So…you walk into a doctor’s office and politely ask him to make you FEEL and LOOK younger. His first reply to your request is — go and SWEAT! You are thinking this is either a joke or it had to be taken from the pages of Mad Magazine’s snappy answers to stupid questions. Quite the contrary, the anti-aging benefits of sweating is no joke; in fact sweating therapies have been used for centuries to purify the body. Unfortunately, the majority of our modern western culture does not see it this way; we often see sweating as disgusting and dirty…even embarrassing.
We now live primarily in an air-conditioned country, where we have conditioned ourselves to stop perspiration even before it begins. Take for example walking outside in the city on a nice warm afternoon in the summer. You are dressed accordingly with shorts a tank top and sandals…what a blessing to feel the heat on your body. In fact, you welcome a little perspiration, especially after being on lockdown inside for months hoping to survive the Midwest winter. You decide to enter a nearby boutique, suddenly you are hit with an artic blast! Yes often it is upwards of 85 degrees outside but can be 30 degrees cooler inside an air-conditioned building. Our bodies and minds are creatures of habit and begin to see sweating as abnormal, which can have a direct adverse affect on our immune system.
Sweating actually has numerous health and beauty-related benefits. It is true that everyone would like to have radiant and young looking skin. In fact, spending on anti-aging products is expected to reach $291.9 billion by 2015 according to a Global Industry Analysts report. I can assure you that you can look younger without wasting money on unnecessary and unnatural products. But first we need to understand and demystify the relation between the body, the skin and sweat.
One myth is that sweat stinks. Sweat itself is essentially odorless. The source of any smell is the bacteria that cover our bodies. This bacteria breaks down as protein and lipids in the form of moisture in our apocrine glands found in our armpits. One thing to consider is the more we sweat, the more this bacteria is removed and what we have left is completely odorless. Sweating is not only important for maintaining proper body temperature but is also important for cleansing. When we sweat our bodies release various toxins, and some of these toxins can only be eliminated through the skin (which by the way is your single largest organ). When those toxins exit our pores, healthy skin makes its entrance. Some other benefits of sweating include:
- Kills viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in temperatures above 98.6 ºF
- Cleans pores on the skin, which help to eliminate blackheads and acne
- Expels toxins, which support the immune system and help prevent diseases related to toxic overload
I see many patients in my practice that along with their abdominal, digestive or reproductive issues have also developed abnormal places on the body where the skin is irritated. Of course, this would make anyone more anxious and alarmed if they saw their skin looking sickly. In fact that is just what it is happening, the skin is trying to tell them it is overloaded with toxins. This happens for a few reasons.
First, the liver is our major internal detoxification organ (emotion that is associated with it is anger or frustration). When we have congestion in our abdomen it blocks vital circulation and waste removal, thus the liver becomes overloaded and cannot perform its job efficiently (just another reason we also need to let go of our daily stress and frustrations). The liver then passes its excess toxins to the next available organ, the skin. Now pathologies begins to show up, as nature never intended to put such a heavy burden on either organ. In addition, is the need to induce a sweat through the use of a sauna; this restores the skin to its health, youth and vitality. Although my practice is primarily based on Maya Abdominal Therapy, I see the skin as a way to read the overall health of a patient and use Infrared Sauna Therapy in conjunction with many treatments.
For many cultures around the world the ritual of sauna therapy is seen as sacred and is used for curing many illnesses, revitalizing the body, relieving sore muscles and dispersing unneeded emotions. Cultures such as, the Romans, Scandinavian, Germans, and Russians have traditional sauna therapies. Closer to us in the Americas we may be more familiar with the sweat lodge of Native Americans, but I would like to introduce you to another type of ancient sauna therapy used in Mexico, the Temazcal. A Temazcal is a type of sweat lodge, which originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica. The word Temazcal comes from the Nahuatl word temāzcalli (“house of heat”) also from the Aztec words teme (to bathe) and calli (house). It is best described as a round igloo shape made of brick and covered in stucco. The size can vary but an average one would fit 8-10 people. Volcanic rocks are heated at one end and tea is placed on the rocks to create steam and induce the body to sweat. Medicinal plants like eucalyptus (for the respiratory system) are often placed on the floor on the Temazcal and the heat from the vapor releases the medicinal properties of the plants.
During the past four years I have had the privilege to learn and see firsthand the healing benefits of the temazcals while working with Rita Navarrete Perez of Mexico City and Toñita Gonzales of New Mexico. These are some of the best Temazcaleras (Master of the Temazcal) you will ever find and they work to regulate a comfortable warm temperature inside the Temazcal, but never using extreme heat to stress the body. Benefits of the Temazcal include:
- Cleanses the respiratory system and sinuses; eliminates toxins
- Excellent for rheumatism and relieves muscle and joint aches
- Reduces emotional stress and calms the nervous system
- Improves circulation and eliminates chronic fatigue
- Skin purification and rejuvenation
o Tip: place raw honey on your face after any sauna therapy. Honey is full of antioxidants, which are good for wrinkles and aging skin. It is antibacterial, which helps with acne treatments and prevention. It clarifies skin by opening up and unclogging pores. It’s also a great moisturizer that soothes irritation and blemishes, and it leaves a lovely afterglow.
I know everyone cannot make it to Mexico to experience a Temazcal firsthand, but I believe strongly in the medicinal properties of this traditional sauna therapy, that is why I plan to construct a Temazcal in Kansas City in the next year. Until then you can get many of the same benefits of a Temazcal with an Infrared Sauna, which I use every day at my practice for my patients. Having an Infrared Sauna in my practice has been invaluable…patients love it; they see their chronic health conditions heal faster. Who would have thought sweat could make you look and feel so good…I guess that doctor was right!
by Alex Jackson, LMT, NCTMB