A wellness centre in Toronto is tapping into the ancient sauna house culture and deepening its roots to create an expansive community in a one-of-its kind atmosphere. From the Finnish sauna to the Native American sweat lodge to South American Temazcal and the Japanese onsen – heat therapy has been practiced in many parts of the world for thousands of years. And now, Othership, which describes itself as an otherworldly bathhouse experience, is tapping into that magic to help guests regulate and elevate themselves and their emotions.
Up, down, and all around
What started as a backyard ice bath amongst a group of friends has since evolved into a sleek, modern space with hot and cold therapies in the form of a 50 person sauna – the largest in the city – and four ice baths. Othership offers unique experiences that combine the healing and empowerment of a wellness centre with the close community ties you might find at a gym class or community centre.
Sessions range depending on if you want to feel “up” – which involves an immersive sauna session where you push your heart rate, add resistance, vocal toning and of course a dunk in the ice bath – or “down” – a quieter experience with sound baths and affirmations in a candlelit ambience. The “all around” sessions take internal practices you would do in therapy and apply them in a group setting.
“The idea was having a night out but with breathwork,” explains Robbie Bent, CEO and Co-founder of Othership. “It’s much more accessible than meditation.”
Whereas meditation is focused on awareness, breathwork is more about state shifting. By using breath to turn on different parts of the nervous system, it encourages a perspective change, which Bent refers to as “exploring”.
“It’s similar to psychedelics in some ways – you’re changing yourself, your sense of time, your perception, you’re shutting down the conscious mind and processing emotion,” he says. “We call that emotional regulation.”
The Science being practiced at Othership
The ancient practice of sauna bathing is understood to have health benefits. The study “Benefits and risks of sauna bathing” found that it causes various acute, transient cardiovascular and hormonal changes in most healthy adults. It also found that the temporary improvements in the lungs that happen in the sauna may provide relief to those with asthma and chronic bronchitis. It is also believed to provide some pain relief to people with pain and help improve joint mobility with those who have rheumatic disease. However, the study also found that alcohol consumption during sauna bathing risks hypotension, arrhythmia, and sudden death, which is why Othership is a strictly alcohol-free zone.
It can also prove to be a mood booster. In a study called “Changes in mood state following whole-body hyperthermia” researchers found “a significant improvement in depression was evident” 72 hours following a treatment session of cancer patients.
Meanwhile when it comes to cold therapy, some of the benefits of cold exposure include decreasing inflammation of the body. Think about it – when you injure yourself, the first thing you do is ice down the impacted area. The full body immersion in cold for two minutes is believed to decrease systemic inflammation of the body. That means any sore joints leave the body in a better state than it was before. A study that looked into effects of cold stimulation on cardiac-vagal activation found that there was stress reduction potential in the neck region. Another study looked at how water temperature can impact humans physiologically, and found that responses induced by cold are mainly due to increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
Pushing through to the other side
Adam Lewis, who is a team member at Othership, says an important part of the experience with the extreme temperatures is pushing past uncomfortable and challenging feelings, both physically and emotionally.
“That feeling of discomfort where there’s a lot of heat, where you want to get out, there’s a sense of dysphoria, which is the opposite of euphoria,” he explains. “It produces the release of the endorphin known as dynorphin… which allows us to feel joy and happiness when met with positive stimuli.”
By going through those moments of discomfort, it allows you to get out to the other side feeling better than you did before.
A first of its kind wellness centre
Othership currently has about 10,000 members, which Bent says accumulated strictly through word of mouth.
“The experiences are a first of their kind, it doesn’t exist in North America,” says Bent. “There’s no such thing as an emotional health class that you do in the community. There’s no such thing as a mental health brand that’s not built around depression and addiction.”
While group fitness like Barry’s Bootcamp and SoulCycle has exploded, Bent says there hasn’t been anything which focuses on mental wellness. And Othership also exists in a virtual space through their app, which was developed before the physical space was opened, and offers guided breathing techniques.
Bent says Othership is intended to help people sustain their healthy choices and transformation, rather than go back to their old ways. “The classes are really accessible and fun,” he says. “I’m in a community with my friends, doing the work.”