It's Probably Crazy, But I Went to an Urban Sweat Lodge for a Month

Since moving to Los Angeles two years ago, I like to think that I've generally held onto my New York–bred realism in a city that notoriously embraces all things new age and woo-woo, even as I've gamely tried some of its most offbeat offerings. I roll my eyes at myself when I tell the tale of driving to the middle of the desert for a sound bath (even though the experience was undeniably worth it); I poke fun at the green-juice crowd as I clutch my kale- and reishi mushroom–infused smoothie. At minimum, living here is a fascinating case study in a wellness culture that brazenly flirts with the edge of scientific reason. It means that we have preliminary access to some of the most interesting and forward-thinking products and treatments in the country, but it also means that by default, we have to embrace the weirdness of living in a place where Erewhon is regarded with deep reverence, and taking a "float" in a sensory deprivation tank is quickly becoming the norm.

Holding onto the no-bullshit attitude I was raised with as I thumb the crystals I carry in my bag has been an exercise in blatant hypocrisy, sure, but it's also a defense mechanism that's allowed me to maintain my outsider status, at least in my own mind. A couple of months ago, however, as I laid wrapped in an infrared blanket at Shape House, a self-described "urban sweat lodge," I realized that perhaps I could no longer deny my complete metamorphosis into a true Angeleno. I wasn't just trying something out once or twice in passing fascination, but finishing up a month's worth of treatments, a true commitment. This was around the time that I realized that I no longer felt like a newcomer to the city, and the fact that I was willingly and consistently lying in a pool of my own sweat in the name of wellness—without any trace of disdain, no less—seemed to vividly (if not hilariously) seal that fate.

To my credit, I opted for a month's worth of Shape House visits (twice a week) over a one-off session in the name of science; I wanted to be able to honestly relay the benefits of my own experience over time—especially since the research behind infrared technology is so fascinating, even if it is, at this time, fairly limited. (That tends to be the case with many of the alternative treatments in L.A.—the downside of being ahead of the wellness curve.) The fundamental difference between infrared treatments and the saunas that we're most familiar with is in the way the body is heated: Steam and dry heat saunas heat the body passively and externally by exposing it to hot air while infrared uses light technology to heat the body directly, from the inside out, usually at a slightly lower temperature. Either way, the goal is to sweat profusely, which preliminary studies suggest can benefit the body in all sorts of ways: from improving heart health and relieving chronic pain to even aiding patients with Alzheimer's and dementia.

But when I spoke with Shape House founder Sophie Chiche prior to my first visit to get a more detailed view of what to expect, I was most captivated when she told me that sweating in one of the infrared beds for 55 minutes was the equivalent of a hardcore cardio workout—complete with hours-long afterburn. As someone who usually sees running as a special kind of torture, I needed to hear exactly that, even if it seemed a little too good to be true. (Getting all the benefits of a miles-long jog while lying on my back watching Netflix for an hour? The future couldn't be that kind.) And when Chiche told me it would also benefit my skin and likely help my insomnia, I made a beeline for the bed.

Want to see how it all went down? Watch footage of my first treatment in the video above, and keep scrolling for the play-by-play of my entire experience at Shape House.