by Lynn Hinderliter CN, LDN

Cleansing the body by means of a detoxification program or a short fast is an excellent strategy, but it does less good if the toxins which have been dislodged are not removed from the body.

Sweating is an effective traditional way to remove all kinds of toxins.

Many cultures have a tradition of sweat baths, and as in fasting, I wonder how much of the rite was for physical, and how much for spiritual, gain.

In the northern reaches of Europe the progression of hot sweat baths, switching (beating) the body with branches, and then plunging into cold water, was definitely a detoxification procedure.   In the Americas, the sweat lodges of Indian tribes were mostly for ritual ceremonies.

The end effect would have been the same for both, however, since the benefits claimed for sweating would have been enhanced rather than negated by the spiritual benefits.  It would have been a two for one gain!

Physical benefits

A sweat bath is the most natural, effective and convenient  way possible to open clogged pores and flush the body. Opening the pores allows liquids carrying body wastes to be effectively  expelled.

Some Sauna manufacturers claim to have measured the toxin content of the sweat, and to have found high levels of some of the more dangerous chemicals that pollute our environment as well as heavy metals such as lead and mercury.

Other negative substances which are removed from the body, according to the same sources, are excess salt, lactic acid and urea.  A minor build-up of urea in the body can lead to a host of chronic complaints, such as headaches and nausea. A major build-up can be dangerous.

Sauna heat dilates capillaries; this increases blood flow to the skin. The heart beats faster and impurities in vital organs are flushed out by the flow of fluids. Finnish and German doctors cite studies indicating sweat baths help persons with high blood pressure and heart problems; many American doctors, however, continue to recommend against sweat baths for such persons.

Lungs benefit, too. Clogged respiratory passages are opened by heat; this gives relief from colds or minor respiratory problems. Sweat baths are not recommended for persons with pneumonia and major respiratory problems. The heat of a sweat bath and the often rapid cooling afterwards, conditions the body. A well-tuned body is more resistant to colds, disease and infection. In cold weather, a warm glowing feeling often lingers for hours following a sweat bath. In hot weather, the body seems cooler afterwards.

Recent Finnish tests validate the practice of splashing water on superheated rocks as a means to produce an abundance of negative ions. This seems especially true if the rocks are heated by a wood fire and not electricity. Too few negative ions and too many positive ions have been linked to heart attacks, aggravated asthma, migraines, insomnia, rheumatism, arthritis, hay fever and allergies.

Some major causes of unhealthy ionic conditions are: weather disturbances, central air conditioning, smog and driving too long in a closed automobile.

The Ayurvedic cleansing ritual of Panchakarma employs sweat – SWEDANA –  as an important part of the treatment.

Cleansing with Steam

Ayurveda believes that simply the process of living a life which is not perfectly designed to sustain health, will cause the accumulation of a toxin called AMA in the body. This is defined as a sticky substance that in effect clogs the organs and cells throughout our system.

The stages of Panchakarma are designed to loosen, mobilize and expel this toxin.

In summary first, the diet is designed to begin the process, a hot oil massage follows, and the steam treatment is the third procedure whereby Ama is moved into the digestive tract for expulsion, and is also expelled though the skin. Medicated oils and special herbs such as ginger root, castor oil plant, sesame and others herbs are added for extra efficacy and to encourage the production of sweat. The body is relaxed, tension is released.

The therapy is said to:

  • Cleanse the organs of elimination
  • Increase the  softness and brilliance of the skin.
  • Increase digestive capacity.
  • Restore appetite
  • Remove lethargy
  • Improve stiff joints.

It need not be too expensive to  purchase a method to do one’s own sweat bath, depending on the system chosen, but Ayurveda administers the Sudana in a number of ways, some of which might be simple to adapt to the home setting:

  • Sankara – Application of a hot herbal bolus to a clothed or unclothed patient. 
  • Prasthara – The patient lies on a bed of leaves of Ricinus communis and Calotropis gigantea, corn, pulse, pippali, ginger, maricha, and ghee. Paayasa (a milk preparation) or krushara is also added. The patient is covered with silk or wool blankets. 
  • Nadi – Medicated steam is directed through a hose or tube (nadi) to the entire body or to specific areas of the body. 
  • Parisheka – Hot herbal decoction is showered over the body from a pitcher, pot, or pipe which has many small holes in it. 
  • Jentaaka – The patient enters a circular room built near a pond or small lake which has an oven burning special herbs to heat it; similar in some respects to an Indian “sweat lodge”.

My feeling is that for optimal health, adding a sauna experience in some form or another is going to be a worthwhile investment.

Do not consider this therapy if you are pregnant or have a serious medical condition. Go cautiously if you are weakened by any imbalance.

Directory of products for Cleansing and Detoxification

A simple enclosure type (http://steamsaun.com/jysc-steambath.html)

The apparatus used in my Panchakarma experience – http://www.steamywonder.com/steamywonder/index.html

 LuxSauna Foldable Far Infrared Sauna (http://www.presentsforyou.com/fofarinsa.html)

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