Finnish Sauna

Saunas have existed in other cultures, but it is in Finland that they have become entwined in the national culture.

It is estimated that there are two million saunas in Finland, for a population of 5.3 million. Big companies and state institutions have their own saunas. The president has an official sauna, as does the prime minister. They are to be found in city apartments and in country cottages.

Traditional saunas are heated by wood. All saunas have a basket of rocks heated by the stove on which to throw water to increase the humidity. Called löyly in Finnish (for pronunciation, contact your host), the steam increases the feeling of heat and makes you sweat.

Care of Body and Soul

Sauna baths suit everyone who is aware of his own limitations. Sauna alleviate both physical and mental stress. Pain and tension afflicting muscles and joints fade away, and for many the sauna means a way to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Sauna bathing does not only clean the body but also purifies the mind. Relaxed sauna ritual could be best described as euphoric. It is like a rebirth; all unpleasant feelings fall away and you feel at peace with the whole world. This is what Finns mean by the care of the soul received in the sauna.

The different forms of enjoying it are able to medicate almost anyone regardless of the specifics of their situation. While a casual experience is already refereshing, it’s the regular sauna routine with its holistic advantages that has the potential to be of overwhelming assistance when it comes to staying in good health, and pursuing better quality as well as long durability of life.

How it Works

Basic etiquette in the sauna is quite simple. You first take all your clothes off – something you have to try not to be shy about. It is considered polite to shower before going in. Otherwise, there are few rules. Stay in as long as you feel comfortable, and return to the sauna several times if you wish.

When you come out of the sauna, roll in the snow. Or – and this will be the case for most foreign visitors – simply take a shower. But if you do roll in the snow, make sure it is fresh and powdery: old, icy snow can have an effect on your skin like sandpaper.

Old Traditions

In old times, the sauna was known as the Finnish cure or the poor man’s pharmacy. It was also the hospital where folk healers practised their art. They administered baths and massage.

The sauna was also a place for performing magic, mostly to do with healing or love affairs. Sauna baths were also believed to be useful for improving virility.

Our ancestors did not use their sauna only for bathing. It was needed for drying flax, preparing malts, curing meat and for many other agricultural or domestic chores.

Are There Risks?

Except for severely ill or handicapped persons, practically every Finn takes sauna baths at least occasionally. Bathing small babies is safe from the age of a few months. Finns do not recognize any upper age limit for sauna bathing, either.

However, those with health problems should nevertheless consult a doctor before trying it.

Useful Tips

In the sauna wear your birthday suit or towel. Nakedness is natural. There are no exact rules of behaviour but the ritual is meant to be relaxing. Hurry and noise are out of the question.

It is a good idea to begin with a wash or shower; a seat towel for the hot room is also useful.The temperature should be 80-90°C; ten minutes at a time will be enough.

Air humidity is regulated by ladling small doses of water onto the stove stones.

Warming up and cooling off can be repeated as many times as feels good.

Another brief warming-up may be nice after washing before finishing off with a shower.

Heavy meals and alcohol should be avoided before sauna. Afterwards you will need a refreshing drink and possibly a snack.

Sauna bathing in moderation suits everyone. Those with health problems should nevertheless consult a doctor before trying it.