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The Finnish Sauna - A Primer

For millennia, Fins and their Nordic and Slavic neighbors have considered regular trips to the communal bathhouse an integral part of a regular hygiene and social routine.  Finland boasts over two million saunas, a staggering 1.8 saunas per person!  Many of Finland’s saunas are found in the countryside, adjacent to country cottages.  Public saunas also abound and have always been as central to a community as the church or post office: in previous centuries, women gave birth in bathhouses, and care is still taken to keep the “saunatonttu” or sauna elf, who makes the sauna his home, content and happy with regular offerings of sweets.

Saunas are constructed of wood - usually pine - that is caulked tightly to keep the steam and heat from a ceramic or metal wood burning stove inside.  Cries of “the sauna is ready” indicate that the temperature inside has reached 175 - 212 degrees Fahrenheit and the steaming can begin.

Inside the sauna are wooden benches at varying heights along the perimeter.  The higher you sit, the hotter it is, so young children, who are introduced to saunas at a very early age, sit at the bottom, while experienced steamers head to the top.  Saunas emit both dry and wet heat, the latter produced by sprinkling water on top of the heat source.  Some sauna goers enjoy using fragrant oils in the water such as pine, eucalyptus, or mint.

Benefits of a Sauna

The health benefits of regular sessions in a Finnish sauna include releasing toxins, improved circulation, cardio vascular performance, joint movement, skin tone, as well as relief from muscle aches and arthritis pain.  Enjoying a sauna following a vigorous workout or just a long day at the office can help relieve stress and facilitate a good night’s sleep.

Sauna Etiquette

Finns take their saunas seriously, but with a laid back attitude that is always welcoming and inclusive of neophytes.  Here are a few points of sauna etiquette and advice to help you prepare for your Finnish experience:

1.  Strip down! 
Public saunas are divided by gender.  Nudity is considered both natural and the best way to enjoy and benefit from a sauna session.  Bathing suits are discouraged as the man-made fibers react badly with the intense heat, but modest participants can wrap up in natural cotton or linen towels or sheets.

2.  The Pecking Order! 
Those seated at the top of the sauna control the steam or “löyly,” determining when to sprinkle water on the stove to create additional heat.  If you are seated below and would like more steam, ask those above you first for permission, which is sure to be granted.

3.  Say Yes to a Good Beating!
Ten to one someone will approach you offering to beat you with a bunch of birch branches called “vasta.”  The friction helps distribute the heat and improve circulation.  It doesn’t hurt and is a big part of the sauna experience. 

4.  Stay hydrated! 
For all the health benefits a sauna is very dehydrating, so between your 15-20 minute sessions in the heat, be sure to drink copious amounts of water.  Finns often combine sauna sessions with beer or alcoholic cider, which do quench the thirst but can go to your head quickly in the steam.

5.  Relax and Enjoy!
The sauna experience is designed to help you relax and restore yourself.  You should come away feeling light and refreshed and ready for the next adventure! 

Join Alexander + Roberts on an unforgettable trip to Finland’s Lapland in Summer, featuring accommodation at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, where you will enjoy your own private sauna!

Posted: 4/6/2018 1:20:57 PM by Alexander + Roberts