Finnish Saunas

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What is a Finnish Sauna?

In other civilizations, saunas have been around, but it is in Finland that they have evolved into an integral element of the national culture. They were the most convenient method to wash during long winters when there was no running hot water in the past. Although the traditional Finnish sauna has been abandoned, you may still find individuals who were born in a sauna. Not when it was heated, of course, but rather a sterile location where hot water was accessible.

There are reportedly two million saunas in Finland, accounting for 5.3 million people. There are several corporate and government-funded saunas. The president and the prime minister both have their own personal sauna rooms. They can be found in city apartments as well as rural cottages.

Saunas heated by wood, either in a stove with a chimney or in a stove without one, are known as “wood saunas.” According to most Finns, this is the best type of sauna. After the wood has burned down and most of the smoke has escaped, leaving embers to heat the sauna to the correct temperature, but with a pleasant heat and the fragrance of woodsmoke.

The rocks in the sauna’s basket are heated by the stove and used to douse water to raise the humidity. In Finnish, löyly refers to steam that makes you sweat and increases your perception of heat.

The sauna’s basic etiquette is quite simple. You mustn’t be shy about removing your clothing first. It is considered good manners to shower before entering the sauna. Otherwise, there are no strict regulations. If you like, stay as long as you feel comfortable and return to the sauna as many times as you like.

How Do Finnish Saunas Work?

The Finnish sauna dates back to the 16th century and is believed to have been a crucial part of life for the Finns for even longer. Finland isn’t the only country that embraces sauna culture, however. European regions that experience extreme cold conditions all have their own spin on the traditional sauna.

Back then, saunas were a lot more than the modern indoor units that you see today in your friend’s bathroom. When the Finn’s relocated or purchased land, the first thing they would do was build a sauna. Finland faces extremely harsh conditions in the winter and its people felt the need to resort to an alternative to keep their families warm. They used their sauna primarily to heat and to bathe, but it was also used to temporarily live, cook food on the stove, and even give birth in a warm and sterile environment.

Outdoor Finnish Sauna
Awesome Finnish Sauna on the lake

Traditional Finnish saunas entail washing up and sitting in a hot room for a period of time. Finnish saunas reach temperatures of up to 230 degrees Fahrenheit (110 C) and typically don’t go below 175 degrees F. After the room reaches its desired or maximum temperature, water is poured over hot stones on top of a stove called a kiuas, which creates moisture in the room. While Finns are enjoying their sauna, it is standard practice to beat oneself with a silver birch branch called a vihta, which has a relaxing effect on the muscles.

After one becomes hot, it is customary to jump in a lake or pool, take a cold shower, or even roll around in ice and snow and during the winter. Once cooled, the process starts over. Typically two to three cycles are common but it depends on the individual. Once the last cycle has ended, the sauna bath will finish with a thorough body wash.

For the Finns, a sauna is a sacred place. Cursing and controversial topics are virtually forbidden; an only conversation that is conducive to the relaxed atmosphere is generally appropriate. Anyone can use the sauna, and it’s not uncommon for different groups of people or strangers to end up in a public hot room together. Clothing is not permitted in the hot room, so small towels called pefletti are used to ensure your body can endure the contact heat from benches and various surfaces.

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How is a Finnish Sauna Different Than Other Saunas?

Finland, like Estonia, Russia, and Latvia, has a long-standing relationship with saunas. The way they dress, build their saunas or control the humidity or steam differs from nation to nation.

A Finnish sauna, for example, is not the same as a Turkish hammam, which is more of a bath-and-scrub approach. It’s also nothing like a Japanese onsen, which entails bathing in a natural hot spring for an extended period of time.

Common Types of Finnish Saunas

Finland is home to several varieties of saunas. The most common types are:

Smoke Saunas

Also known as the savusauna, these special saunas operate without the use of a chimney. Smoke saunas utilize a wood-burning stove to heat the room. Once the sauna is up to temperature, the fire is extinguished and the smoke is ventilated from the room. The sauna remains hot due to the residual heat from the stove and creates a hot, soothing atmosphere to relax. Once the room loses temperature, the process is repeated. These saunas date back to the 16th century and are regarded as the world’s first type of sauna.

Wood Stove Saunas

These models came after smoke saunas and are still very popular today in rural regions of Europe. Woodstove saunas use a metal stove to heat the room and add humidity by pouring water over hot stones on top of the stove. The Finns realized that using birch wood to heat the stove provides the perfect temperature inside the sauna. It is the development of wood stove saunas that lead to the concept of placing benches at different heights in the hot room. Bathers found relief in moisture in the air while relaxing, and decided to sit in a higher place in order to better experience the sensation of humid sauna conditions.

Modern Finnish Sauna
Now, here’s an example of a modern Finnish Sauna

Electric Saunas

These units are among the most popular in the world and would probably never exist had it not been for the Finns. Electric saunas use electricity to heat the room, eliminating the need for burning wood. Since you don’t need to trudge through freezing conditions to obtain your heat source, electric stoves eventually took over and made it easy for anyone to use saunas. With the flip of a switch, bathers can enjoy immediate relaxation and luxury and no longer have to deal with messy cleanups. Furthermore, the concept of using electricity for saunas paved the way for indoor and home sauna use.

What s The Finish Sauna Etiquette?

It’s vital to understand the intricacies of sauna etiquette in Finland before going in. After all, the Finnish sauna is holy, and if you break one of its sacred rules, the sauna elf, or saunatonttu, will roast you. The general guideline is to act in a church-like manner. In other words, be on your best behavior. Don’t be noisy, talk about sensitive subjects, or bring food or drink inside.

While traditional sauna culture emphasizes respect for people who use saunas to unwind, private saunas may be a popular destination for socializing and drinking with friends, especially on Friday nights. People begin to relax in the sauna and begin to talk about what’s on their minds.

Do you have no idea what to do in a new sauna? Simply watch how others are acting. If no one is speaking, it’s probably not a chatty sauna area, so be nice about it.

Things To Do in a Finnish Sauna

  1. Before you go inside the sauna, take a warm shower to keep the room and yourself spotless. Washing with a soap essentially removes the oil and dirt from your skin. This makes it easier to sweat and keeps the place clean as well. You should also follow up with a shower to promote blood flow and “tighten” the pores. It’s essential that the shower should be taken in cold water. This is how you get that post-sauna glow that makes you feel refreshed and that the Finns adore.
  2. Except in saunas that include both men and women, it is not necessary to wear a swimming costume. In general, Scandinavians are less concerned about nudity. Prepare to get naked, but if you’re feeling apprehensive, you may use a towel.
  3. It’s more beneficial to maintain it or look out the window than to let your eyes wander. Never has this adage been more true than in a sauna. So, keep your eyes forward or at eye level, and staring is strictly out of the question.
  4. In Finland, saunaing is a leisurely activity that should be savored. Finns don’t sweat and dash; instead, they have many steam sessions punctuated by a cold swim, shower, or drink.

Can Males and Females Take Saunas At The Same Time?

This is a frequent concern. Finnish saunas can be either mixed-sex or single-sex. Because bathers must wear swimming apparel or towels in mixed-sex saunas, you won’t be self-conscious about being naked. In some cultures, such as the Finnish people, single-sex saunas have separate rooms or specific times for women and men, and you are expected to wear your bathing suit. For comparison, Finnish families sauna naked together in the nude. Grandparents to toddlers as young as four months old participate.

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