Fire & Ice: The Sauna and Cold Plunge Experience

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You've mostly likely heard of saunas and cold plunges on their own. But have you heard of combining the two into one cohesive experience? You may be surprised to learn exactly how far back each of these traditions stretch.

Dating back potentially thousands of years, cold plunging—or cold-water immersion—is rooted in traditional healing practices and rituals from a number of cultures. Today, the practice is typically done in 50 degree water in tubs, pools or natural bodies of water for between two to three minutes at a time for beginners and up to 10 minutes for more experienced plungers. According to the Mayo Clinic, research has shown cold plunges or ice baths following physical activity can help reduce the degree of exercise-induced muscle damage, in turn reducing inflammation and soreness. So, there's something to the "no pain, no gain" mantra after all.

When it comes to saunas, there's more than one type out there, whether it's a traditional wood-burning sauna (known as a hallmark of Finnish culture), a steam sauna with roots in the Roman Empire and ancient Greece, or an infrared sauna—which unlike a typical sauna, safely heats your body directly using light waves vs. the air around you.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, infrared saunas in particular are said to have benefits including: improved heart health and reduced blood pressure due to blood vessels widening; soothed muscles; better sleep; and a calmer mind. They've even been shown to be a promising method for treatment of chronic pain, at least according to one two year study.

So what happens when you combine the two into "fire and ice?"

Alternating back and forth between a sauna and cold plunge—also called contrast bathing—is said by some to not only provide a good mood boost, but also increase tissue blood flow and oxygenation and quicken muscle recovery. Potential health benefits aside, the practice is beloved by many for the feeling of leaving energized and ready to take on the world.

You could even bring the fire and ice experience directly to your site of choice with mobile sauna and cold plunge rental company, Howl at the Moon Sauna Co. Founder Alisa Cardenas describes the experience as one-of-a-kind—a vacation in a box, delivered to you.

"When you step inside, the chaos of the world fades away and you rediscover the balance and connection this modern life has stolen from us," Cardenas said. "The lights, the crackle of the fire, the overall ambiance ... it's all such a vibe. Our sauna, the 'Wildflower,' is available for overnight rentals and events throughout the summer and we hope to begin offering community sauna sessions this fall."

Additional local establishments offering cold plunges and/or a sauna experience include phlōt in Eastown, Ethos Day Spa in Ada, Wanderlux Spa in Eastown and SWET in Grand Rapids. Remember to stay hydrated and enjoy the impending relaxation!

Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul '24 issue of West Michigan Woman.

Photo Courtesy of Alisa Cardenas and Howl at the Moon Sauna Co. 


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