Monday, February 23, 2009

Staying Warm

Being cold is an issue I deal with frequently, especially on our bike rides in the wintertime. Most guys with which I ride do not seem phased by colder temperatures, and I truly wish being cold was merely a state of mind for me. The fact of the matter is, I am always cold and when I am cold my body does not function very well.

During our trips to Italy, one the highlights is a visit to the sauna. Europeans know how to do saunas and it is a heavenly experience. Having a my own personal sauna was always a pipe dream and never considered an option. A few months ago, I popped into a bathroom remodel warehouse and noticed some saunas on display. Mumbling to myself how nice it would be to have one, the salesman launched into his pitch of how affordable these models were.

My interest was piqued and I endured his speech. He described this unit as being an infrared sauna, something of which I was unfamiliar. What truly intrigued me was the $1,000 price tag. Back in the solitude of my own home, I did some internet research to learn more about infrared and far-infrared saunas. It was very interesting.

Here is an easy to understand explanation of far-infrared from High Tech Health:
Far infrared is a band of electromagnetic energy, just as visible light and ultraviolet light are. The difference between visible light and far infrared is that we cannot see far infrared. Far infrared is experienced as heat and this is how the heat from the sun reaches the Earth through the vacuum of space. Far infrared differs from ultraviolet in that it affects the body differently - far infrared is not harmful to the body in anyway and does not lead to sunburns or skin cancer the way exposure to ultraviolet can.

What makes far infrared so special is how it is absorbed by the body. It is in sharp contrast to a band of energy called near infrared that is also experienced as heat. Near infrared energy is absorbed only on the surface of the skin. It is experienced as a sharper heat sensation. It is also what is emitted by the heat lamps you see warming hamburgers at the local fast food restaurant. Far infrared, on the other hand, is absorbed into the body up to a depth of 1 and a half inches. It is experienced as a softer heat sensation which is quite enjoyable. It is this experience that people enjoy about sun bathing. It is also this particular property that enables superior detoxification. By being able to penetrate into the body, it is able to mobilize toxins that other forms of detoxification just cannot reach (chelation does not have this ability).

There are plenty of companies touting far-infrared saunas, but the one that interested me the most was Sunlight Saunas, because they offer a portable sauna. With limited space in our house, a conventional sauna is not feasible. However, the unique portable Solo System appeared to be a good solution for our space issue. I mulled this over for a few months while searching other brands. Filling out a quick info form on the Sunlight website immediately resulted in a call from the area representative and an email with lots of information. There is no pricing available to view on the site. You have to fill out the online form to receive the price sheet by email.

The representative has an office in Roswell, just a half hour drive for us, and said it was possible to come and try out 2 different models if I brought a bathing suit and towel. We made an appointment for a Sunday afternoon and drove out there after a long cold bike ride.

The rep, Kathryn, was kind and gracious and not too pushy. I do not like to play the "salesman" game, but put up with it since I was genuinely interested in the product. While Roger listened to her technical talk, I slipped into my suit and hopped in the one person free standing unit first.

While I enjoyed the warmth from the far-infrared rays, I could not get comfortable in the cramped space. There is not enough room to lie down, and the seated position did not allow me to relax completely. I am accustom to lying down in a conventional sauna. If I were to buy one of the free standing units, it would have to be the 4 person unit that allows you to lie down. Obviously, space and money constraints prevented me from making that purchase.

Next, I tried the Solo System. This is a unique design that allows you to lie down while encased in a "tent" sauna. Your body is covered while your head sticks out the a sleeping bag!
The opening is insulated with a plastic cover attached with velcro that can be removed quickly. A towel placed over the end works much better than the plastic cover once you are in the sauna. The plastic is very uncomfortable touching your skin, and a towel serves the purpose much better. Once the sauna is heated up and ready to use, the plastic can be removed and a towel used in its place.

The modular unit can be easily broken down into 2 pieces and stored away. The brochure states that it breaks down into a lovely piece of furniture....that may be stretching it a bit in my opinion. At least it is not a hideous eye sore, but just an odd looking piece.

A separate heated Solo Pad to lie on can be purchased as well to complete the set, or you can just use the modular pieces alone. A heat reflective pad is also included to use with the modules to insulate the heat if you do not use the heated Solo Pad. In this photo, the Solo Pad is shown on top of the reflective pad.

