Questions? Call us at  1-800-979-8971

The Neurology Behind Post Sauna Euphoria: Is Totonou a Real Thing?

The Totonou state is a Japanese expression that describes a very specific experience directly after a sauna that is closely related to states of euphoria, but with a slightly more subtle nuance. Totonou is a state of deep calm coupled with a clarity of mind. For anyone who has ever used a sauna and emerged feeling amazing, they probably have felt Totonou before. (1)

In late November of 2023, a study was published by the National Library of Medicine that attempted to find out if Totonou was a real and measurable neurological state of being. Naturally, there are releases of endorphins, dopamine, and a full menu of positive feel good chemicals and hormones that are elucidated during sauna sessions, but what about brain wave activity? (2)

Totonu as it turns out has a very specific brain coding that can be found by measuring brain wave activity after a sauna session. The combination of brain activity creates a beautiful juxtaposition between a deep state of calm with a peaked arousal for sudden moments of clarity or epiphanies. 

While there is strong research to support the positive roles that hormones and neurotransmitters play in how an individual feels after a sauna session, this particular state of Totonou that was studied recently shows an altogether new variable in how the brain works post sauna.. 

How Totonou was Measured by Scientists: Brain Wave Activity to Promote Creativity and Problem Solving 

It appears that a very similar combination of brain activity emerges after a sauna, when performed in a specific sequence that includes a short exposure to cold in the middle, that is also found after a period of meditation. The multi-authored study entitled: “A study on neural changes induced by sauna bathing: Neural basis of the ‘totonou’ state”, measured brain activity before and after a sauna session using an electroencephalogram (EEG). 

(EEG is a test that measures electrical activity in the brain using small, metal discs (electrodes) attached to the scalp.)(3)

The study divided a group of 21 adults (14 men and 7 women) between the ages of 21 and 40 into two separate groups. All individuals participating in the study were active sauna users. The first group followed a sequence of sauna use, cold exposure, and finally rest, while the control group did not sauna, but rather took a bath, followed by cold exposure and then rest. 

Brain waves were measured before the protocol as well as after in both groups. In addition to the EEG testing a subjection questionnaire was taken by all participants. The findings were surprising and unprecedented in the world of sauna study:

In terms of neural oscillation, we found that after each sauna set, the participants’ theta and alpha power gradually increased, while beta power did not change.” (1)

According to the sauna participants these brain wave activity changes were described subjectively in the following ways in several examples:

‘I could see images from my memory or imagination with extreme clarity.’

 ‘I experienced boundless pleasure.’

 ‘I felt isolated from everything and everyone,’ and 

‘Some everyday things acquired special meaning.’” (1)

From both the technical perspective as seen in the EEG testing as well as from a more subjective perspective, the individual test subjects entered into a seemingly transcendental state. 

Theta states of brain wave activity are connected to ‘non-sleep-deep-rest’ as found during Yoga Nidra or massage, and other activities that elicit deep states of relaxation. While Beta states of brain wave activity are associated with performing external tasks such as driving, or working, or studying. Alpha brain waves are slightly more active than Theta, but less so than Beta waves. (4)

As an individual emerges from a sauna they will experience a significant upswing in both Theta and Alpha activity, so beyond the stage of lying on the massage table and falling almost asleep as one might in Theta, combined with Alpha brain wave activity that allows for the observation of their inner and outer world free of frenetic energy as found in Beta states. 

The study is concluded with the following statement:

We elucidated changes in brain activity and mood in the “totonou” state by measuring and comparing brain activity and emotional scales before and after the sauna phase and during the rest phase in each set. We found significant increases in theta and alpha power during rest and after the sauna phase compared to before the sauna phase.” (1)

In addition to many other beautiful biochemical reactions in the body elucidated from passive heated activity such as traditional saunas, steam rooms, and infrared saunas, the actual increase in both theta and alpha brain activity gives way to a clarity of mind where thoughts can occur against the canvas of a deeply relaxed mind, but a mind still capable of droplets of pleasant thought patterns. 

Sauna use appears to have a similar effect on the brain as meditation, and for individuals short on time amidst a busy schedule, it may be possible to get many health benefits both for the body and mind in one single activity: Sauna Bathing. 

Take a look at the table below to compare the two groups in the study:

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is pone.0294137.g004.jpg


So, if you are looking to engage in creative thinking, consider finding states of Totonou before you come up with your next great idea or solution to a problem. So, you may be wondering what is the protocol to follow if you are looking to elevate Theta and Alpha activity via a sauna session?

The Protocol to Follow to Reach Totonou

In Japanese culture the word Totonou has a sense of coming home to one’s original self: The self that exists outside of the stresses and traumas caused by the events of the world around us:

The word “totonou” means to be prepared /arranged in Japanese; with respect to the sauna, the “totonou” is the well-being state in which the body and mind are automatically conditioned by entering the sauna, and the original ability of the person is restored.” (1)

It seems that to reach Totonou it is best to follow a specific protocol when using a sauna. The source of heat that you choose is not as important, but your sauna should enable your internal temperature to rise to 101.5 degrees. This can be achieved in an infrared sauna by setting your temperature between 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit and in a traditional sauna this can be found by setting the temperature to 170-190 degrees. 

***Always be mindful to not enter a sauna that is over 200 degrees Fahrenheit as this may cause long term brain damage as well as jeopardize health in other ways. Always respect the heat. 

To reach Totonou it is recommended to take a sauna that lasts at least ten minutes, followed by a 1 – 2 minute cold exposure followed by another sauna session, and ending with a ten minute rest period. The individual may quickly shower off after the second sauna session, however this should be a short shower and rest ought to be found quickly in a supine position in a room that is quiet with a comfortable robe on or other garment. After this protocol is followed, be sure to have a pen and paper nearby in incase any ideas come to mind, or answers to any questions appear in mind’s eye in the form of an Epiphany.

Totonou: A State of Coming Home To True Self

In addition to all of the wonderful effects that regular sauna bathing has on human physiology including, but not limited to, improvement in sleep, immunity, cardiovascular function, diminishment of inflammation, increase in Heat Shock Proteins, and so much more, we now understand through rigorous research that sauna bathing can also affect brain wave activity. 

Understanding both the psychological, as well as neurological, phenomenon that results from sauna use one might be inclined to arrange their schedule around a sauna session. Looking to quiet the mind so that creativity can flow through. Why not take a sauna and have your notepad ready to go to capture ideas, as brain waves are altered to induce a different type of thought patterning to emerge.

Perhaps it is because of Totonou that there is a sauna in the Finnish parliament building? 

Whatever your reasons are for engaging in sauna bathing please always proceed with caution, while maintaining excellent hydration, listening to your own body, and you may just find yourself in Totonou.

Sources Cited:


CTA for shop page