Why you should care
Because it warms the soul.
We all have our coping mechanisms, those hard-won ways of dealing with daily stress. In this series, we at OZY share our secrets to staying sane.
Letting off steam doesn’t have to mean blowing your top. Everyone has a way of finding their inner calm; for me, that moisture-wicked relief is hidden in the droplets oozing down every beautifully tiled steam room.
Read last week’s Staying Sane: Passage Meditation.
Twice a week, I let the wet heat embrace me, and wait to feel the tingling of every pore as sweat and toxins drain out of me along with any frustrations. For me, serenity comes in silence, or perhaps the faint tune of meditative music piped in from above. My blood pressure drops an extra notch just by wading through the fog to find the benches are empty. I prefer to be alone, with only my thoughts and sweat to keep me company, happily oblivious to whoever is ringing, Slacking or texting my phone in a locker 30 feet away.
Perspiration is good for removing excess toxins.
Humans have been enjoying the benefits of steam baths for centuries. Romans used to traipse through a series of misty rooms of varying temperatures after exercise, the steam loosening the dirt on their skin that was then scraped off by slaves. These days, folks are asked to rinse before entering steam rooms, but we still take a cue from those ancient Europeans in using humidity to improve our skin. Dr. Marie Jhin, a dermatologist in San Francisco, touts the many benefits: Steam improves circulation, helps provide more oxygen and nutrients to the skin, and moisturizes. “Perspiration is good for removing excess toxins,” Jhin says, noting that while both steam rooms and saunas facilitate this, the latter dries the skin more. However, saunas, with their dry heat, have less risk of bacteria buildup (be sure those lovely wall tiles aren’t coated in grime before you take a seat).
As a competitive swimmer, I was exposed to steam rooms as a kid, but they weren’t readily available until I moved to Europe 14 years ago, in my early 30s. In England and on the Continent, every recreation center seems to have one. While I enjoy running on the treadmill and long walks, as a mother of two and a 24/7 news editor, a silent steam has become the one place where I can disconnect from the outside world (I’ve also been known to swim laps with waterproof radio buds in my ears). Studies have debated whether there are real health benefits to visiting steam rooms or saunas, with some claiming that they can help promote weight loss and improve blood pressure, and others, like Harvard’s Harvey Simon, finding that “saunas appear safe for the body, but there is little evidence that they have health benefits above and beyond relaxation.”
It doesn’t really matter to me either way, because relaxation is more than enough for me.