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Health + Wellness

The World’s Laziest Fitness Retreat

What if we told you that you could get skinny, sleep better, improve your skin tone and destress by spending an hour watching Netflix? That’s the selling point at LA’s latest fitness retreat. Colleen Clark checks in for a staycation.

See recent posts by Chelsea Stuart | Photo by Ira Lippke

There’s no shortage of bizarre fitness crazes in LA. From hula hoop meditation (Hoopnotica) to cardio drumming (Pound), there are more than a few ways to work on your beach bod. But when I decided it was time for a fitness staycation, I went straight to Shape House. The new chain of urban sweat lodges has the world’s most attractive pitch: Lay down, watch Netflix, lose weight. Since lying down and watching Netflix are two of my favorite activities, I was convinced I had finally found my fitness soul mate. The idea is a familiar one. From Mexican temazcals to Turkish hammams, Russian banyas to Finnish saunas, there’s a world of evidence supporting the health benefits of sweat therapy. It’s known to help rid the body of toxins, clear up your skin, provide stress relief and more. In this more extreme version, you’re wrapped in an infrared blanket that heats up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and your body burns 800-1,600 calories as it works hard to thermoregulate. Burning calories without doing burpees? How bad could it be?

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Crazy for Lazy

Housed in a cheery SoCal bungalow, Shape House feels more like a spa than a gym thanks to classical music, incense and soft-spoken employees that provide you with alkaline water—said to slow the aging process and increase energy—before leading you to the changing room. I don pretty much the same things I’d wear for a Netflix binge at home (sweat pants, thick socks, a long sleeve tee). Then they tuck me into a bed, fasten the infrared sleeping bag up to my neck and queue up my latest TV obsession (BBC costumed rom com Call the Midwife). “So all I have to do is chill here for an hour?” I ask. “Yup. I’ll be back in a bit to bring you a lavender towel for your forehead,” the attendant says. This is gonna be cake.

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Netflix and No Chill

Fifteen minutes in, I’m feeling rather smug, congratulating myself on this healthful choice and planning out all of the delicious caloric things I’ll be able to eat later tonite. Minute 30: What’s the fuss about? I mean it’s hot, but I’ve survived subway rides steamier than this so-called extreme sweating. Minute 35: Uneasiness slowly creeps in as my heart rate increases. I’m missing a love scene as sweat pours down my face and stings my eyes. Is this a double episode? There’s no way I’ve been here less than an hour. Is the bag getting tighter? It feels tighter. Minute 40: Temperature keeps climbing, breath growing short. Can I take my arms out? They said not to take my arms out. Minute 40.5: Hit panic button. A kind soul arrives with a cool towel for my forehead. Momentary relief. Minute 42: Relief gone. Heart reaches sprints-uphill-while-carrying-fifty-pound-weights rate. Bag feels like a volcanic anvil on my sweat-drenched chest. Minute 43: I’ve been mummified by the sun. I make a deal with the universe that if the session miraculously ends early, I’ll never skip a gym day again. No response from universe. Hit panic button. “You’ve got this girl, deep breaths. Seventeen minutes left. We’re sending you positive energy,” attendant says. Minute 44: Want to tell the attendant what she can do with her positive energy. Send hate vibes at her instead. Feel guilty about hate vibes. Notice wall decal above the TV that says Surrender. Redirect hate vibes at the stupid decal. Minute 54: Mentally battling evil sleeping bag of hellfire. You will not break me. You will not break me. Plucky BBC character on screen is now giving birth, I join her Lamaze breathing. Minute 55: I apologize to Surrender sign. BBC character gives birth to beautiful baby girl. I start to quietly intone “Inhale, surrender, exhale. Inhale, surrender, exhale.” Five minutes left. Minute 60: Angel of freedom appears just as I’m thinking about hitting the panic button again. I’m instantly dizzy as she opens the bag and the sweet relief of room temperature air hits my fiery limbs. It is finished.

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Burn Baby, Burn

I’m simultaneously faint and amped up in the relaxation room as I gulp water and shakily eat orange slices. There’s a Buddha on one side, a giant “Relax” sign on the other and a soundtrack of waves crashing, all begging me to calm the hell down. My heart continues to beat a panicked rhythm in my chest. As my heart rates finally starts to slow, my limbs are hit with a rush of extreme tingling and, a result of the metabolic boost that comes from the sweating. Around me are three other women, all dedicated sweat-ers. “You’re going to get the best sleep of your life tonite!” “I went down an entire clothing size in a month from this.” “Your skin is going to glow.” They’re at least partly right. There’s a buzz that carries me through the drive home, onto a four mile walk and through a concert. And I do get a great night of sleep. Shape House definitely has its appeal. But I’ve decided that if I’m going to sweat, I’m gonna do it the old fashioned way with a hike or a hip hop class. Because from now on, I’m keeping the work in my workout and my Netflix chill.

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