Posts Tagged “sweat lodge”
Posted on October 5th, 2011 by Chris in Guides, Saunas, tags: Finnish sauna, heat, Perspiration, russian banya, sauna, sauna room, saunas, Steam room, sweat, sweat bath, sweat lodge
Image via Wikipedia
A sauna, at its simplest, is a hot air bath. The word sauna has its origins in Finnish, but in English it has become a generalization that describes a number of different ways to take in the heat that were developed by cultures throughout the world, including the Finnish sauna, Russian banya, Japanese mushi-buro, North American sweat lodge, South American temezcal, Korean jjim jil bang, Roman caldarium, and the Arabic hammam.
All of these have a rich history dating back thousands of years. Today, most fitness centers, many hotels, and several public sauna businesses all have saunas available for their patrons to use. What is a sauna and why has it been so popular?
What is a sauna?
A sauna is a hot air bath or sweat bath. You take a sauna in a special, insulated room that keeps the air still and heat in. There is a heat source in the room to transfer heat to your body: The heat in a sauna comes from rocks heated in a fire, stove, or an infrared radiator. The heat source may only heat the air, or it may also produce steam which makes it feel hotter.
In the sauna your skin gets heated well above its normal temperature. In response, your body begins sweating profusely to keep yourself cool. To get the feeling of heat all over your body and to prevent clothes from being soaked with sweat, the sauna is typically used nude, or with as little clothing as practical.
It is a type of bath. Many cultures, notably the Finns and the Russians, will have a tank of heated water inside of their sauna which they will use to wash themselves while in the heat. The Russian platza and Arabic hammam are elaborate cleansing rituals that take place while in the hot room. Other cultures wash outside of the sauna room, but use the sauna’s heat to release dirt and toxins from deep in their skin.
When you look at all the different people throughout the world who came up with the idea of a sauna, there must be a common thread. There is: We humans have several features which makes us unique from any other creature on Earth.
First of all, we are naked. Unlike other mammals, we have very little hair on our bodies that protects us from the elements. When it gets cold or wet outside, we need to wrap ourselves in clothing of some kind to protect us from the cold, wind and rain. When it gets really cold, we need an external heat source, like a fire to keep us warm.
It does not take much imagination to think about our ancestors, covered in wet clothes from a day of surviving, returning home to their hut, burrow or cave and stoking their fire to create a lot of heat, then shedding those wet clothes to feel warm again. As their clothes dried next to them, the steam released, made the warmth of the fire much more pleasant.
The ancient Greek, Roman, and Arabic cultures also had sauna baths. These were typically enjoyed in the middle of the day, when it was hottest. In the summertime, many of these places are close to the temperature in a sauna. Why would these cultures enjoy bathing in the heat?
Sauna as a sweat bath:
We humans have another unique feature: We sweat to cool our bodies. As you can remember from your teenage years, there are lots of problems that can develop with your sweat glands if they aren’t kept clean.
Without modern soaps, one of the few ways to clean your personal cooling system was to get really sweaty, then rinse off your body. The Romans have a well described history of the process at their baths. Like a modern fitness center of today, they began by exercising in the courtyard of the baths to work up a sweat. Then they covered their bodies with oil and dust, then scraped them off. With the oil and dust came all of the other dirt and grime they had picked up on their bodies since their last bath. After that, they entered the baths proper, where they alternated between hot and cold rooms and pools to finish the cleansing process.
So what is the modern sauna?
The modern sauna that is in your gym locker room, or if you’re really lucky, your backyard is a combination of all these historical baths. The room is typically lined with wood. The open fire is gone, replaced with a sealed stove that is safe to use indoors. Some sauna stoves are still filled with stones. They help keep the temperature even inside the sauna, and allow you to splash water on them to make steam. Others do away with the stones, and use infrared panels to heat your body directly.
Modern medicine is coming to discover that the sauna can help with a number of ailments like heart problems and high blood pressure. Regular sauna baths help improve your endurance and heat tolerance and can help remove metabolic wastes post-workout. It also has psychological benefits: Regular sauna users have more energy, are happier, sleep better, and can maintain a healthy weight. It is also one of the few exercises for your skin — your body’s largest organ.
