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Your guide to having an ultra-detoxifying sauna experience


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Photo: Stocksy/Trinette Reed
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You can detox with juices, supplements, or even by working out. But arguably the easiest way to give your body a refresh—especially in the dead of winter—is by hanging out in a sauna or steam room.

Easy, that is, if you know what you’re doing. The fact is that there’s so much more to sweating it out than just wrapping a towel around your chest and hanging out on a wooden bench. What’s the secret to making your DIY spa day work for you?

Enter hydrotherapy, or hot-cold rituals. “Hydrotherapy helps with releasing endorphins and increased levels of melatonin,” says Liz Tortolani, founder of CityWell, a (super Instagram-friendly) boutique bathhouse in what is basically my dream version of a Brooklyn apartment. Inside, there are modern-chic showers, a steam room, and a lounge filled with raw nuts, fresh-brewed teas, coloring books, and all-natural beauty products, while outside is a backyard oasis with a jumbo-size hot tub, a rain-style shower, and a just-installed retro-style sauna (insert heart-eye emoji here).

“Your body will feel as if it just did a big workout, because in essence it did.”

“The order of the elements matters, since you’re slowly preparing your body for the more intense hot and cold,” Tortolani adds. Follow a specific structure—which she’s fine-tuned after years of practice—and you’ll reap major benefits. “It’s really good for relaxing the muscles, lowering your heart rate, helping with circulation and digestion, promoting better sleep—the list goes on,” the Brooklynite says. (Ever notice how everyone leaving a bathhouse always looks totally Zen?)

Not only does Tortolani liken the process to interval training, but she also suggests that you work in the practice on actual rest days. “Your body will feel as if it just did a big workout, because in essence it did,” she says, pointing to the endorphin rush you feel after immersing yourself in extreme hot-then-cold temperatures. “All of your senses get heightened in these elements,” she adds.

Of course, when dealing with such temperature fluctuations, don’t forget to give yourself proper breaks and keep a water bottle handy. “It’s important to not overheat yourself,” says Tortolani. “Take things incrementally as your body adjusts, and hydration is key.” Two rounds will hit the sweet spot and leave you feeling completely rejuvenated and blissed out.

And if you can’t make it to a bathhouse, you can DIY your own at home—Tortolani recommends first soaking in an epsom salt bath, then taking a cool shower followed by a hot one, then repeat.

Keep reading to learn the steps to a life-changing hydrotherapy session.

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hydrotherapy steps
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Step 1: Rinse

The first step is prepping your body for the more intense temperatures. “I call this a temperate shower,” says Tortolani. “It’s to acclimate your body, and to cleanse off the day energetically and literally, then get your body temperature to a temperate place.”

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hydrotherapy steam room
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2. Get steamy

Time to heat things up—Tortolani says that the next stop should be the steam room. “The steam helps to improve your breathing, alleviate congestion, and helps your body start to relax,” she says. “It’s a good way to slowly start the detoxification process.”

Another bonus? Your pores will open up, so acne-causing bacteria and buildup will be released into thin (steamy) air. Tortolani advises staying in the steam room for 5-7 minutes.

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hydrotherapy process
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3. Hit the shower again

Next it’s back to the shower—but it won’t be as easy as the first. “This rinse is cooler than your first because you want to start flushing the system out,” says Tortolani. “Try to make it cooler or cold, and really massage the big lymph node areas to help speed up the process.” That includes your neck, armpits, and groin areas.

Though it can be difficult taking a shower that’s lower than your body temperature, she promises it’ll be worth it±and your endorphins will definitely be on high alert (yes, that’s a good thing).

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hydrotherapy tub
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4. Enjoy a hot bath

“Relaxing in warm water is particularly great for releasing muscle tension,” says Tortolani. “It also helps with inflammation and any nerve issues. It’s an amazing feeling to allow your body to be weightless, which we aren’t very often.”

She recommends getting in the water up to your neck (no need to submerge) for roughly 10 minutes—a hot tub is ideal, but any warm bath will do. You can take another cool shower if you’d like afterwards, too, but it’s not necessary.

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hydrotherapy sauna
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5. Sauna time

A sauna provides a dry heat experience, which is a nice juxtaposition to the moisture from the steam room—and comes with its own perks. “The sauna is particularly good for relieving tension, increasing blood flow, and can even help with migraines,” says Tortolani.

After you take deep breaths in the cozy wooden lair, you may even notice a glow after emerging 7-10 minutes later. That’s because, as Tortolani points out, all of the increased blood circulation leads to an enviable radiance.

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hydrotherapy cold shower
Photo: Stocksy/Jacqui Miller

6. Chill out

Tortolani recommends ending your routine with the coldest shower of all (or, if you’re near one, be that person who jumps in the cold plunge). “This is important because the hotter your system is, the better it will feel,” she says. Bracing yourself for that insta-chill gets you more than just bragging rights: “The cold will really stimulate your body and flush out all of the old blood. It helps to move all of the systems in your body, from your nervous to your digestive systems.”

Have trouble with cold showers? (I feel you.) “Get as hot as you can in the sauna, then try to grin and bear it,” says Tortolani. “A handheld shower makes it a little easier, so you can start with it right under your arms and hit all the lymphatic hotspots.” Repeat the entire process, if time allows. In the end, the feeling will be well worth it.

There are other modes of self care you can try, too—like this science-backed way to boost your mood. Or you could try one of these out-there wellness treatments that, yes, actually work

CityWell, 496 President Street, Brooklyn, NY 11215, 347-294-0100, www.citywellbrooklyn.com.