The Way of Finnish Sauna

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I'll share with you the Finnish way of thinking as you are taking a Finnish sauna. In Finland the sauna is an expression of physical health. It is a cultural habit friends and family share together. It's a place to get clean rather than just a room to sweat in. Let me help you get connected with the Finnish sauna culture in Finland. So, before entering the sauna, hang your clothes up on the wall.

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There is a separate room to change in. It could be large or small. Hang your clothes up so they don't get wet. There is also a separate room for washing up. At a public sauna that may be a shower cubicle, at a home sauna an 'open shower' with a door to the hot room.Take a shower before going into the hot room!

Adjust your thinking

Think relaxing thoughts to yourself like: "All my cares and worries are left outside that sauna door." Picture all the muscles in your body relaxing and loosening up. In Finland, being in the sauna room means everyone has equal value. Wether you are a child or adult, highly educated or an ex-convict. Everyone has the same status in the sauna.

Accept a hurry-free and sociable attitude. Remember that it takes hours for skilled people to heat up a Finnish smoke sauna. As the tradition goes, people make birch twig whisks along with that special touch. The key is to keep a slow and relaxed attitude while taking a real Finnish sauna and even when the sauna routine is over they keep it until the day ends. When you wake up after a good night’s sleep, you feel like a new person.

Sauna health benefits

Applying expert Finnish sauna methods reaps rewards:

  1. It brings inflammation down. After surgery, a wound on my body was inflamed. With the combination of ice-swimming and sauna visits, it shrunk back to normal size.
  2. It helps with breathing problems like asthma. The extreme hot and cold gives lungs a good workout.
  3. It reduces stress! Yep. My friend's blood-pressure lowered temporarily after sauna and ice-swimming.
  4. It relieves muscles tension and soreness after hard physical work. Try a hot sauna after chopping wood all day.
  5. Cleanses and softens the skin.
  6. The hot room is great therapy for depression or anxiety. Quite often I have arrived for sauna and ice-swimming in the pits after a good 3 hours of doing sauna with ice-swimming... the car drive home... Bliss! And the great sauna after-effects last for hours to follow.
  7. Aromatherapy. The scent of wood combined with smoke relax both mind and body. The classic smell of a smoke sauna. Birch branches of the vihta also add additional therapeutic smells. For more smell, try adding scented oils.
  8. It helps motivate you! After sauna your appendages feel lighter and your entire body becomes relaxed. Your mind can focus better on the here and now and you stay grounded in where you are, so it ultimately helps to motivate you.
  9. It increases the testosterone level in men. Watch out women! :-)

Feeling the heat in a modern Finnish sauna

A thermometer behind your seat indicates 80 Celsius (176 Fahrenheit). You are sitting on wooden bench in a wood paneled 20 square meter (215 cubic feet) room. To your left is a 18 x 18 inch window leading to the crisp freezing outside. You are dying to open that window up and let the air in to cool you off. Gasp!! Below, a blazing fire roars inside the sauna stove.

The stove top rocks store loads of heat on top of the stove heater. You reach for a bucket of pre-heated water. Scooping out the water, you pour two ladles onto the stones sloooowly. The steam gently hits you over a longer period of time, instead of as a sudden heat wave crash.

Steam rises, filling the air... the dry hot room fills with moisture... the air thickens, and it feels much hotter... and your breath shortens. After a minute the humidity and intense heat die down. Beyond this brief feeling of penetrating hot discomfort, around the corner you await an endorphine-induced high feeling. That is the kind of heat in a real Finnish sauna.

The lakeside sauna landscape

Go from the sauna room's hot steam and back to the lake, again and again, until you get a head rush. Dipping in the lake for a swim is part of the Finnish sauna routine. If the lake is frozen, take along a friend for safety reasons. Always remember to keep your head above the water!

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Preventing 'after sauna chills' in Finland

Avoid after sauna chills. In the Finnish winter time as you get ready to end your ice-swimming/sauna routine, do a final warm-up in the sauna rather than cooling off in the lake, since after sauna chills leave you with a cold feeling lasting for hours. No fun!

In the summer, a swim in a lake is a great way to cool off after your real Finnish sauna routine. Get clean with some environmentally-friendly soap and shampoo, washing it all off with lake water, and then dry off. If you sense you are getting cold while swimming, come out and get back into the sauna briefly and wash off there instead. Or, soak up some sun while lying on a rock.

Beware! You can get after sauna chills in the summer too. If in doubt, just warm down by washing off inside the sauna!

The Finnish smoke sauna

The original Finnish sauna was a hot room inside a wooden hut. That's all. The modern Finnish sauna is a derivative of the smoke sauna. The Finnish smoke sauna is a chimney-free sauna room. Smoke escapes the room after the sauna stove has been burning for hours. Then, prior to using the sauna, smoke is released out of the sauna room chamber through ventilation or sauna door.

Some modern smoke saunas in Finland have a dome-shaped rock stove. The smoke sauna offers you a gentle steam and steady burst of heat compared to wood-burning or electric saunas. Naturally, the inside walls of a smoke sauna are black, however in a newer smoke sauna the walls will typically appear lighter and cleaner.

Remember - there are no chimneys in the smoke sauna, so smoke just hangs around in the chamber soaking into the walls, chairs, and ceiling. Take a look at yourself in the mirror after you have been in the smoke sauna - you may be left with some black marks!

The Finnish home sauna

A small wooden hut-style room, wooden benches to sit on and a bucket of water for ladling over the hot rocks to create steam.

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Turn the electric stove's knobs (or push a button) the electric resistors heat up the stones. The electric stove requires no smoke flue, hence the Finnish home sauna is found inside other buildings structures. All you need is a room with a chimney flue for smoke ventilation. You find these types of saunas in hotels, homes and public swimming halls. They can be electric or woodburning with rocks on top of the stoves surface.

The Finnish public sauna

At the turn of the 19th century before electricity and modern sewage existed, the more highly populated areas had public saunas. They are still in operation today and well worth a visit. Today you can reserve a sauna for your family at an indoor swimming hall, where there are also public saunas. These Finnish public saunas have sections for men and women, and separate sauna structures provided to hold 20-50 people. Wash up, get a massage, or chiropractic adjustment while doing a Finnish sauna at a Tampere spa. That is the basic Finnish sauna level.

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Other unique, crazy and fun Finnish sauna types

  • Dug-out sauna, Korsusauna
  • Ice-sauna
  • Herbal sauna, Yrttisauna
  • Tent sauna
  • Portable sauna on wheels
  • Sauna in a bus - take a sauna while traveling by bus!
  • Finnish boat sauna
  • Snow sauna