Discover more from War and Piece of Cake
Honoring my Grandpa’s theory—if something you want does not exist, create it.
After trying every treatment Los Angeles had to offer in the pre-wedding-lose-the-weight marathon, I became obsessed with one that happened in the very non-fancy back closet of a tanning salon in Calabasas. The treatment included a heated infrared triangular dome on top of a massage table and a Russian attendant who spoke no English to turn the machine on.
When I went for my first session, she had mimed most of the directions. A tap-tap on the table to indicate where to put my butt; an insistent finger, pointed to show me where to store my shoes; a curt gesture to direct me to lay down.
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She proceeded to zip me into the contraption, pressed some button under the bed, and walked away, giving me no info about what to expect; I was anxious. I mentally re-scanned their not-very-helpful website, desperately trying to remember what happened next, and for how long.
I didn’t hate the first twenty minutes. Then I got bored; then antsy; then full-on pissed. I tried to calm myself down by meditating; that didn’t work. All I could hear was the warden’s Russian radio show. I started feeling drops of sweat on my forehead, down my back, between my legs. Yuck. I wanted to get out of there. I tried making a to-do list in my head, humming a little song, counting sheep; nothing helped. Minutes stretch to hours when you’re that miserable. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, the attendant poked her head in.
“How much longer?” I blurted out.
She must have understood, because she held up three fingers.
I can do that.
My heart was pounding. My thoughts were chopped, interrupted, and febrile. I was drenched. Mommy was right; sweating is awful. I heard a piercing beep. I smiled at how fitting it was that the beep sounded just like my microwave. She unzipped me without a word, and walked away. I presumed my next move was to get up and put myself back together, sat back on the bed to tie my shoes, and guessed my way back to the front.
The place had no bathroom. I really needed one. I was sent to the cabbage-smelling Chinese restaurant next door, where I stood drenched in sweat, waiting for the toilet. When I was done, I gathered my things, and my thoughts. I was soaked; no one had told me to bring a change of clothes. I walked to my car in a damp daze; went home, took a bath and a nap.
I thought of my mom, and all she would have found disgusting about this place: the smell, the dust in the corners, the fact that sweat was even involved at all.
I grew up in a household that thought of sweat as an annoyance to be avoided. Marathon runners were not revered in our house. Philosophers, businessmen and golfers were. If I came home sweaty from school, my mother sent me to take a bath immediately. No sweat at her dinner table.
Sorry Mom, not sweating is not an option. Not if I want to lose weight and be healthy.
It wasn’t until I broke a sweat on that table, in that closet, in that sun-tanning place, that I got a sense of what people meant when they described a high after exercising; all I’d ever felt was overheated and nauseous for hours.
The night of my first sweat, my sleep was noticeably more restorative, my food cravings less gripping, my chronic back pain significantly more manageable, and my collagen and morale each got a boost. Not a bad return for such a small investment of time and money.
When I got back from the wedding, I wanted to sweat; I never thought I’d say that, but I craved it, really. I felt the need to detox from my trip: croissants, jetlag, and family. I hated everything about the tanning salon, other than the way I felt after my hour in the magical dome; but it was just too dirty, too far, too boring, too Russian, to book another session.
My desire to get that result without the inconvenience or potential health hazard encountered in Calabasas, lead me to a late-night online search, where I bought a household version of the device, and a cheap massage table. I set the whole thing up right in front of the TV in my office; sweating and Netflixing without commuting — now that sounded good.
For my first go-round with no “help” from a Russian custodian, I placed wet towels and drinking water within reach, lit a candle, turned on the device and the TV, and wrapped myself up. The TV made the hour go so much faster, that beep caught me by surprise. I came out drenched, changed into dry clothes, and peed without needing to go to a Chinese restaurant. I’d found a new daily wellness practice.
News traveled fast among my friends and it wasn’t long before I set up a second infrared gizmo and TV. I’d cracked the multitasking code: do something healthy, catch up on a show, and hang with a friend without even leaving my office.
At the time, I was CEO of an online company that had run its course — and ate a lot of my savings. I had to redirect my career and only had a few months to do so. While incubating possibilities, I sweated my little heart out, and my entrepreneurial brain started forming a great business venture. I loved to sweat, my friends loved to sweat, and their friends loved to sweat — people would come to sweat if I built it.
This was enough evidence to grant further exploration, so I gathered a team of experts: innovative doctors, clever engineers, critical beta testers, marketing gurus, and we went to task. My intention was to provide wellness in a nurturing and entertaining setting. Friends and family came — rolling their eyes a little; I’d taken some sharp turns in my career, but this one was way off the reservation.
They helped me question every detail: the lighting, The TVs, the ambiance, the design of the space, even the smells. They also pushed me to think about liability, financing, marketing, exit strategies. That’s when I discovered that sweating was not only helpful physically, but emotionally, psychologically, and mentally. I would often hop on a bed to sweat away the stress that came from starting a new company.
Shape House, an urban sweat lodge, opened its doors a few months later.
As every entrepreneur knows, a lot happens between idea and delivery. For starters, not everyone supports said idea. I would describe my concept, and people would look confused, politely change the subject, or full on discourage me. It would have been so easy to give up. “That won’t work, people will never pay to sweat,” a friend said, days before the opening.
Ten locations, a plan to expand overseas, and thousands of sweaters later, it is safe to say he was wrong.