Tons of energy, great skin, and a sense of unshakable inner peace might just be a Girls episode and an electric blanket away.
Not convinced? Just ask any of the hard-core devotees of Shape House, Los Angeles’s first and only “urban sweat lodge.” Since it opened just over three years ago, offering hour-long bouts inside 170 degree infared heat wraps (with private TVs to pass the time), the wellness center has attracted a cult-like following of health nuts, time-strapped professionals, and celebs, including Selena Gomez and Emma Roberts.
In this era of 25-minute workouts, taking an hour-and-a-half (including recovery time) to sweat seems, well, ridiculously luxurious. And at $45 a session, it’s a bit financially indulgent, too. But that hasn’t stopped many Shape House fans from checking in to the brand’s four offbeat orange-and-grey havens multiple times a week, sometimes even more frequently than they hit the gym.
So what’s the appeal? Science says that FAR infared heat helps with weight loss, skin issues, insomnia, and stress levels, while providing a cardiovascular workout that’s on par with a 10-mile run (minus the stress fractures). But the biggest reason for the Shape House obsession goes deeper than the physical. “For that hour, nobody gets to be in your hair,” says founder Sophie Chiche, pictured above, who strongly recommends that people leave their phones and laptops at the door (almost everyone complies). “In that hour you get to be emotionally better, mentally better. I think people realize pretty quickly that hour gives you a lot.”
If you haven’t tried it, chances are you will soon. The latest Shape House location just opened on Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood, and a location in the South Bay is also in the works. “The plan is to saturate California… I want it to be like Starbucks,” she proclaims. “You shouldn’t have to drive 25 minutes to sweat.”
Meet the brand’s superfans and learn why it stands a great shot…
Building Shape House brick by sweaty brick
Chiche first discovered the power of a sedentary sweat from an unlikely place: Groupon. “I was going to a wedding and wanted to lose 5 pounds to fit into a dress, so I bought a package for an infrared healing bed in a Calabasas suntan salon,” recalls the former therapist. “It was kind of in a closet, and there was no bathroom so they didn’t give you water. But I would do it because nothing had ever made me feel so good. I would find my sleep so profound and I would wake up so energized.”
Soon after she started going, she had a vision that eventually evolved into the first Shape House location on Larchmont Boulevard. “I saw how the experience would be the opposite of what I’d been doing—it would be all about wellness and goodness and love, but it wouldn’t be like a big spa thing where you have to take the day off to come.” She even envisioned the staffers’ cheery uniforms (grey dresses with orange tights), which she says were inspired by the orange and grey robes worn by the Dalai Lama and his acolytes.
You’re not meant to meditate or do something intentional during your detox, unless for you that means seeing what Olivia Pope’s up to
But even after her vision came to life, people weren’t exactly convinced of Shape House’s merits. “A few years ago, I’d go to dinner parties and tell people about the concept, and they’d be like, ‘What are you talking about?’” she says.
And admittedly the experience is a little strange—you don super-thick sweat pants, sweatshirt, and socks and climb into a gurney with a curtain pulled around you. You’re not meant to meditate or do something high-vibe or intentional during your detox, unless for you that means seeing what Olivia Pope’s up to. It’s you, the remote control, and waiting for your sweat to start pouring out of you.
If, in it’s first year of business, Shape House caused many a skeptical eyebrow to raise, it’s now causing wallets to open. (It’s $45 a session, and less with a package or membership.) It’s become a huge health destination, and word on the wellness street is “Hook-line-and-sinker, I’m in.” Thanks to girlfriend-to-girlfriend gushfests—and high-profile endorsements from the likes of the Kardashians and LL Cool J—you’re likely to encounter a wait list for appointments at the original location, plus the newer ones in WeHo, Santa Monica, and Pasadena.
The rise of the Shape House superfan
Part of Shape House’s popularity is due, in part, to the brand’s superfans—ultra-vocal sweat evangelists who have turned their friends, families, and even strangers on to the practice.
One of those zealots is personal trainer and nutritionist Amy Rosoff Davis, who visits Shape House 2-3 times a week and credits it with calming her down. “I bring up Shape House within 10 minutes of talking to anyone,” says Davis, who discovered the brand through a friend.
“I bring up Shape House within 10 minutes of talking to anyone,” says Amy Rosoff Davis, a super fan.
“I am totally and utterly addicted. Mentally, physically, emotionally, I need the release of sweating. As a super high-energy, type-A person, I rely on that hour of love and Zen I give to myself,” she says. (She even bought an infared bed—pictured above—to take on the road with her during client Selena Gomez’s current world tour).
Other Shape House devotees swear it’s helped them overcome health issues that nothing else could. Mary Steinborn, a real estate investor who has been visiting Shape House since its early days, initially started going as a last-ditch effort to help heal psoriasis. “Within 5 sessions, 50 percent of my psoriasis had healed,” she says. “And that was after having it for 20 years. It was miraculous, because I was already so conscientious about my health—off sugar, vegan, gluten-free.”
Plus, there’s the fact that an hour at Shape House feels a little bit like going to visit your mom, where you’re doted on from beginning to end. “Half of the appeal is all these health benefits, and the other half is how healing it is just to be nurtured for those 90 minutes,” says Steinborn. “To go in and be so taken care of every single time—from the alkaline water to the beauty towels with the very pure lavender drops—that, in itself, is very healing.”
She adds: “They have never lost sight of what this place is about—caring for people and helping people to care for themselves.”
Some clients come in for their skin or because they can’t sleep, says Chiche, but Shape House has been known to play a considerably more profound role in people’s lives. “Then these [same clients] start saying they finally have the courage to write a book or leave a relationship or quit a job they hate,” says Chiche.
Lisa Jenkins can attest to this. Shortly after she started sweating, the entertainment exec felt more energized, yet calmer, with sounder sleep and glowier skin—and taking care of herself naturally became more of a priority.
“Shape House has been a part of some big changes in my life,” she says. “I decided that I wanted to be strong and accomplished and happy with my body, so I lost 30 lbs and started running… now, I’m training for a 10K. People tell me now, ‘Wow, I don’t know how you did it.’ But if you make one small change and then another, before you know it, all of those small changes have added up to a big change.”
It can be really intimidating to totally overhaul what you eat or join a gym, but we can all lay in a warm bed for an hour and watch Scandal
So maybe Shape House’s real magic is that it’s a catalyst for self-care on a bigger scale. Let’s be real, it can be really intimidating to totally overhaul what you eat or join a gym, but we can all lay in a warm bed for an hour and watch Scandal—and sometimes, that small, sweaty spark is all that’s needed to ignite other healthy habits.
“People treat their hour at Shape House as sacred me-time, and somehow that trickles down to other good things,” says Chiche. “So maybe at your next meal, you make a better choice. It’s a good wellness habit that people don’t find too hard. Enough of thinking, ‘It’s got to be hard to be good.’ It doesn’t.”
Shape House, 434 N. Larchmont Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90004; 653 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, CA, 90069; 1003 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA, 90401; 1169 Fair Oaks Blvd., Pasadena, CA, 91105; 855-567-2346, www.shapehouse.com
Originally posted May 18, 2016. Updated January 2, 2017.