Here are the ways steam therapy can aid the mind-body connection
Every day we learn more evidence about the connection of mental well-being to physical health. The two were never separated in other cultures, particularly Asian countries with Zen and Buddhist traditions, but the Western paradigm, especially Western medicine, has approached health and disease with a clear dichotomy between the mind and the physical body.
That’s changing. And quickly. The word “mindfulness” is now a household term, and a goal of men and women of all ages who are looking for improved wellness and mental health. Long associated with Eastern mysticism, mindfulness isn’t something exotic or difficult to achieve. It does take practice, and many people seeking mindfulness go to great lengths, including weeks-long retreats and extensive sessions with “gurus” and yoga masters.
Most of us don’t have that luxury. The very reasons we need mindfulness are the same factors that limit our time to work on all aspects of our health and wellness. But if you own a steam room, you have an ideal place to work on your mindfulness training. In fact, the effects of steam heat can be a great complement to the benefits of mindfulness.
First, it’s important to understand what we mean by “mindfulness.”
According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present.” Wikipedia describes mindfulness as “the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.”
As you can tell, there’s no truly set definition of the term, but the concept is the same. To slow down your thoughts and control your mind’s attention to promote serenity and mental discipline.
In today’s world, that’s quite an achievement. But it’s worth the effort. The effects of mindfulness can be life-enhancing in multiple ways, including:
- Mindfulness helps reduce anxiety and stress, say researchers in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
- Mindfulness helps support body image and self-compassion, say scientists who conducted an extensive meta-study.
- Mindfulness helps improve cognition, according to research in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.
- Mindfulness can help clear your brain. A Harvard study found that mindfulness training helps the brain eliminate distractions by regulating a brain wave called the alpha rhythm, which helps increase mental abilities and memory recall.
In his book “Sweat Therapy: A Guide to Better Well-Being,” Stephen Colmant, PhD, points out the long history of sweat rituals in numerous cultural traditions. Native American sweat lodges, Russian Banyas, Jewish Shvitz, Finnish saunas, and Eastern Indian hot yoga are just some of the different ways people have used heat therapy for thousands of years.
Colmant, a clinical psychologist, became interested in sweat rituals after attending a Navajo sweat lodge. This set him on an investigation into different cultural traditions, which convinced him of the psychotherapeutic effects that may be gained by using heat therapy as part of a meditative practice.
Colmant believes people should create their own “sweat ritual” to gain the benefits of heat therapy. If you have regular access to a steam room, you are way ahead when it comes to achieving a more powerful mind-body connection.
Steam's Holistic Benefits
If you’ve experienced a session in a steam room, you’re already aware of the immediate calming effects of the warm heat as it soaks your skin, opening your pores, relaxing your respiratory system so you can breathe easier. Your stress levels drop, and a serenity descends upon you.
Now, imagine taking that moment in the steam room to work on your mindfulness meditation. Steam therapy provides more than surface relaxation. It has true physiological benefits that can help you find your peaceful place on a more consistent basis. Here’s how steam can boost your ability to attain mindfulness.
- A steam room is designed as a closed environment. You aren’t at the mercy of your smartphone, or forced to interact with anybody or anything. It’s just you and the clean, healing humidity. It’s as quiet as you want it. But you can also add ambient music or other music designed for meditation purposes, or even aromatherapy scents. A steam room is your oasis from the world, where you control the environment. It’s the ideal place for mindfulness.
- Neurochemical effects. Steam therapy can help raise serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, and elevate mood. Steam can also help you maintain an energy equilibrium by helping to increase growth hormone. Also, research shows that steam therapy may increase aldosterone, a hormone that has been associated with lower blood pressure. This can help further increase relaxation. Taken together, these restorative qualities of steam rooms are important to stabilizing your central nervous system, so you can better focus your consciousness on mindful awareness.
- Stress reduction. Steam therapy can help raise endorphins and decrease cortisol. Endorphins are hormones that the body releases after exercise and leave you feeling pleasurable. Cortisol is the “fight-or-flight” stress hormone that messes with your metabolic and psychological health. This, combined with the natural relaxing effects of steam heat, are a boost to mindfulness.
- Better breathing. The nexus between breathing and enlightenment are well-known in Eastern mysticism, and careful, controlled breathing patterns are enhanced with steam therapy. Put simply, steam heat can help regulate the respiratory system, removing mucus and phlegm that interrupts consistent inhalation and exhalation. Deep breathing promotes relaxation, and the more you can calm your breathing, the better you can focus on mindfulness exercises.
- Helps improve vasodilation and boost immunity. Steam therapy can help relax and dilate blood vessels, which helps the entire cardiovascular system work more efficiently. This healing blood helps promote a more robust immune system, which is also aided by less oxidative stress as a result of steam therapy. This can also help soothe connective tissue, such as joints and tendons. Some arthritis sufferers report feeling relief after steam therapy.
These cumulative benefits help calm the body, and allow you to maintain a healthy homeostasis that promotes a better mind-body connection. You’re in an ideal state to take your consciousness deeper into mindfulness.
Finding Serenity in a Crazy World
Finding a mindful environment is a challenge these days. A steam room can help provide you a refuge from the flood of distractions that rule our lives. Meditation, an integral part of mindfulness, can improve your life in numerous ways, and a steam room can help give you the tools to perfect your mindfulness routine.
Of course, you don’t want to use the steam room to engage in long meditative journeys. You should keep your steam room sessions to a time period of 10-15 minutes, and no longer than 20 minutes. For best results, follow Mr. Steam’s “Steam Bathing 101” tips to get the most out of your time in the steam room.
While your sessions in a steam room should be brief, the more you make steam therapy a regular part of your routine, the better your overall chances of attaining wellness and mindfulness. Steam therapy is a calming technique used by cultures from around the world for centuries. There’s a reason for that. Try steam therapy and find out for yourself how it can help keep you serene and mindful.