I tend to enjoy frivolous things in the name of self-improvement, making me an ideal candidate to try Shape House, an “urban sweat lodge” with three revitalizing locations in the greater Los Angeles area. Thanks to the celebrity endorsements of Selena Gomez and LL Cool J, sweating has become a must-have for the chic, endlessly unattainable Angeleno health lifestyle.
My friend booked appointments for 1:20 p.m. Sunday afternoon. An hour prior, we enjoyed hearty orders of huevos rancheros from neighborhood staple Delia’s. Feeling stuffed, I checked the Shape House FAQ for instructions on how to prepare. “We recommend not arriving immediately after a heavy meal,” it read. Oops. “Remember: you can’t sweat out a hangover,” it also read. Touché, Shape House.
Upon arrival at the Pasadena location, we signed liability wavers on personal iPads. I sprayed brightly colored water bottles whose contents supposedly corresponded to the body’s chakras. The woman who gave me the iPad then handed me a container of Kangen Alkaline Water.
I changed into Shape House provided sweatpants, tube socks and neon orange cotton long sleeve shirt. The FAQ mentioned that every part of my skin needed to be covered to prevent overheating and burning in the infrared beds.
Each bed was equipped with a private flat screen television. The bed itself was raised and looked like a sleeping bag. The lights were dim and the woman tucking me in put my alkaline water in a cup holder.
“Do you know what you want to watch?” she asked, flipping through Netflix on the Roku entertainment system.
“I’m on episode six of ‘The People vs. OJ,'” I replied.
“We’ll come check on you when there are 15 to 20 minutes left because the final push can be really difficult,” she said.
With my arms bundled inside the sleeping bag, my attendant slid large, noise canceling headphones over my ears. She placed the Roku remote into my right hand inside the bed and closed the curtain.
Minutes 5-10: The sleeping bag/bed is warm and feels like the heavy x-ray jacket you wear at the dentist. I try to focus on “The People vs. OJ” (he did it).
Minutes 10-15: I’m sweating profusely, which I guess is the point, but my heart rate is faster than it has been during any form of exercise I’ve ever done. Is this good for me? Sweat keeps falling into my eyes and I have to resign to closing them. Listening to the audio alone of “The People vs. OJ” isn’t great, but my fingers are so wet with sweat that they just slide blindly around the buttons on the Roku remote.
Minutes 15-17: Should I scream for help? Am I going to go into cardiac arrest? Am I already in cardiac arrest? Is it possible to make peace with death while wrapped in an LED infrared sweat bed?
Minutes 25-30: The headlines will read, “Hungover area college student sweats to death after not listening to the FAQ,” and, “Sweat to die for: deceased student still doesn’t look like Selena Gomez.”
Minutes 35-40: That’s it. I’m going to die here. My vital organs are melting.
Like an apparition, the woman who put me inside the lava bag appears before me.
“Are you OK?” she asks me. I can’t do anything but nod. She places a cool lavender rag on my forehead and I begin to weep.
“You have 20 minutes left,” she says before leaving. I tell myself to stay calm. This is fine. I have a lavender rag and I will live.
Minutes 45-50: The lavender rag is hot. In a final act of desperation I release the remote and fumble for my Kangen Alkaline Water. The lid comes off and I accidentally dump its contents onto my face instead of into my mouth. It feels like how I imagine Andy felt in that scene from “The Shawshank Redemption.”
After the longest 15 minutes of my life, two more women appeared. They must be a mirage, I thought. Fake news, if you will. They slowly unwrapped me from the sixth circle of hell. I lay soaking in my own sweat, tears and alkaline water. I would add urine to the list but that would be a lie, since all of the moisture in my body had been forcefully expelled through my pores.
I am lifted off the table carried into the “relax room.” I can’t feel my feet or hands. They give me hot tea and orange slices. In the relax room I meet another woman who sweat in her own clothes, was barely wet and swiping through Instagram. She waved off an offer for more water.
“Can…I…have…her extra…water?” I croak.
There’s another dude in the room who seems fine. In fact, everyone aside from me seems fine. I can’t speak for at least another 20 minutes before becoming suddenly and violently cold. I manage to pose for a few photos of questionable triumph.
“Try not to shower for at least another hour,” the woman at the front desk said as she took my credit card. “Do you want to schedule your next sweat now?” she asked.
I demurely shook my head and thanked her for the first-timer discount. Leaving, I felt like I had the flu and wondered when I would feel the numerous ostensible benefits of extreme sweating.
I didn’t lose weight, nor did my skin or life improve. The experience itself was not particularly relaxing or energizing, despite the in-house entertainment and free oranges. Perhaps to achieve results of Selena Gomez status, one must make consistent sweat appointments. But this, I submit to you, is one mystery that I am comfortable never solving.