Martha Richardson asks a lot of people. When they make an appointment for a 40-minute session in an infrared sauna, she asks them to sit quietly -- without a smartphone, tablet or other distraction.
"It's hard at first. It's really hard, because we don't give ourselves time to be quiet," she said.
However, that stillness contributes to the inner healing the saunas promote.
"To be quiet 40 minutes twice a week is so therapeutic," Richardson said.
She laughs when asked why she started Inner Healing last November. Prior to moving to Madison when her husband accepted a position as an instructor in the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences at Dakota State University, she was a stay-at-home mom. However, since they joined the Madison community in July 2018, her life has been transformed.
"I was lost," she said, admitting the move away from family and friends was difficult. "I had no idea what I was going to do."
However, stopping by The Community Center to look into the afterschool program for her son, Corwin, opened doors for her. As a result of several conversations with aquatics coordinator Laurie Bunker, Richardson became a certified lifeguard -- which she said was difficult at her age -- and now leads water aerobics for seniors.
She actually learned about infrared saunas from one of the women in a water aerobics class.
"We got talking and she said, `I would love to have them available to people in Madison'," Richardson recounted.
At that point, she knew nothing about infrared saunas. Having embarked upon a wellness journey a couple of years earlier, though, she was intrigued.
"The more I learned about wellness and worked with senior citizens, the more I got interested in how you heal yourself," she explained.
She began to conduct research online. Even the Mayo Clinic cautiously endorses the use of infrared saunas.
The Mayo Clinic website notes saunas in general are appealing because "they cause reactions similar to those elicited by moderate exercise," and infrared saunas have the benefit of "heat[ing] your body directly without warming the air around you."
The website also indicates, "Several studies have looked at using infrared saunas in the treatment of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, dementia and Alzheimer's disease, headache, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis, and found some evidence of benefit."
While stating more rigorous studies are needed to examine those benefits, the site does recommend infrared saunas to help individuals relax.
Richardson has personally observed the way the saunas help manage stress. She said people will come in absolutely dragging, spend 40 minutes in a sauna, and come out with an entirely different demeanor.
"They come out and they can't help but smile," she said.
However, Richardson didn't know any of this when she began her research. She just knew that someone had expressed a desire to have them available in Madison. She learned what was said about them and read customer comments on sites which offered infrared saunas.
Ten days after first hearing about infrared saunas, she had installed two at Upper Cuts on Main, located at 102 S. Egan Ave. Constructed of cedar with tempered glass doors, the saunas are in dimly-lit rooms and use meditative music to enhance the healing environment.
Each session lasts 40 minutes. The temperature can range from 40 degrees Celsius to 55 degrees Celsius, which is considered the ideal.
"It's not suffocating," Richardson said, comparing it to a traditional steam sauna. "It doesn't feel uncomfortable. It's hard to explain."
Attire for these sessions depends on personal modesty.
"We recommend they be in their birthday clothes, but if they must wear clothing, we recommend 100% cotton," Richardson said.
Promotional materials indicate regular sessions can be beneficial in a number of ways, such as supporting weight loss, providing pain relief, reducing stress, promoting cardiovascular health and strengthening the immune system. Those who wish to try it can take advantage of an introductory package which includes five sessions -- or they can simply try it.
"When somebody is skeptical, I have them do it first and then we talk money," Richardson said. "I've never had anybody tell me they hate it."
Sessions are available by appointment only. To schedule a session, call 605-270-4327.