After our visit, I decided to take the plunge and purchase the entire Solo System with the Solo Pad. Four weeks after the order was placed, two boxes were delivered by a shipping company (Anytime Delivery). Assembly was simple and straight forward.

The main control box has one cord to plug into the bottom module and a cord for the upper module, allowing you to control the heat output independently for each half. Another cord plugs the control box into a standard 120v wall outlet. On the right side of the box there are 2 displays for the heat level of the upper module and the lower module respectively. When the unit is on, the heat level indicator numbers flash constantly. When I called Sunlight Saunas to inquire about this, I was told that is normal and it will always flash. The red flashing lights are somewhat annoying when one is trying to relax, so you may want to position the box out of line of sight.

The number on the left side of the box is the time control. All numbers are easily adjusted with up/down arrow push buttons. The ON/OFF button is next to the time control. The graphics used on the control box can be confusing at first. The Round logo circle appears to be the ON/OFF button, while the real ON/OFF button disappears in its location. It does not take long to train the eyes to ignore this and learn the correct buttons to use. Once you are in the sauna, it is awkward to use the controls, so easy-to-find buttons are essential.

The biggest blunder is the Solo Pad's hand held control. The cord is barely long enough to allow the control to extend to head end of the sauna, therefore making it almost impossible to retrieve while in the sauna without having to do some gymnastics. When holding the control in the logical position (wires extending away from you), it is upside down and hard to read the numbers and make sense of keying in the functions.

In order to read the tiny print of each function and sort out what button controls what, you must turn the control around first. Little circles everywhere make it difficult to figure out which button does what, and with my bad eyesight I had a hard time making heads or tails out of it for weeks. Now, I have it memorized, but it's still cumbersome and quite a bother to make any adjustments once you are in the sauna.

Now, with those minor cons out of the way, let's talk about the pros. The best feature is the speed at which your little cocoon will become warm and toasty. I turn it on, go take a quick shower, and by the time I dry off and slip in, it is nice and warm. My sister's conventional sauna takes a solid 20 minutes to warm up and even then, it is not warm enough for me.

I realize the purpose of a sauna is for sweating out toxins, but for me it is also about heating up my core. After 3 hours of riding my bike in 40 degree weather (or worse as is often the case lately), all I can think about is getting warm again. As much as I love soaking in a hot tub, that still does not warm my core up sufficiently since it is difficult to maintain a steady temperature in the water.

Another big plus is the ability to control the heat depending on the result you wish to yield. If I want to get a good sweat, I can easily crank up the heat level and be sweating in no time. However, if I want to create more of a relaxing environment for my body, the temperature can quickly be reduced. I have also used just the lower portion of the system (bottom module) to warm up my legs and stimulate blood flow before a early morning ride on cold days. It's quite versatile!

The Solo System is more cost effective to use than a conventional sauna. Our measurements with an amp meter agreed with the statistics provided on the website of the power usage. Based on the rate we pay of 11 cents per kwh, the average use of 35 minutes per day at 1.34 kwh comes to 14 cents per hour to use. That's affordable in my book.

One thing that caused us concern when we first used it was that it caused the house lights to flicker. After buying a meter, we learned that the way it operates is by pulsing instead of creating a continuous pull. However, if the heat level is set at the highest level of 9, the pull is continuous. So now when I first turn it on, I set the heat levels at 9. Then when I get in the sauna, I adjust the heat levels to where I want them. Generally, I try to use it when nothing else is going on in the house to compete with the energy draw. We have talked with the technicians at Sunlight Saunas about this. In my opinion, this is a design feature that should be addressed. They do not feel that flickering lights are a big issue, but to me that is not something you should have to deal with on such a big ticket item.

If having the luxury and benefit of a sauna are important to you, then I recommend you investigate the Sunlight Sauna Solo System. It is an unobtrusive way to bring a sauna into your home, while not compromising the layout of your home in finding a spot to locate it. Plus, if your future plans require a move, it is not a big deal to pack it up with the rest of your belongings.

All the sauna websites make you feel as though a sauna will solve all your problems and heal every disease, problem, and blemish. While I'm not so sure that it is the magic cure all, I do enjoy it. So far, my life has proceeded as normal after 5 weeks of daily use. I do not feel any different, better, or worse. A few persons have made comments about my complexion, but other than that, nothing seems to have changed. Time will tell if I actually yield any health benefits, but in the meantime, I enjoy being warm for a change!

No comments: