There are plenty of saunas in the world, but ”sauna” is actually originally a Finnish word, the only one that hasn’t been translated to other languages.
As an institution, the sauna is more a thousand years old and a big part of Finnish culture. In the old days, sauna was where you gave birth and washed the dead (this was still common 90 years ago), since it was the cleanest place in the home. This is why the sauna has such a deeply ingrained meaning for the Finns.
Sauna is linked to a wide range of beliefs. The Finnish folk tradition is full of magic spells and stories of sauna spirits and elves that are generally good-natured and live in harmony with the people. Birch whisks, pouring water on the stove to summon the ‘löyly’ spirit, sending greetings to the ones passed, and singing old songs is one example of a Finnish sauna tradition.
There are more saunas than cars in Finland. Nearly everyone has a sauna in their home. There are also public saunas in Finland. In Tampere there are more public saunas than anywhere else in the country. That’s why Tampere is the Sauna Capital of the World!
In Finland, people go to sauna once a week, sometimes even more often. We even have a concept of saunapäivä, the sauna day, which is usually Saturday. At home, Finnish families tend to go to the sauna together, naked. In a public sauna you can wrap yourself in a towel – unless told otherwise. Remember, normally sauna has nothing to do with sex.
A typical Finnish sauna is a wooden room or a separate building with wooden benches inside placed on different levels. An authentic Finnish sauna has a proper insulation and sewerage, so the room keeps the heat inside effectively and excess water doesn’t stay on the floor. One of the key elements is a good ventilation: even when heated, the air inside a sauna should circulate, so you can always breath fresh heated air easily.
Temperature of a Finnish sauna is moderately high compared to other saunas in the world and alters between 70 to 100 celcius degrees (158 – 212°F). Finnish sauna is heated up with an electric or a woodburning stove with rocks piled on top. The main practice of the Finnish sauna bathing is throwing water on the rocks, kiuas, to create steam (löyly in Finnish) and to add temporary soft heat to the sauna. The typical humidity inside a Finnish sauna varies from 40% to 60%.
”How do I do Finnish sauna then?”. Well, Finns are always happy to help you with this, and sauna owners gladly guide you to the Finnish sauna experience. Here’s a few tips to get you started:
Always remember proper hydration in the sauna. The best way to do that is by drinking water. Drink 1-2 glasses of water before entering the sauna.
Take a shower and wash yourself before entering the sauna.
Go into the sauna either naked, wrapped in a towel or in a bathing suit. There are no strict rules that apply to every sauna – each sauna has its own set of rules.
Crab yourself a sauna towel to sit on, and head to the sauna. Make sure to close the door behind you!
If you’re in the sauna for the first time, sit on a lower bench, as the heat rises. Enjoy the heat and throw water (löyly) from a bucket on the shot stones with a ladle. Only throw water onto the stones if everyone wants to.
Sweating, slightly increased heart rate and redness of the skin is normal. Listen to your body and trust your feelings. Stay in the sauna for as long as you like. Remember to drink more water!
Cooling off is an integral part of the sauna experience. Take some time to cool off. Take a shower, sit in a fresh air for a moment or go for a swim. Once your body has cooled off, you can go back to the sauna.
Visit the sauna as many times as you feel like.
When you are finished, rinse the sweat off your skin and wash yourself.
After the sauna, you feel clean, beautiful and reborn on the inside.