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The Sauna

Saunas are relaxing, cleansing and refreshing, but they are also good for expelling toxins, improving blood circulation, killing disease-causing microbes and improving  mitochondrial function. Studies show that sauna use correlates with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, 

65% lower risk of alzheimers and dementia, 50% lower risk for fatal heart disease, 60% lower risk for sudden cardiac death, 51% lower risk for stroke, and 46% lower risk for hypertension.


You have to relax to endure the heat of a sauna.

When you heat your core temperature a few degrees, your heart rate increases and you sweat profusely, otherwise you simply will not get these benefits.


When you relax, the sauna can reduce stress, shift you to parasympathetic mode and increase heart rate variability.

It may be the relaxing that brings the improved mood and pain reduction associated with sauna bathing.


Saunas are said to increase longevity (and health span) by reducing systemic inflammation, which is at the root of the aging process and almost all chronic diseases.


Heat shock proteins get released in a hot sauna. They influence human longevity by;

  •     Protecting proper folding of protein structures (maintaining proper three-dimensional properties inside your cells, crucial for proper function)

  •     Preventing protein aggregation (a trait of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s)

  •     Slowing muscular atrophy


Saunas are said to boost immunity, but my experience is that a sauna also is a stressor, so while regular saunas can help you avoid colds and flus, if you feel an illness coming on, don’t take a sauna, because the stress lowers the immune system. This is probably due to the stress of the sauna creating a hermetic response which makes you stronger in the long run, though weaker right after the sauna.


Saunas are also said to improve mental clarity and ease anxiety & depression. And there is a cardio benefit to sitting in a sauna with increased heart rate for 20-30 minutes. 

Most important, in the modern world, is the detoxification!
Sweat is one of the best ways to eliminate toxins. Saunas should be over 160 degrees. I like them around 195.  A hot sauna causes the body to produce heat shock proteins, which help detoxify your body at the cellular level. Toxicologists have shown that sweating excretes pesticides and toxic metals (studies have shown that regular saunas reduce mercury levels a can help eliminate Bisphenol A (BPA) and mycotoxins.

40 years of saunas

The first sweat I remember was a “river sauna” which was basically a sweat lodge, made of curved driftwood limbs lashed together and covered with a tarp. rocks were heated in a fire and brought into the hut on a shovel. once the heat was unbearable, we’d go dive in the river. I was a whitewater guide in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, 1980. 

It was that later year that I build my own sauna on a remote point of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska. it was a 2 person visqueen hut nestled between giant cedars on a tiny cliff over a salt water bay. Once hot, I and my guest would go down a fe cedar root steps to the top of the cliff (6 to 10 ft high depending on the tide)

and dive into the water. I’d swim through a kelp forest before surfacing and returning to land.

The next summer, I was running freight by raft on the Susitna River System in Alaska when we got caught in a downpour. we took shelter at the only human presence we saw all day: a fish and game tent camp on the Yampa river. there I found a guy who I had met in Southeast Alaska  the year before and we celebrated the re-union with a sauna. part of his sauna ritual was a few nips of whisky while sweating. by the time we got out of the sauna it was after midnight and it was close to dark when we dove into the Yampa. This river drains the melting glaciers on the south side of Denali, and runs fast, cold and opaque grey with glacial silt. I dove in and by the time I got back to shore I was a couple hundred feet downriver, and had to make my way back to the sauna through he woods naked in the dark with whiskey in my brain.

I learned to love saunas, So when I built my cabin in Alaska, I built a sauna down in the ravine.

I wasn’t the only one with the sentiment. many of the wave of young adventurers who moved into the woods around the small town of Homer in the 70s and 80s built a sauna to warm their bones. Many of us did not have running water, so the sauna was your way of bathing. Many of us living alone in our remote cabin, we enjoyed the social aspect of visiting each other for a sauna and meal. I saw many different styles of sauna and sauna stoves (all burned wood). there were various methods of cooling off, but when the snow was fresh, there was nothing like swimming around in the crystals to cleanse and rejuvenate the skin. It’s the cleanest I’ve ever been.


A local homesteader, Yule Kilcher, had the tradition of firing up the sauna on sunday afternoon, and I adopted that tradition and maintained if for decades, even when I left Alaska, I would seek a gym with a sauna on an occasional sunday. later when I became a gym member, Sunday was always sauna day.

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