Wanna Sauna?

12 Sep
*Actual pronunciation of the word sauna does not rhyme with wanna. Click here.

[ Photo credit: a Custom Sauna available at Trendir.com]

Sauna Lingo

saunaFinnish style sweat bath

savusauna – Smoke sauna: the original form of sauna with no chimney. While being heated the smoke from the burning wood under the stove fills the sauna and escapes through a hole in the ceiling (lakeinen) and through the door which is usually kept slightly open during heating.

kiuas – Sauna stove

kiuaskivetStones in the sauna stove

löyly – 1) Steam or vapour created by throwing water on the stones of the stove; 2) The heat, humidity and temperature in the sauna in general

vihta, vastaWhisk, made of birch (or similar) twigs. Used for beating the body in the hot room to stimulate the feel of the löyly.

[provided by http://www.sauna.fi/terminology.html]

The sauna is a very important aspect of Finnish culture. In fact, most hotels and apartment buildings include access to saunas. Families will often sauna together, friends sometimes drink beer or vodka in the sauna, and from time to time, the sauna is an important factor in a business deal. An invitation to sauna is highly regarded. Many Finns spend summer days alternating between the relaxing sauna and a refreshing swim in a lake or the sea. During the winter, the sauna is usually somehow factored into ice swimming, yet another activity to test one’s ability to sustain extreme temperatures.

The earliest known reference to a sauna is from the beginning of the twelfth century in a chronicle from the Ukrainian historian, Nestor. The sauna also appears in Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala from the nineteenth century. Historically, the first saunas were a matter of practicality. During the harsh winters, people would live in huts dug out of the ground with a fireplace for warmth. These fireplaces would heat rocks and stones which were used to create steam. This steam would warm the air so that eventually it would be possible to remove one’s clothing to bathe. Very often, the sauna was also used for women to give birth.

Last night, I took my first sauna in Finland. In America, I have been in a sauna once or twice at the gym and only after I became interested in Finnish culture. Those experiences differed from last night in many ways. For example, it is not a common practice here for the sauna to follow exercise. The sauna is a time of relaxation and mediation. I found that breathing in the heavy air was indeed arresting. Also, ladling the water over the hot rocks is a pleasurable experience both for the crackling noise and for the steam it yields.

Another noteworthy difference is that Finns disrobe before entering the sauna. Usually, public saunas like the one in my apartment building have separate hours for men and women. In mixed company, one can wear a towel and one always sits on a special sauna towel. Taking a sauna is a time to clear the mind and be at peace. It seems fitting that one could find the most peace in this natural state.

I took a sauna last night with two of my friends for a scant thirty minutes and had to cool myself off in the showers twice. Average sauna temperatures are somewhere around 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit. To provide some perspective, the Sauna World Championship held in August in Heinola, Finland heats the sauna a good twenty to thirty degrees hotter than the average sauna. Moreover, half a liter of water is poured on the rocks every thirty seconds. These conditions are so extreme that this past year, two contestants collapsed after six minutes. Tragically, Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy, a Russian amateur wrestler died later in the day during this year’s competition on August 7, 2010.

I am looking forward to many a relaxing sauna this winter. Rest assured, I will not be pushing myself to the point of any peril!


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5 Responses to “Wanna Sauna?”

  1. nichole September 13, 2010 at 2:57 am #

    I can’t believe that you wrote a post on the sauna in Finland and did not include a link to the most amazing Finnish sauna experience ever (with cats!). For your poor readers, allow me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuhGiV-xg-A

  2. Dawne September 14, 2010 at 12:50 am #

    Sounds like you have an electric sauna at Antii Korpi. If you get a chance, try a regular sauna heated with a sauna kiln (has H20 in it so the air is a little moist it’s not a smoke sauna). You can actually breathe easier and surprisingly, can handle higher temps. One way to stay in the sauna longer is to either jump in a body of water to cool off (preferred)or do the shower thing under cold water. Then return to the sauna…when you get too warm, back in the water/shower. Repeat 4 times or what you can tolerate. You’ll notice that cold and hot will start feeling the same and you’ll be “chillaxed”.

    • hellosinki September 14, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

      I definitely want to try a smoke sauna sometime. Did you ever do this, Dawne?

  3. Dawne September 14, 2010 at 12:52 am #

    Actually pronounced “Sow-na”.

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