How To Breathe in the Sauna (5 Techniques for Maximum Relaxation)

The sauna can get hot, and the air starts to feel stifling after sitting inside for a while. Luckily, there are some simple tips for how to breathe in the sauna that will help you enjoy your experience more.

To breathe efficiently in the sauna, use the Wim Hof Method, Box Breathing Method, or other meditation techniques. Be sure to sit up straight with good posture so there is no lung constriction and only breathe through your nose. If you have an acute or chronic respiratory condition, stay away from the sauna until approved by your physician.

Keep reading to learn how to breathe in a sauna, whether you should use your nose or mouth, and if the sauna can be detrimental to your lungs. 

Why does it feel hard to breathe in a sauna?

Moisture and heat expand, so why does it feel so hard to breathe inside of a sauna?

Sauna exposure is like a workout for your lungs – this is why it strengthens them over time. However, while you’re inside, your lungs struggle to process the humid air. The thickness or density you experience can increase airway resistance in the body. 

Basically, the higher the water vapor concentration in the atmosphere, the fewer molecules of oxygen are left to breathe in.

In reality, humid air is actually much less dense than dry air. The difference in humidity and temperature, compared to the air outside that we’re used to, makes it feel harder to breathe inside of a sauna.

If you have an acute respiratory illness or any chronic lung conditions, it’s best to avoid using the sauna altogether.

Should you breathe with your nose or mouth in the sauna?

The recommendations are pretty clear regarding which part of your body you should use to breathe with in the sauna.

Experts advise that you should breathe through your nose in the sauna because it cools the air more efficiently before it enters your body. Additionally, breathing through the mouth will feel very obviously difficult.

If you’re struggling with feeling like you can’t get enough air in your lungs when taking a sauna, switch to breathing through the nose only.

Is the sauna bad for your nose?

Can the sauna be harmful to your nostrils?

Humidity expands bronchial and nasal passageways while allowing for air to be ingested freely (although it feels the opposite). It’s able to clear mucus, provide relief for sinuses, and reduce swelling long-term. Traditional sauna environments or infrared saunas, however, can dry out mucous membranes, making your nose more likely to become clogged.

People who suffer from allergies should also avoid using the sauna because it might trigger an allergic reaction.

Is the sauna bad for your throat?

What about your throat?

A sauna doesn’t cause a sore throat, as sore throats are the result of exposure to bacteria or other viruses. However, dry, hot air can inflame your throat further and worsen conditions. 

In an infrared sauna, the throat is more prone to irritation due to the low humidity and high temperature. This also makes it hard to swallow if you have a sore throat already.

Is the sauna bad for your lungs?

Can your lungs become damaged while sitting in a sauna?

Heat loading is actually beneficial for your lungs over time. Alternatively, a 1988 study showed that for those with chronic or acute lung conditions, spending time in the sauna could cause irreversible damage to the airway epithelium.

For that reason, take care to avoid saunas if you have an acute or chronic respiratory issue such as asthma, emphysema, or bronchitis. These breathing problems can get worse when exposed to heat and humidity.

If you have normal breathing function, use the sauna as a way to improve your ventilatory system strength!

How to breathe more easily in the sauna

Now that you’ve read about how the sauna impacts your lung function, it’s time to learn how to make breathing easier during your next visit.

Here are the 5 best methods and techniques for breathing more easily and relaxing in the sauna:

  1. Wim Hof method 
  2. Box breathing method
  3. Meditation techniques
  4. Use only your nose
  5. Use good posture

You can minimize the thickness or density you feel in your lungs when taking a sauna by following certain tips. A 2018 mixed-method study even showed that while using the Wim Hof Method, participants experienced positive changes in energy levels, focus, and respiration.

Wim Hof Method

This technique was created by Wim Hof with his son Enahm Hof in the mid-1900s.

