squealed in an unfamiliar, high-pitched voice. My body felt alive.
After finishing our tea, we were sent on our way with advice to avoid showering until the next day. Supposedly, our bodies burn for hours after a sweating session, so it’s best to let it do its work and not interfere, no matter how sweaty or smelly you may be. I still felt like I was on cloud nine, my former agony a thing of the past. If this was why people exercise—or rather, sweat—then I was all for it. I could understand why Selena Gomez loved it so much she got a personal sweat bed installed in her house. I, too, wanted a sweat bed in my house. I craved this feeling all day, every day. It wasn’t until I got home and started getting ready for dinner that I realized something else: my skin was glowing with the light of a thousand suns. It looked positively airbrushed, like it had been touched by the hands of Mario Dedivanovic—except I was wearing zero foundation, and Mario was in Dubai, according to his Instagram. The glow I was staring at rivaled the glow I get after some of the most indulgent, high-tech, and luxurious facials. I skipped foundation that night altogether, and the next day, and the day after that as well.
A happy mind, energetic body, and glowing skin—check, check, check—fulfilled all the benefits sweating promised. But there's one more: weight loss. According to Shape House's website, sweating for six to eight sessions can help you reduce a full dress size, and it claims a direct correlation between sweating and weight loss. However, most doctors and trainers would agree that sweating only results in temporary weight loss; to really lose weight, you'll need to burn fat (which you do through exercise and healthy eating). I have yet to find any studies supporting the claim that infrared heat can stave off pounds for the long run, but there are studies proving the relaxing, mood-boosting, stress-reducing effects of a sauna (which, in my mind, is not too different from a sweat bed). For me, that is enough.
I may not be a full-on sweat junkie just yet, but I’ve certainly seen the light—it’s radiating off me in my reflection.
You can purchase a one-time sweat session at Shape House for $45 or save money on a bundle.
Would you ever pay to sweat? Have you ever experienced a sweat lodge? Sound off below!