A New Twist on Fire in the Cave


She started making the construction noises in the summer, when the grass was still green and we were eating from the garden. No chevrons of geese were yet overhead, and yet she was making the noises of hammers and nails and money fluttering off in the breeze.

“You know how I dread winter,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be great where we could be warm and comfy, where we could feel healthy and stimulated, but protected from winter’s harshness?”

“You mean … like Florida?” I ventured, hoping that I could redirect where this conversation was going for the cost of a couple of plane tickets and a condo on the beach. But no … what she had in mind was a spa, complete with hot tub and sauna. Moreover, since she didn’t want to deal with any the discomforts of the season, this imagined bastion from the elements would need to be fully weatherized and attached to the house.

Sauna accessories … something for listening to music or podcasts and an artificial candle.

I can’t begin to list the number of reasons I hated this idea. To begin with, I am cheap. Of course, I call it “frugal” and attribute it to my Scottish heritage in which rugged Highlanders eked out a subsistence on hardscrabble landscapes best-suited for grazing sheep. But also there was the matter of principle. This planned temple of decadence would violate nearly every tenet of green living, the practices of which I have advocated and promoted for all of my professional life. Unfortunately, whenever the welfare of the planet or species is in conflict with my wife’s personal comfort … she wins.

Then, there are the practical matters of construction and infrastructure. Our house was built in 1826, when the threat of Indian attack was more imminent than that of climate change. It was not meant to support indoor sweat lodges and hot springs. The spa envisioned by my wife would involve plumbing, wiring, insulation, and foundation, each one of which is accompanied by a hefty increment of cost.

As I trudged through the obligatory initial research, however, the entirely unexpected occurred, as I happened upon a solution to my wife’s looming dread of winter. It provides an oasis of warmth and a buffer against the harshness of the season. It plugs into a regular wall socket. If fits in our bedroom and took only a couple of hours to assemble. It has had no noticeable impact on our energy bill. It fits neatly into our bedroom. It provides unlimited entertainment and companionship. And it cost less than even than a week at that condo in Florida.

“It” is an infrared sauna, and I first learned about them in an article from the Mayo Clinic touting their healthful aspects. Ours is constructed of FSC Certified “Green” Canadian Western Red Cedar, manufactured in California, and was delivered to our door in three cartons that were easy handled by two people.

The use of infrared light to promote health was developed (as were solar panels) by NASA in the mid-1960’s to maintain cardiovascular health and conditioning for astronauts during long space flights. Among the benefits to moderate exposure to infrared light are:

ANTI-AGING EFFECTS: Reduced wrinkles, minimized pores, and an overall improvement in skin tone.

ARTHRITIS: Relief from pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, as well as an increased range of motion in affected joints.

CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH: Much like exercise, thermal therapy can provide a wide range of cardiovascular benefits, including lowered blood pressure, improved circulation, and enhanced vascular function.

CELLULAR HEALTH: Far-infrared therapy invigorates the circulatory system, allowing it to more efficiently provide oxygenated blood to our body’s cells

DEPRESSION: Thermal therapy has shown great potential as a treatment for those suffering from mild and severe forms of depression, as multiple studies have confirmed that physical and mental complaints, hunger, and relaxation improved in patients suffering from depression and appetite loss.

DETOXIFICATION: One of the most efficient and healthy way to remove unwanted chemicals from our body is through the process of sweating, which allows the pores in our skin to open and expel wastes and toxins. Infrared saunas stimulate the body’s sweat glands, promoting the release of a variety of harmful substances found in our cells.

IMPROVED CIRCULATION: The heat that is distributed throughout the entire body during an infrared sauna session produces a dilation in peripheral blood vessels similar to that seen during exercise. As blood vessels expand in an attempt to cool the body down, circulation to the extremities is markedly improved.

LOWER BLOOD PRESSURE: Far-infrared rays have the unique ability to penetrate deeply into our body, inducing a powerful sweat that elevates heart rate and increases blood flow throughout the body.

WOUND HEALING: Infrared therapy has the power to not only heal injury to muscles, joints and tissues, but can also accelerate and enhance the healing of external wounds and burns.

WEIGHT LOSS: This increase in blood flow in turn creates a boost in metabolism, meaning that you are burning more calories and shedding pounds without having to exert yourself.

RELAXATION: Stress can have a major impact on your health and wellness, both physical and mental. Studies have shown that stress and anxiety can not only exacerbate certain pre-existing medical conditions, but can also wreak havoc upon the immune system, leaving the body and mind vulnerable to a wide range of new afflictions.

(source: jnhlifestyles.com. JNH is the manufacturer of the sauna we chose.)

Our unit fits snugly into the bedroom

Sound too good to be true? Sound like a sales pitch for 21st Century snake oil? Will we wake up one morning to headlines that infrared light is the latest in a long line of miracle cures that were later exposed as harmful.


Frankly, while the claimed health benefits are great, they do not dominate our thinking. It’s the pleasure of warmth, of being together, of feeling clean, and the afterglow of well-being. All we can say for certain is that our two-person sauna sits unobtrusively in our bedroom, lending a pleasant aroma of cedar. Every couple of days we plug it in and after a ten-minute warm up, we put on our flickering, LED artificial candle, and enter the darkened womb where we either sit quietly, or plug in our iPod.

Did I mention that our sauna came with a built-in sound system as standard equipment? This is getting to sound a bit far-fetched. We can opt to sit in silence, listen to music, or listen to any of the many free podcasts that are downloadable, feeling at one with our Finnish, Greek, Native American, and Neolithic forebearors who have shared with us the comforts of the fire in the cave.

Hygge on the Horizon

U.S. News & World Reports says no less than six books have been published in English about the increasing popularity of Hygge.

(From Wikipedia) Hygge pronounced “hoo-gah,” is a Danish and Norwegian word very similar to the widely known German word Gemütlichkeit. “Hygge” as a noun includes a feeling, a social atmosphere, and an action. The word is also used in compositions as “Julehygge” (Christmas-hygge). “Hygge” is also a verb e.g. “Lets hygge” and as an adjective e.g. “A small, hyggeligt house with grass on the roof”.

The noun “Hygge” includes something nice, cozy, safe and known, referring to a psychological state, where all psychological needs are in balance. The opposite of hygge is uhyggelig, which translates as “scary”.

Collins English Dictionary named hygge the runner-up (after Brexit) as word of the year in UK in 2016. Collins defines the word as “a concept, originating in Denmark, of creating cosy and convivial atmospheres that promote well-being.”

Life in the Jungle is all about Hygge. We get Hygge in the garden, Hygge when stacking wood, Hygge sitting in the sauna, and Hygge while eating food. America … get braced for Hyggemania.

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