Sweating is free, except in Los Angeles. Thanks to the rise of Shape House, the city’s premier “urban sweat lodge,” perspiring is no longer something you do at the gym or by accident before a date; it is a healing treatment and a luxury. And it costs almost $1 a minute.
Since Shape House opened its doors in 2012, celebrities and other wellness enthusiasts have visited at regular intervals to sweat, lying down, in the comfort of heated beds. The lodge uses “far infrared radiation” — also known as heat — to warm guests “from the inside out” during 55-minute sessions. Scientologists have preached the benefits of infrared saunas for years, but Shape House has brought the allegedly detoxifying practice to the mainstream. Emma Roberts, Demi Moore, and Sophia Bush have all visited the lodge in recent months, and Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian have even filmed their reality show there.
Shape House’s most famous devotee is Selena Gomez, who loves sweating so much that she bought her own infrared bed to use at home. In May, she explained the curious practice to Elle.
“I started going to a place called Shape House, and you lay in these beds in a sweatsuit, and they wrap you up and you sweat for 45 minutes and it releases all the toxins of your body, and you kind of feel … kind of the equivalent of a sauna, but it gets your heart rate up, and it gets everything flowing in your body,” she said. “It’s changed my skin, it’s kind of changed my body as well, so it feels really good.”
Shape House claims that regular sweating results in “weight loss, brighter skin, deeper sleep, and increased energy” and that it has cured everything from psoriasis to migraines. On a recent trip to L.A., I stopped in to see what sweating could do for me.
The flagship lodge is a slate-gray Craftsman with a Nickelodeon-orange door, off Melrose. Inside, employees wear uniform gray shirtdresses and orange tights. They speak in low, whispering tones, as if they were performing in an ASMR video. The lighting is dim and tinted a warm red, like the inside of a virtual-reality ride at Disneyland, or perhaps something more familiar.
When I checked in for my appointment, Shape House co-founder Craig Winner told me that my session would be like “returning to the womb.”
Craig, a bald 40-something with a soul patch, started Shape House with his partner, Sophie Cinche, in 2012, after closing some kind of internet business. The idea to launch an “urban sweat lodge” came together quickly — in two months, he has said — and it paid off. Craig told me that he has lost 25 pounds through sweating, and that Sophie has lost even more.
There are no studies to suggest that these results are normal, however. In 2014, California cardiologist Dr. Larry Santora described Shape House’s claims to LA Weekly this way: “When it sounds preposterous, it usually is.” In promotional materials, Shape House claims that a single sweat session burns 800 to 1,600 calories, but Santora found this dubious. “It’s kind of a naïve extrapolation to say that because my heart rate is going up 25 beats per minute when I jog, means that when I’m laying down I’m burning the same amount of calories.”
To me, Craig emphasized the spiritual benefits of sweating. After I emerged from my session, he said, I would feel reborn.
I was mostly worried about dying, though. Couldn’t all that heat, like, stop your heart? Craig laughed and assured me that everything would be fine. “We’ve had 17,000 people and we haven’t lost anybody yet,” he said.
Before I went back to sweat, one of the soft-spoken attendants offered me a glass bottle of Kangen alkaline water, which, according to Shape House’s website, is “an ionized form of H20 that has a higher pH level and smaller molecular clusters than typical drinking water.” It tasted like typical drinking water.
The attendant then led me back to a changing room, where she gave me an outfit to sweat in: loose gray sweatpants, gray sweat socks, and a bright orange long-sleeved T-shirt. It looked like something an inmate might wear in her downtime.
The sweating part was pretty easy. The attendant wrapped me up, burrito-style, in the infrared bed, and handed me a remote so that I could watch TV during my detox. I had enough time to power through almost three episodes of The Hills, starting with the best season: three. By the time Lauren was telling Heidi “You know what you did,” I had worked up a good sweat. I felt my heart start to beat faster about 15 minutes later, when Lo nicknamed Justin Bobby “Justin Bobby.” And just as Spencer was about to propose to Heidi on the beach, the attendant came back to tell me I was done.
I emerged from the bed slightly woozy and extremely damp. I did not feel reborn, but I did feel like maybe I peed my pants. The attendant led me to the “relaxation room,” where I sipped more special molecule water and ate orange slices. There were no celebrities relaxing with me, but there was a mother-daughter couple who kept giving each other exasperated looks. Ahhh.
After I relaxed, I changed back into dry clothes without showering. Shape House recommends that guests wait a few hours to shower after sweating, so that all “toxins” are properly disposed. And according to Selena Gomez, “There’s natural collagen in your toxins, [so] it actually makes your skin feel softer before you wash it all off.” A treat for later.
Before I left, my trusty attendant offered to give me an aura reading. The waiting room of the lodge has a rainbow collection of colored aura sprays, which give you a vibe. She had me point to the colors that spoke to me — yellow, turquoise, and red — and then she sprayed those color sprays around me. Finally, she showed me a long passage on an iPad about what the colors meant, and I nodded at it.
When I got home, I studied my sort-of-smelly body: Was I glowing? Had I become an international pop star? I don’t think so. But maybe you have to do it more than once.