Light, Heat, Sweat, and Heal
It’s the coldest and darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere. We celebrate and make merry with the holidays, but the passing of the winter solstice near the end of December reminds us we have a lot of dark winter ahead. Combined with the post-holiday slump, this can be a depressing start of the year for some folks.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a serious manifestation of winter blues, but the cold and dark can affect many more in subtle ways. In Denmark, the lifestyle concept of hygge aims to introduce warmth and coziness during this time through candlelight, cheerful company, and indoor activities. We have no such formal notion in the US, but a few strategies standout as accessible to the average American.
The first is inviting in the light during the darkness of the year. This can take many forms, including candlelight or a wood or gas fire in the hearth. With the light and warmth from the minuscule starlight that we harness with fire, it is possible to burn away the winter blues.
For when fire is not an option, a flickering LED provides a surprising amount of coziness. I’m not sure our brain can tell the difference save for the lack of heat produced. Another option is to string Christmas lights indoors all year round. In our home, we have a permanent installment of orange or red lights in and between our bedrooms. This provides a soft glow when winding down before bed and the warm colors (simulating firelight) do not disrupt nighttime rise in melatonin. Bright, white light from device screens and overhead lighting is stimulating and can interfere with a healthy sleep rhythm.
That’s not to say bright, white light is unhealthy. Humans need a healthy dose of it in the morning and through midday to set our circadian rhythm and regulate hormones such as cortisol. Morning exposure to bright, artificial light has been a favored strategy for those suffering from SAD. Light therapy as cold laser and LED arrays also have decades of research supporting their use in healing several medical conditions from skin diseases to chronic pain.
The next strategy is to increase body temperature to counteract the cold of winter. Externally applied heat is a medical therapy known as hyperthermia and can take many forms including a hot bath, a heating pad, or a sauna.
In ancient China, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine harvested, processed, and compressed the fiber from the plant mugwort to light and burn over areas of the body for warmth. Known as moxibustion, this was done over large regions with fistfuls of mugwort or with tiny “grains” of the herb over specific acupuncture points.
Moxibustion works great but is rather smokey. Instead, heat lamps or heating pads offer a more convenient solution, but not without a tradeoff. They may not be smokey, but they may create a harmful electromagnetic field over the body. The best option is a hot water bottle or to warm up a heat lamp or pad and then disconnect it from the outlet before applying it to the body.
A hot bath also works wonderfully to heat the body and carries with it the option to augment its healing properties with bath salts or oils. Two great bath additives are baking soda and Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), the latter providing a solid dose of both minerals with a couple of cups dissolved in hot bath water for a 20 minute soak. Baking soda is energetically cleansing and makes the bath water alkaline; use 1 cupful.
Bath oils are another lovely addition. My favorites are from True Botanica (use code PR106 for a discount), that combine organic and biodynamic essential oils with trace minerals from healing gemstones. You’re already taking a bath, might as well pamper yourself.
The final strategy is producing a robust enough heat to sweat. Detoxification tops that list of benefits of getting sweaty, with research showing the ability of hyperthermia to release toxicants, such as heavy metals and pharmaceutical drugs.
Exercise invigorates circulation and will generate enough body heat to induce sweating despite colder temperatures. Hot baths do so as well, it’s just harder to tell when mostly submerged in water. Look for beads of sweat on the brow to get the added benefit of sweating when bathing.
The most efficient method of inducing a sweat is a sauna. Many types exist, ranging from traditional Finnish saunas and Native American sweat lodges to steam rooms and modern infrared saunas. They all work, so my general recommendation is to use what is accessible. All will produce significant sweating when used appropriately.
If you are considering purchasing a sauna for home use, an infrared sauna has the added benefit of increased depth of penetration into the tissue, accelerating detoxification. These saunas generate heat via near, mid, or far infrared with the best providing all three, known as full spectrum infrared heat.
Several companies manufacture saunas that produce full spectrum heat, but SaunaSpace stands out by doing so with incandescent bulbs in a completely toxicant-free and zero-EMF environment.
Although SaunaSpace markets their heating elements as peaking in the near infrared, incandescent bulbs produce a range of frequencies that encompass both the light therapy benefits of red light to near infrared and the heating and detoxification benefits of mid to far infrared.
Heat that is concentrated in near infrared is more efficient in warming the body instead of the airspace. This raises core body temperature and accelerates cellular detoxification. Full spectrum light from incandescent bulbs is as close as we can get to heat from the sun.
There are other excellent sauna manufactures out there, but most use an array of LED bulbs to produce full spectrum emissions. It’s the difference between a digital recording of an instrument and hearing it live. There is a warmth to hearing a symphony in concert that cannot be matched by ones and zeros. Accessing a sauna with incandescent light and heat is the analog that provides a “warmer” quality than any digital LED experience.
LED bulbs work great to cozy up the home, with candles and hearth fires being the old school treatment for the winter blues. Combined with full spectrum light and heat for saunas, one need not suffer from the cold and dark this winter. Avail yourself of one of more of these strategies and radiate your light to all those around you.