What is the sauna to you? Is it a sacred space? A place to recover from your last workout? Part of your beauty regimen? Or is it just a place to get away from your clothes and the modern world for a while? Let us know in the comments.
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Posted on April 14th, 2011 by Chris in news, tags: carbon dioxide poisoning, death, health, hyperthermia, James Arthur Ray, James Ray, news, Sedona Arizona, sweat lodge, Trial
This week has been a flurry of activity at the James Ray trials for the deaths of three participants in a sweat lodge in late 2009. New evidence, commissioned by the state, has surfaced proposing that the cause of at least one of the deaths was brought on by lack of air exchange in the sweat lodge – a possibility we first proposed here in March.
In April 2010, Rick Haddow, an environmental consultant, emailed a report to Ross Diskin, a detective investigating the case, detailing his investigation into the possible causes of death for one of the victims, Liz Neuman.
According to Mr. Haddow’s report:
- The high relative humidity and temperature in the lodge created a condition where Ms. Neuman’s body could no longer regulate her internal temperature.
- The rock pit was not centered in the lodge, but was offset. Ms. Neuman was seated in the area that was closest to the rock pit, the hottest section of the lodge.
- The area of the lodge where Ms. Neuman and most of the others who were injured or succumbed in the lodge was affected by what Mr. Haddow calls a radiant heat barrier, limiting the air exchange in the area, greatly increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide.
- The lodge’s construction was nearly air tight and the heat from the rocks would make it difficult for outside air to enter the lodge, except through the door.
- The area between the door and the rock pit, where Mr. Ray was seated, would have been the only area in the lodge to get a good air exchange. The conditions experienced there would have been completely different than those in the area where most of the victims were seated.
The contents of the report this week were just discovered by Mr. Ray’s legal team. They filed a motion for mistrial on the basis that the prosecution willfully withheld this evidence. They argued that this was a constitutional violation of Mr. Ray’s rights. Yesterday afternoon, that motion was denied, but it will change the strategy of Mr. Ray’s defense as the trial resumes today.
The full text of Mr. Haddow’s report can be found on page 15 of the mistrial motion filed by the defense team.
The sweat lodge was built by Angel Valley, the resort where Mr. Ray’s seminar was held. Mr. Ray’s defense strategy throughout the trial has been to point to flaws in the design of the sweat lodge structure as the cause of the deaths, not his endurance endurance sweat session after several days of fasting and little sleep for his participants.
For updates on the trial, we have been following Lynne LaMaster’s reporting at the Prescott e News. For those interested, her articles on the case go into much more detail.
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Posted on March 4th, 2011 by Chris in news, Your Body, tags: Arizona, Carbon monoxide poisoning, death, health, James Arthur Ray, news, Sedona, Sedona Arizona, sweat lodge, Tragedy in Sedona
Photo of James Ray's sweat lodge, shown at his manslaughter trial. Photo from Prescott E-News
In the opening arguments in James Ray’s trial for the manslaughter of three in a sweat lodge at his 2009 Spiritual Warrior workshop, more details of the event have come to light. According to the Prescott E-News, part of Mr. Ray’s defense is the deaths of the participants were from toxins — not heat stroke as the Prosecution alleges.
Mr. Ray’s defense might be right: Toxins seem to us to be the cause of this tragedy.
Unfortunately for Mr. Ray, it looks like he was the prime creator of the toxins, not others as his defense team alleges. It sounds to us like his participants suffered from lack of oxygen in the sweat lodge.
The evidence in this case hasn’t been given yet, but Connie Joy, who attended more than 20 of Ray’s seminars, including his 2007 Spiritual Warrior workshop, wrote about the experience in her book Tragedy in Sedona:
We formed a line behind James. As the Native American drummed and chanted, we headed into the lodge.
We circled around clockwise, James stopped at the right side of the door, then told us to sit as close as possible to each other and to the tent wall, but not to put any weight on the tent itself. After the outside row filled up, the inside row formed with people packed tightly next to each other, their backs just in front of our knees, which we pulled up against us. No one could move. …
After everyone was in and seated, James called for [eight to ten] super-heated stones, which we called grandfathers. … [They brought them in on pitchforks] until all of the requested stones glowed in the pit. Then Joan took a five-gallon white painter’s bucket filled with water and poured it all onto the stones. As soon as she backed up to her spot and sat down the people outside dropped a cover over the doorway.
