The practice of sauna finds its roots in Finland. It was here that it was developed and has come to be what we know of it today. How did this practice start and what are its varied components? To find out more on this subject, read the following article.
If you’ve ever taken a sauna, you’ll know just how wonderful it can be. The steam filling the room and getting you all sweaty, relaxing your muscles and re-energizing your senses. And though relaxation is one of the main pointers that makes anyone want to take a sauna, there are several health benefits of the same as well that can coax you into taking off the robe and letting the steam caress your body. The main one being that it has a cleansing effect on our well-being. The sweat that is produced because of the steam helps in getting rid of all the bodily toxins. This has an overall positive effect on the body, in the way that it benefits the skin and hair, the digestive system and leads to weight loss among other things.
Sauna as a practice originated in Finland. Taking a sauna bath, was, and still continues to be, an integral part of Finnish culture. In the following sections, we will go into more details about this practice and understand the significance of the sauna culture as is followed in Finland.
Origin and Importance
The Finns take their sauna very seriously, and that’s putting it very mildly. The practice of taking a sauna does not simply remain an occasional practice for them, but takes the form of a revered tradition. The practice of taking a sauna originated in Finland as sweat baths. Sweat baths were first developed around the 5th century when people discarded their nomadic lifestyle and settled into one place. Facing the harsh and extreme cold climate meant that they had to come up with ways to survive. Their need to be one with nature’s forces prompted them to develop the sauna. This they believed to be an all transcending spiritual, mental and physical practice.
The Finns consider the practice of taking a sauna as something very sacred and pure. It is such an integral part of their culture, that they take a sauna before any important event to mark its purity and impact on their lives. For example, it is said that women take a sauna before their weddings, children are born in the warm haven of a sauna and some old people even prefer to welcome death in a sauna. That is why the entrance to a sauna consisted of a door that was lower than the head range so that people would have to bow in humility before entering the sacred place. A practice that continues even today in some cases.
The sauna culture in Finland is so sacred that the Finns believe that the impact the sauna has on the mind, body and soul cannot be duplicated by many other practices. That is why most houses and even offices in Finland have saunas. What’s more, it is the only country in the world that can boast of saunas in every household.
The Many Components
The Finns believe that it is one of those rare practices that combines spirituality, mind and body. In lifting your spirits and keeping your mind strong, in preventing diseases and assuring great health, the sauna has it all. The sauna might have been a primitive practice when it first originated, but to give it the form and standards that it follows today – that is something that the Finns have done. What are the main components of the Finnish sauna culture?
The ‘How’ of the Heating
All saunas will have steam that has been created by throwing water on heated stones. The way those stones are heated can be of different forms.
The earliest saunas were smoke saunas (savusauna) that used wood to make fire and then heat the room thus. There were no chimneys in this type of sauna and it usually took an entire day for the heat to reach the optimal temperature. That is why, this form of sauna heating is now being replaced by electric and stove saunas.
The wood stove saunas consist of a metal stove which is fitted atop the roof and is heated by a fire created out of birch wood. Birch wood is the preferred choice because of its smell and the longer burning capacity. The heat created by the fire has to be high enough to heat the stones sufficiently and create a steam when water is thrown on them.
The electric sauna is the most popular form of sauna in the cities because it does not require wood to create the smoke. The smoke is created by heating stones in an electric stove and the heat is maintained when the stones have reached an optimum temperature. After which water is thrown on them to create the required heat and steam.
Nudity in the Bath
Taking nude saunas is a part of the culture of Finnish saunas. The Finns believe that this is the most hygienic form of doing the same, because wearing clothing increases the risk of acquiring diseases as well as is highly uncomfortable. There is no sexual connotation to this practice, as is sometimes misconstrued by other cultures. That is why the Finns do not force this practice onto their foreign guests. Sometimes men and women take baths together, but it is not a compulsory practice. A separate bathroom for cleansing, before and after a sauna has been a modern addition in the sauna.
The Rules of Sauna
One has to understand that taking a sauna is a spiritual practice for the Finns, therefore calming down the mind before getting into a sauna is imperative. The rules of sauna bathing include no bad mouthing or shouting in the room, and this is something that the children are taught early on.
It is quite common for a family or close friends to take a sauna in the nude and is not looked upon with shame. While there aren’t many saunas that have sessions for the opposite sex, in places that there are, it is considered very insulting and bad natured to stare at others.
Taking a Bath in the Sauna
- Clothes have to be hung in a special room, before you begin the practice.
- Washing oneself before entering the sauna is imperative to cleanse the body and prevent the spread of diseases.
- The person then sits on a high bench while the steam fills the room and gets him sweating.
- The temperature of the room is maintained at 85 – 90 degrees C.
- A birch twig is used by the person to lightly beat himself/herself all over. This gets the blood circulation running.
- After a 10 minute session, the person cools off with a cold shower and repeats the same cycle a couple of times.
- For the final cooling off, the person will usually take a dip in a lake or a roll in the snow. This traditional practice is known to help the central nervous system.
- After this is done, cooling off with a drink and a snack usually marks the end of this ritual.
The Finnish sauna culture is a rich tradition that has been followed for many centuries now. The health benefits of sauna practice have been apparent since history and the spiritual and mental health that it lends to, transcend this practice from being a mere one to an out-of-the-world experience. If ever you’re in Finland, you know what to do.