How Regular Sauna Use Can Be A Tool For Enhancing Your Self-Care Routine

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May 2 2024, Published 8:10 a.m. ET

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When I first sought out the sauna, I was seeking warmth: physical, tangible warmth that I could feel on my skin. As someone who has continually chosen to make my home north of the 43rd latitudinal line, this form of nourishment has been a cornerstone of my self-care routine. 

However, just as the seasons turn and change here in upstate New York, my way of relating to my time in the sauna has had its own evolutions. What started as a means to stave off the winter winds and their accompanying blues turned into a vehicle for more self-compassion — and greater embodiment. 

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What was the catalyst? Was there something primal and cleansing about bathing in heat and breaking a sweat, as many ancient cultures have practiced? Were my stress responses being optimized, as today’s scientific studies suggest? In the sauna, it seemed impossible to go on as if the spiritual and physical were separated, as much as the outside world tries to pretend otherwise. 

Drawn to understand what was happening, I spoke to somatic psychotherapist Ann Saffi Biasetti, PhD, a trained self-compassion and mindfulness teacher who has also developed her own mindfulness-based embodiment technique. 

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Creating Routines For Self-Care

The Befriending Your Body author put words to just what I was experiencing during my time in the sauna. “I never separate any difference between embodiment and self-compassion, which is interesting because sometimes we don’t often think of them going together,” Biasetti said.

If we’ve been out of connection with our bodies, or simply conditioned to think of kindness and compassion as spiritual virtues that exist outside of form, activities like sauna bathing can help us bring these elements together in a routine, tangible experience, she added.

To create a self-care routine that can be used as a vessel for cultivating more compassion towards oneself and experiencing greater embodiment, Biasetti recommends finding an element of our existing routine where we are already showing ourselves kindness and working from there. For me, this was the sauna — but the intention can be applied to nearly anything. 

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“I like to give this example where every day I come into my office and I make myself a cup of tea,” Biasetti said. “And on the one level, my mind can say, yes, of course,  I got my cup of chai tea, it tastes good, and it’s my routine in the morning. But on the other level, if I look at that as self-kindness, I start my day off with that in my office because of its warmth, because when I take it in, it calms my body and it actually centers me and grounds me, and it feels like a very kind act.” 

The key to turning acts of self-care into a compassion habit lies in the mindset we bring to it: our intention and our awareness. When we slow down to recognize how we feel both emotionally and in our body, we’re actually engaging in a profound practice that has the power to transform our relationship with ourselves.  

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Cultivating Greater Compassion And Embodiment

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To cultivate this deeper sense of self-compassion and embodiment, we rely on our capacity for mindfulness, she said. “It’s dropping into a deeper layer of consciousness.” She further explained that when we are tuning into this deeper level, our focus is no longer on what we’re doing but instead on what we’re sensing throughout the experience. 

“We have to have that turn of attention to even begin the conversation about self-compassion and embodiment because it’s not going to happen from the first thought,” she said. “We have to turn it into more of a focus of an internal experience because that’s where self-compassion lives and that’s where embodiment lives.”

We can start doing this by noticing our thoughts and the sensations within our bodies during our self-care routine of choice. 

“We could be doing something really lovely for ourselves and we could be having really unkind thoughts,” Biasetti added. Mindfulness lets us notice these thoughts and — just as importantly — not judge ourselves for them. We simply observe and give ourselves grace as we come back to the present moment with the intention of being kinder to ourselves. 

Biasetti also emphasized that growing self-compassion and embodiment is a gradual process. That’s why it’s considered a practice (and why having a set routine to come back to again and again is so important). Whether your practice is breaking a sweat in the sauna or warming your hands on a cup of tea, the real alchemy lies in showing up for yourself, willing to feel, willing to notice, and willing, when you can, to choose kindness.

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By: Natalli Marie Amato

Natalli Amato is a journalist and poet based in Saratoga Springs, New York. She covers wellness, relationships, and culture for Her Agenda, Spirituality & Health Magazine, Saratoga Living, and others. Natalli has authored four poetry collections, the most recent being 2023's 'North Wind.' Natalli is currently earning her master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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