About halfway through the first [twenty-minute] round, I started to grow dizzy. … When the first round was finally over and they opened the tent flap, I grew more nauseaous by the second. Concerned I would get sick on the people packed tightly around me, I covered my mouth and got up and worked my way through the bodies to the door. …
After a couple of more rounds, the tent flap opened. A group of people rushed out. What I saw alarmed me. They were disoriented, throwing up, and after they were sprayed with water, a couple of people were shaking on the ground.
Several people who were there told me later, from start to finish, our group spent a total of three hours in the sweat lodge.
Wow. Let’s break this down:
From the photos and the description there was only one entrance to the sweat lodge. It is reasonably air tight, and it was packed full of people. While those people were in there, they were dumping 5-gallon buckets of water onto superheated rocks to fill the lodge with steam.
According to CNN, the sweat lodge was 5 feet tall and 23 feet around. That’s an internal volume of 58,000 liters. There were 60 people inside of the lodge in 2009. Each person takes up about 81 liters, leaving 53,100 liters of air inside the lodge. Let’s say half of that 5 gallon bucket of water turned to steam when it was poured on the rocks. That would displace another 16,200 liters of air, leaving 36,900 liters of air in the lodge.
Fresh air is 21% oxygen — the element we need to survive when we breathe. Looking at the volume of air in the lodge, there would be 7,700 liters of oxygen in there, reducing the oxygen concentration to 14.5% just after the water turned to steam and the door was closed.
All of those people in the sweat lodge are breathing, and consuming oxygen. The base rate is about 3.5 ml/min per kg of body mass. The average maximum rate for non-athletes is around 35 ml/min. Say that those people are consuming at about halfway to maximum, and we find that those 60 people in the lodge are consuming 92 liters of oxygen each minute. By the end of the first 20-minute round they would have consumed another 1800 liters of oxygen, bringing the average oxygen concentration to just 11%.
In a still situation, there would be areas with higher and lower concentrations of oxygen. Some areas, like Mr. Ray’s position near the door, would have a higher percentage of oxygen. In the middle of the mass of bodies, like where Ms. Joy was sitting, the concentration could be several percentage points lower.
According to Argonne National Lab, most people can function relatively normally in an environment down to 15% oxygen. As the concentration decreases from 15% to 10%, the pulse quickens, breathing rates increase, and people’s coordination and judgement decreases. Below 10% we start to see symptoms like Ms. Joy reports: nausea, vomiting, fainting, ash colored face and bluish lips. An 8% or less oxygen concentration is 100% fatal in 8 minutes. As the concentration decreases below 6%, it can put someone into a coma in as little as 40 seconds.
Reports by participants in the 2009 event talk about paramedics suspecting carbon monoxide poisoning — an easy mistake because carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in your bloodstream.
If you are going to run your own sweat lodge, there are some things you can do to learn from Mr. Ray’s mistakes and keep all of your participants safe:
- The sauna should be an appropriate volume for the people you are going to put inside of it. With all of the people and the steam you’ll be generating, you should be sure that there will still be enough oxygen for everyone to breathe during each round of the sweat.
- Between rounds, the sweat lodge should be emptied, and ventilated to ensure there is fresh air before each round. In a German sauna, they swing a towel in the doorway to force this changeover.
- The keeper of the lodge, with the most experience should be in the worst position to best monitor the conditions in the lodge. Mr. Ray, sitting near the door, had no idea what the conditions were really like: He was in the coolest spot with the most oxygen. He had no way of knowing what the conditions would be like at the far end of the lodge.
- Between sweat rounds, people should be encouraged to leave the sweat lodge and cool their bodies before the next round.
- If people are feeling ill, they should be encouraged to leave immediately, and be examined by medical personnel if they show any abnormal symptoms. They should not be pressured to stay in the lodge or be encouraged to return to the lodge.
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