What is Thermal Wellness?
Sometimes, the best solutions are the ones we already know.
While evolving technology, science, and industry innovation keep new products and categories rolling out at a rapid pace, some emerging wellness arenas draw from ideas about health and wellbeing that have been around for millennia.
As everything old becomes new again, we see where the emerging category of thermal wellness comes in. Described by Well+Good as “the next must-know metric” in wellness, thermal wellness finds itself as a clear standout in an ever-changing landscape of goods and services designed to help people feel their best.
Humans using temperature therapeutically is nothing new. Saunas have been around for hundreds of years, and the health effects of cold plunges have been studied extensively. Already there is a 56 billion dollar market for thermal-related solutions, led by purveyors of hot and mineral springs. But you can’t take your mountaintop hot spring or ice-cold lake waters with you. So how does one achieve the benefits of thermal wellness without a five-mile hike or a flight to Iceland?
This is an important point, according to Embr Labs COO and Co-Founder, Sam Shames: “What’s exciting to me about what we’re doing at Embr is the accessibility,” he says. “Because it’s wearable, the Embr Wave is always available to make you feel better. It’s not a shower or clunky AC unit, it’s something you can have on you all the time.”
“When we released the Wave in 2018, our messaging was all about comfort,” said Sam. However, customers quickly began giving feedback that they weren’t just using the Wave to manage temperature discomfort, they were also using it to help improve their physical and emotional wellbeing.
“We started hearing feedback that people were using their Waves to manage many different problems,” says Sam. Things like dealing with hot flashes, getting better sleep, and reducing anxiety and stress were all things the Wave was being applied for. Additionally, people living with various chronic health conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), dysautonomia, and Raynaud’s said they were able to find some relief from their temperature-related symptoms using the Wave.
On top of the physical wellness benefits of Embr’s thermal intervention, there were mental and emotional benefits too. People reported feeling newfound confidence entering situations where they might have had to worry about having an unexpected hot flash, that a place might be over-air-conditioned, or anxiety from social situations. For a lot of customers, that confidence in itself was a huge game-changer.
One Wave user wrote in, saying that she experienced 20-25 hot flashes a day after receiving chemotherapy for her breast cancer treatment. “Embr Wave gave me my confidence back because I knew I was in control.”
It’s pretty intuitive that temperature can impact our emotional wellbeing as well as our physical. Gathering around a fire can make us feel at peace, and being stuck in a room that’s a bit too cold or hot can make us irritable. People visit thermal hot springs to relax and do polar plunges to feel energized. There is even ample evidence to suggest that there is a direct link between hot weather and increased anger, and potentially increased violence.
Many users say that the thermal sensations the Wave provides help directly manage stress, and that cold sensations on the wrist are actively helping to reduce their anxiety or ward off panic attacks. One Waver said, “I have problems with anxiety in crowded situations … Embr allows me to focus on the sensory input of heat fluctuation and center myself on the here and now, breaking out of the anxiety cycle.” Another noted, “An added bonus is that [Embr Wave] reminds me to stop and relax … I am finding that the Embr Wave is making me more mindful and focused by taking these tiny little breaks every now and again.”
Sam talking thermal wellness earlier this year at CES 2020
While it was exciting for the Embr Labs team to hear about the wide range of thermal wellness applications reported by real-world users of the Wave, the idea that temperature could be used in a myriad of ways wasn't a total surprise to Sam. “We make so many choices about the temperature without even thinking about it,” says Sam. “The clothes you put on in the morning, whether to drink hot or iced coffee, how warm you like your shower, and how many blankets you sleep with at night—thermal preferences are a huge part of decisions we make every day.”
Despite the daily choices we all make about temperature, thermal wellness as an idea has so much more exploration and potential to be discovered. Most technological innovation regarding temperature has been more about survival and comfort than it has been about physical and emotional wellbeing. Things like in-house heating and cooling or coats made out of synthetic materials were designed primarily to keep people safe. Even thermal treatments used specifically for therapeutic purposes generally have something to do with a physiological response, like icing an ankle to reduce swelling or trying to sweat out a fever. While these actions are all related to temperature, they may not necessarily be described as “thermal wellness.”
For Sam, the difference between using temperature to get comfortable or even to deal with a physiological issue comes down to one word: intention. “Thermal wellness is using temperature to improve your physical or emotional wellbeing intentionally,” he says. “It’s more than putting on a coat when it’s cold to avoid hypothermia; it’s making the choice to take a hot bath after a hard day at work.”
Sam adds that the choice of how to use temperature is only applicable in everyday situations, not extreme environments. “If you are dehydrated, you’re not going to care what temperature the tap water is,” he explains. “So if you’re feeling way close to heatstroke, you’re thinking about cooling down, not about the other ways that changing your temperature could help you.” In more common situations, however, Sam emphasizes that mindfulness with temperature can go beyond just comfort; it can make you feel more in tune and at ease with your body and mind.
With Embr Labs being leaders of the thermal wellness space, Sam knows that a big part of the mission extends past creating solutions, but raising awareness about what thermal wellness is and how it can be used to improve lives. “First, there’s teaching people that this exists,” Sam says, “and then there’s saying ‘here is a tool that can do that for you.’”
At the end of the day, the entire Embr Labs team believes that the most important thing is helping people unlock this whole new category of wellness so they can feel better, physically and emotionally. “It’s more than just finding solutions,” says Sam. “You really can use temperature to feel not just okay, but really good.”