Far Infrared Therapy
Far Infrared Technology may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but it’s a billion dollar worldwide industry. I quizzed several health care practitioners that use infrared about how it works, and the answers ranged from “it penetrates the body deeper” to “it is good for detoxification.” Still, they left me more curious than convinced.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the benefits of infrared wavelengths, otherwise known as the wavelengths of light that emit heat. You can’t see infrared light, but it’s real.
To find out more, I called Samana Benedetti, owner of several infrared therapeutic modalities in her transformational day spa at Spa Luna. She’s also been training estheticians and massage therapists on Maui at her school for more than 20 years. Her Italian Body Slimming and toning treatment utilizes far infrared therapy and says it can take inches off, eliminate water weight and excess fat.
“The far infrared treatments are Italian body toning treatments, and I’ve done them for over 10 years,” says Benedetti. “You put them over an area of the body, like the tummy and one 30 minute session for example is like doing five hours of crunches. But the more exciting part, if that is even possible to get more, is there are eight infrared pads that are four inches by three inches and wherever you place the pads, its has the ability through heat to go to the adipose layer where the cellulite lies it will heat up the fat and liquify it so it goes through the lymph system and the blood stream and then you expel it as waste.”
Benedetti says that the process works similarly in the infrared sauna. She says she has bought three of the infrared saunas and even has one at home. It helped her recover from her own health issues, and she says that it penetrates to deep layers of tissues, gets to toxins and allows the body to shed them. From her own experience, she recommends drinking two glasses of water in advance, sweat it out in the infrared sauna, blot the sweat off of your body to wick the bad stuff away and then shower directly after so you don’t re-absorb anything.
Hearing this, I headed to Spa Luna at the Maui Mall to try it out. Their brochure says that benefits include reduced inflammation, detox of heavy metals and the burning of 700 calories every 30 minutes. A European sauna will typically be around 220 degrees Fahrenheit, but an infrared sauna is effective at 130 to 143 degrees Fahrenheit. That you means you can sit for 30 minutes in an infrared sauna, versus around 10 or 15 minutes in a European one.
I was about 12 hours from my most recent wine dinner hangover as I closed the sauna door behind me. I had some typical existing aches and pains. Inside I heated up nicely, and after about 10 minutes my skin exhibited a light sheen as I felt drops of sweat down my back. I was a bit restless so I blotted off so I’d have something to do.
Ten minutes later I was dripping sweat on my book, and my aches and pains were annihilated by the constant warmth, though I might have felt a wave of nausea for a fleeting second. It felt like a day on the beach in Lahaina, without the ocean nearby, of course. The last ten minutes my pores really opened, and though the heat wasn’t unbearable I dampened the towels I brought in with me. It still felt really good, and would certainly do it again.
The infra red sauna at Spa Luna costs $25 for 30 minutes, and an additional $5 for another person. They have a shower right next to it that you can hop into right after. There are quite a few other locations around the island that have infrared saunas, like Enderbodies, Iao Acupuncture and Temple of Peace.
Still, I was curious about how it worked.
“It’s kind of magic,” says Benedetti, who said she’s always incorporated holistic philosophy into her treatment, believing the universe and living nature are stronger through interaction. “The one here at Spa Luna is the third one I have owned. I have one at home. In 2002, I was diagnosed with a rare disorder and Western doctors didn’t have a clue. So I had to research for myself and found out about the infrared sauna.”
The Chinese were early adopters, realizing the chi in the body generates heat. Three thousand years ago, they practiced palm healing, using the heat and energy from your hands, which was basically an ancient form of Reiki. The basking in the sun is one of the best free forms of infrared therapy, but the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight can cause serious skin damage.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) website has several published studies and physician papers that talk about infrared. Dr. Richard Beever’s article in the Canadian Family Physician’s Journal published on the NIH site explains the heating process.
“Traditional saunas use either wood stoves or 220-V heaters to heat the air to approximately 85°C, which then heats the occupant, mainly via convection,” it states. “Some people find this heat uncomfortable. In contrast, Far Infrared Saunas (FIRSs) heat to approximately 60°C, providing a more comfortable and relaxing experience. They utilize 120-V infrared elements, similar to the infrared warmers on neonatal resuscitation beds, to radiate heat with a wavelength of around 10 μm infrared waves.”
