The Finnish Sauna

The sauna has been known for centuries. Back in the ancient days people would relax in hot steam baths and other rooms created specifically for sweating. Finland has been using various forms of the sauna for around 2000 years now. In earlier times they were probably nothing more but holes in the mountainside but today’s saunas are usually wooden huts at a lakeshore. Saunas are also commonly found inside city apartments. Walls, ceilings and floor are made of wood. Natural stones are placed inside some form of bowl. The bowl is then heated with electricity or – rarely – with gas, so that the room heats up.

Before you enter the sauna you should take a shower. Temperatures in a sauna vary between 60 and 90 degrees.  It will rise further when water is poured onto the stones. Some people feel like lobster in a cooking pot. The humid heat makes the body sweat profusely. To stimulate blood circulation, some users hit themselves with birch branches. The sauna sessions after around ten minutes and people leave to take a cold shower. Some brave souls roll around in the snow outdoors or even jump into the ice-cold lake. Afterwards they dress again and feel refreshed and healthy.

In 1990 Finland counted about 1,500,000 saunas for 4,900,000 inhabitants. This means: There’s a sauna for 3.26 inhabitants. On average a Finn will visit the sauna twice a week. Women have given birth in saunas and the odd dead body has been stored in one as well.

Some Finns are not satisfied with merely jumping into a cold lake to cool off: In winter two holes that are 5-6 metres apart are bored into the ice that covers the frozen lake. They then swim from one hole to the other. However there’s a great risk that they will not reach the second hole and for most Finns this kind of derring-do has nothing to do with the pleasure of the sauna.

The effect of the Finnish sauna

For the Finnish sauna to be fully effective we have put together a list of important steps to remember when using the sauna. Please make sure you follow these steps, especially the cooling after use. Otherwise you risk hyperthermia and start feeling ill.

Step 1: Take a shower

Please remember to always take a warm shower before entering the sauna. Hygiene matters!

Step 2: Towel off

Please dry yourself carefully with a towel after the shower.  Only a properly dry skin can absorb the hot air inside the sauna properly. If you entered the sauna dripping wet you would not begin to sweat. You’re also not doing anyone else a favour by dripping water onto the benches.

Step 3: Warm foot bath (5-10 minutes)

You should warm your feet before you enter the sauna. The warm water of a foot bath widens the blood vessels in your feet and helps to increase body temperature. So your whole body is warmed up and better prepared for the sauna.

Step 4: Sauna (6-15 minutes)

Choose the lowest bench where the heat is less intense when you use the sauna for the first time. Leave your flip-flops outside the door. Make sure that your feet are at the same height as your abdomen when you sit down, so that your body will warm up evenly all over. Experienced sauna-goers usually choose the benches higher up where the heat is more intense. Before you sit or lie down, spread your towel on the bench. This isn’t only more hygienic for you but also protects your skin from the benches’ heat.

You should stay in the sauna for at least six minutes. It takes this long for the pores to open properly and your sweat glands to kick into full action. You also risk hyperthermia if you leave the sauna too early as your body has not yet been able to exude the heat. Recommended maximum time inside the sauna is 15 minutes. You should spend the last two minutes sitting upright, ideally on the lowest bench. If you were lying down you might experience some dizziness when sitting up. Remain seated for a while until your body has become used to your upright position again.

Step 5: Fresh Air (1-5 minutes)

After leaving the hot air of the sauna you should step out into the fresh air. Your lungs are ready to inhale fresh oxygen which your body needs now. Go outside if you can. This happens automatically in Finland when people step out of the sauna hut and walk to the nearby lake to cool off.

Step 6: Cold shower or bath

If there’s no opportunity for you to jump into a cold lake, you should now take a cold shower. The best way is to use a hose: Start with your feet then work your way upwards. Once you’ve washed the sweat off your skin, you can take a quick bath in a cold water pool. Make sure that your body has cooled off properly!

Step 7: Warm foot bath (5-10 minutes)

Now finish your sauna turn with another warm foot bath. This helps to raise your body temperature again after cooling off. Heat will rise from your feet. IF you start sweating again while bathing your feet, you haven’t cooled off properly. Repeat steps 6 and 7 to avoid hyperthermia.

Step 8: Rest

Before you use the sauna again, get some rest. Use this rest to drink something.