Essentially this method is characterized by controlled hyperventilation. The Wim Hof Method involves deep inhales and exhales, followed by holding your breath for minutes at a time. Some of the benefits of this method include mental endurance and building immunity.

To perform the Wim Hof Method in the sauna, follow these steps:

  1. Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Ensure that your lungs aren’t compressed.
  2. Breath deeply 30-40 times in a row – first through your chest and belly, then back through your belly and chest. These are supposed to be short but strong bursts. Start to gain consciousness of your breathing and enter into a meditative state. (Note: If you start to feel a tingling sensation in your hands or feet, this is to be expected.)
  3. After you exhale the final time, take a massive deep breath in and exhale fully. Then stop breathing and hold this state for as long as possible.
  4. Lastly, take one big recovery breath in and hold it for 15 seconds. Release the air and breath normally.

This process can be repeated up to 4 times in the sauna for the best results. Always listen to your body and step out if you feel too uncomfortable or lightheaded.

Box breathing method

Box breathing is also known as “square breathing.” It’s often used by Navy Seals or other high-pressure level performers to control their breathing in heightened situations.

It involved slow, deep breaths in order to decelerate your breathing and heart rate. This is helpful for those who are stressed out, anxious or riddled with energy. Hormonally, it’s able to lower blood pressure and decrease cortisol levels.

This method can be performed at work, in your home, or during sauna exposure.

To perform the box breathing method in the sauna, follow these steps:

  1. Take a deep breath through your nose, filling your lungs to capacity for 4 seconds.
  2. Hold your breath for exactly 4 seconds.
  3. Exhale through your mouth while counting to 4.

You can repeat this as many times as you would like, although 2-5 minutes is the perfect window, to begin with. This should enable you to breathe better and spend more time in the sauna!

Meditation techniques

There are many different meditation techniques that vary depending on which you decide to use. However, all of the techniques help you to clear your mind and body of anything stressful.

Each type of meditation will have specific steps that need to be followed in order to maximize the benefits. Meditation techniques that can be used in the sauna to help you breathe more easily include transcendental meditation, mindfulness meditation, guided meditation, and yoga meditation.

Here are four examples of how to meditate in the sauna:

  • Transcendental Meditation – This type of meditation is done by closing your eyes and using a mantra. Some mantras are commonly known, while others are unique to each person. The average time spent in this state is around 15 minutes.
  • Mindfulness Meditation – Sit comfortably for about 10 minutes (or however long it takes to address your thoughts) and close your eyes. This technique requires you to be fully present with your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. However, you are to observe each of them without being reactive; rather, remain in a state of peacefulness.
  • Guided Meditation – This type is also referred to as visualization, where you close your eyes and form appeasing mental pictures. The time you do it can range, and usually, it is guided by someone else in the form of a pre-recorded or in-person session.
  • Yoga Meditation – Last but not least, this type of meditation involves a series of postures and breathing exercises meant to calm the mind and allow you to breathe better in stressful situations. It’s perfect for use in the sauna because the heat will allow you to get deeper into your stretches.

Use only your nose

The mechanism in which you inhale and exhale is equally as important as how you breathe.

As mentioned before, breathing through your mouth will only make you feel more uncomfortable. You are able to breathe more effectively through your nose, and the heat in the sauna only amplifies this ability.  

Alternatively, you can breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth if you prefer a combination method.

Use good posture

Proper posture is essential to maximizing the benefits of breathing in the sauna.

To execute this, sit up straight with your shoulders back and your head up. Keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine by looking straight ahead, not downwards. If you’d rather lay down, make sure you are flat on your back with ample room for your lungs to fill with oxygen. 

Once you have found a comfortable position, stabilize your breathing.

Breathing correctly in the sauna can be a challenge; however, the techniques mentioned above should allow you to inhale/exhale more comfortably and maximize relaxation.

If you have a chronic or acute respiratory illness, avoid the sauna, as irreparable damage can be caused to your lungs. Ensure you are cleared by your doctor before resuming visits.