I love a good sauna, wet or dry. Sure, I'll pop into one in the locker room at my gym, but I'd much rather seek out unusual, new (to me) ways to steam up, from a platza massage at a Russian banya, where they hit you with branches in a piping-hot steam room, to good scrub-down at a steamy Turkish hammam, where they'll happily show you all the dead skin they slough off of you.
Saunas and steam rooms have great health benefits, but I do it for the stress relief—there's nothing quite like getting so hot that your muscles are just forced to relax. I always leave with a lot less tension and a clearer head, and get a great sleep afterward.
So when my friends tipped me off to a Groupon for a $25 steam at a deep detox spa called Lavabene, located in Chinatown's Dun Huang Plaza, I was in before I even knew the details. It turned out to be a way to get my sweat fix that I hadn't even heard of: in a self-contained pod with room enough just for me.
The spa itself is cute and colorful, with a nicely stocked locker room and an endless supply of fancy, lukewarm ionized water—the staff will tell you not to drink cold water during or after the treatment, so as not to shock your system.
You strip down and sit on a stool inside the pod, which, depending on how tall you are, goes about up to your neck. The pods are brightly colored, and kind of resemble big barrels; inside, they're covered in Japanese tiles that remain cool to the touch as they heat up. You sit on a bunch of towels, and a staff member drapes and clips towels around the top of the pod, leaving just your head poking out. And then it heats up—fast.
The sessions last 30 minutes. My friends and I, who took up five of the six pods in the room, kind of looked like we were riding the teacups at Disneyland, except the pods stayed still and our faces were really sweaty. It's no joke, you get really hot. Some of us poked our arms out through the towels, and one of us called it before the allotted time was up.
After 30 minutes, a staffer came around and let us out. And here's the really crazy part: You look at the sweat you left behind on the towels, and they parse what's come out of you based on the color of your sweat. Now, this initially seemed to me like hocus pocus—but there's a chart that you stare at while you're in the pod that details what the different colors show, and by the end of 30 minutes, I was waiting with bated breath to see what my towel had to say about my health.
It was grey. A definite shade of grey, apparently one of the most common colors, which the chart attributes to "lymph and lung." The other most common colors are brown and black, which means heavy metal accumulation or "kidney." The more you go, it's said, the more colors you see! I can't wait to get some "kidney" or maybe some "liver" action in the future.
After that, my friends and I got to relax and cool off in the next room, where we drank more special water and continued to sweat. We made plans to be back, especially because there's another Groupon—$69 for three sessions, and by the end of those, maybe I'll have sweat the rainbow.