Winter 2024

Body Heat

Words by Gloria Gale

An in-home sauna could be the self-care move to make for health and feeling good.


he bespoke benefits of sauna bathing—a form of heat therapy—aren’t new. In fact, the ancient practice has been integrated into numerous cultures worldwide for its holistic healing properties.

Especially in Scandinavian countries, the concept of a small wooden hut with a stove and bench comes to mind. Traditionally, stoves heat stones to increase the temperature; water is poured atop to create steam. Today, saunas are more often driven by advanced technology, using infrared light. Either way, the process raises the body’s core temperature to the point where it begins to sweat, releasing accumulated toxins and promoting cell turnover.   

Time and a Towel

Like the sturdy Nordics of yesteryear, what’s the best thing to do after a hard day in battle? Detox and relax. And nothing’s changed in the centuries since. Many modern-day Finns consider saunas—their word for “bathhouse”—a cultural necessity; of the five million people living in Finland, three million own saunas. Hence, it’s unsurprising that industries worldwide point to Finland as the leader in sauna innovation.

The U.S. market is also dipping its toes into the sauna world. According to health and wellness market analysis, the sauna and spa market size is expected to grow from $126 billion in 2023 to $181 billion by 2028. And Kansas City is at the forefront.

Sunlighten in Overland Park has mastered the near-, mid- and far-infrared light sauna experience. Owners Aaron and Connie Zack developed the concept of home and commercial saunas in 1999.

“When we started Sunlighten nearly 25 years ago, no one knew or understood what we did,” Aaron says. “Now, not only do they know, [but] 20 to 30 percent of people we talk to have a Sunlighten sauna in their home.”

Since their inspired beginnings, Connie and Aaron have watched the company continue to grow, finding success in their non-traditional, technologically innovative lightwave therapy—globally and locally.

“We’re really proud of how health-conscious our city has become,” Aaron adds. “Our sales used to be strongest in health-minded states like California, Florida and Colorado. Now, sauna sales in Kansas City are surpassing other large Midwest cities that were historically more focused on a healthy lifestyle.”

Bob Osterlund, vice president of custom home builder Starr Homes, sees the upward trend of in-home sauna installation firsthand. “It’s all about attention to self-care coupled with convenience,” he explains. 

Similarly, Scott Bickford, architect and owner of Bickford and Company, receives client requests for in-home saunas at the design phase of new construction. He says that units can be tailored to the homeowner’s specific space and personal requirements. “If you want a small, phone booth-sized unit or a larger unit to accommodate more people, you can find that product in the marketplace,” he notes.

Even mass-marketer Costco is on-trend now, carrying a sauna kit for the experienced DIYer that can be customized for nearly any space—indoors and out.

Sweaty Pep Talk

Brad Elpers, owner and master craftsman of The Bison Hut Co., builds traditional wood saunas. His specialty is delivering a totally customized product—no kit involved.

A skilled wood-and-stone craftsman, Brad prides himself on tailoring in-home or outdoor sauna experiences to specific sites, carrying on traditions learned from his mentors to build with integrity.

He even built a Finnish-style sauna house on his property, a seven-foot by seven-foot pine building with an open-air, nine-foot by 13-foot changing room. To heat the sauna space, Brad uses Finnish granite stones—trusted materials that have longevity and efficiency.

“I create sanctuaries to maximize the experience,” he says. “If a client wants an outdoor shower, a plunge pool or a greenhouse garden in addition to the custom sauna, I will craft it.”

Heat: A Super Power

If you’d like to simply try out the sauna experience, book an appointment at Sunlighten Day Spa. Add a spa treatment, from massage and facials to Reiki and cupping therapy.

Or head over to the Lawrence-based day spa, Mud & Lotus, where owner Shahida Spann-Ryan offers soaking and sweating options in an outdoor garden setting. The warmed-barrel sauna, followed by soaking in a detoxifying mineral-water tub, is purportedly “heavenly.” 

The spa menu features holistic modalities—namely Chinese medicinal therapies—in addition to massages, facials, masks, cupping and energy healing treatments.

“From a detox regimen to acupuncture, our small spa is the next best thing to being pampered at home,” Shahida says.,  @sunlightensaunas,  @bisonhut,  @mud.lotus.lawrence

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