The NIH site also refers to a study by doctors Fatma Vatansever and Michael R. Hamblin. “Technological advances have provided new techniques for delivering FIR radiation to the human body,” states that study. “Specialty lamps and saunas, delivering pure FIR radiation (eliminating completely the near and mid infrared bands), have became safe, effective, and widely used sources to generate therapeutic effects. Fibers impregnated with FIR emitting ceramic nanoparticles and woven into fabrics, are being used as garments and wraps to generate FIR radiation, and attain health benefits from its effects.”
Of course, you can use infrared for an entirely different kind of therapy than simply eliminating toxins.
Doctor Sonya Hansen, an obesity specialist on Maui, is opening a new weight loss and fitness center in Wailea called Awazul that uses state of the art ozone and new far infrared technology. Hansen says she wants to change the way people approach obesity therapy. Her new awafit machines, infrared blanket and infrared treadmill–combined with juicing–are the keys.
Never heard of awafit? That’s probably because Dr. Hansen coined the term for her new machines, which she bought in Europe. They’re basically a stationary bicycle mounted underwater and using infrared heat. Her vision is to fuse a medical approach to wellness without surgery, liposuction or lipofreezing, which she says can leave dimples on the skin.
“For me because I am a doc, I don’t want it to be a doctors visit,” says Hansen. “I want it to be a club. I want it to be the opposite of a doctor visit. You come in work out and drink your juice. It’s viewing weight loss in a whole new way without it being painful.”
Hansen says her vision for weight loss is a lifestyle change, built on exercise and nutrition. The exercise machines are designed to increase your metabolism and help you excrete fat without counting calories. They can also help with restless legs and various toxicity issues.
“They don’t exist in the states, ” says Hansen of the machines. “I had to order these machines from Poland. It is developed by the Italian rehab doctor. Basically, he put a bike in a jacuzzi. He warmed up the water to increase blood flow. With increased blood flow your cellulite vanishes. I tried these bikes at a spa in Paris, and decided to open a spa on Maui. I love the safety that water provides.”
Dr. Hansen’s husband, Dr. Till Hansen, is an endocrinologist who will also be moving his practice to Awazul. They’re also partnering with Pepe Vega to create an all organic juice menu. Awazul will offer acai bowls, cold pressed juices and smoothies.
“The treadmill is enclosed,” says Hansen. “it looks like something from Star Wars. It has a door you walk in and it has far infrared lamps that heat you up. There’s a vacuum system that pulls the blood to the lower body. Obesity can make your legs painful, and often there are problems with circulation. This pulls the blood through the body and gets it circulating.”
Dr. Hansen compares the infrared workouts to heated yoga. She says Awazul will be open in four to six weeks, and will be next to Pita Paradise and Monkeypod Kitchen in the Wailea Gateway Center. For more information on their programs and pricing go to awazul.com
There are still other benefits from far infrared. “Far Infrared can also increase the processing enzyme activity in our digestive tract, as well as boost metabolism,” Dr. Edward Group writes in a blog post at the Global Healing Center website. “An hour of this therapy can burn up to 900 calories, showing excellent results in breaking down trapped fat, waste, cellulite and other forms of toxic substances. The rejuvenating effects of Far Infrared has been shown to help heal scar tissue such as burn scars, acne scars and other forms of dermatological scarring.”
The Natural News website says infrared is also a green way to heat homes, because it’s more energy efficient. In fact, Maui Yoga Shala in Paia installed it in one of their studios so they could do hot yoga.
You can spend an hour bathed in infrared heat at their hot yoga classes offered seven days a week at 8am and Tuesdays to Friday at 5:15pm.
I was always terrified of hot yoga, having an aversion to the idea of being heated up while working out, but Infrared therapy and Vinyasa flow yoga piqued my interest. I figured I could handle an hour. On a Tuesday morning I took my sore muscles to a class taught by Jacob at the Paia Shala.
They say that hot yoga is really great because you heat up your muscles, so you get really flexible. While I don’t know that I felt more flexible, I did seem to be able to expand into all the poses to the best of my abilities. The heat was never a distraction.
If you try this, bring a towel because you will sweat. At one point in class, the sun rose over a rooftop and came through the window, blessing me with a bit of extra heat. The class was the perfect combination of therapeutic wavelengths and challenges from moving through yoga asanas. It was certainly worth the $18 drop-in fee.