Finnish settlers first brought saunas to America in the 1600s. The overwhelming majority of Finns in any country make saunas an active part of their lives, often using them at least once a week, regardless of the season. So, what’s so great about saunas?
Good for Your Body
Saunas are not a recent invention. Variants have been around in different cultures for thousands of years, with differences in temperature and humidity and sometimes featuring the use of immersion pools. The heat in these rooms (normally from 150-195° F) can:
- be helpful for muscle recovery after sports
- reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
- help with depression and anxiety
How does this heat, which acts as a stressor, help you relax?
The heat opens pores and widens blood vessels, allowing the body to conduct toxins from the inside out, and the higher sweat production stimulates metabolism and detoxification.
A sauna can help you feel relaxed the same way you can after a good hike: the stress from the heat in a sauna paradoxically helps to relax you after you’ve exerted yourself.
Good for Your Soul
Sauna works both as a solitary and group activity. If you want some quiet time to yourself, it’s ideal. But if you want to have some meandering conversations with friends, it works well too.
Finland has a lot of public saunas and you’ll see those in them (they are usually segregated by sex as most of the traditional saunas there are in the nude) engage in quiet conversation or just sit in silence with each other. There’s no rule…other than not being loud.
Etiquette and Tips
It’s normal to shower before going through your first session (three sessions are average, but you can do more or fewer than that).
A session can be between five to eight minutes, but be aware of your own limits. It’s not a competition, but you will want to push yourself a little your first few times, as the unfamiliar heat may be pushing you to “get out” within a couple minutes. Realize your body needs time to absorb and distribute that heat and if you stay in for too short a time you won’t get any of the benefits.
You should enter and exit the room quickly to make sure the heat stays in.
Whether the sauna requires a swimsuit or is normally nude, you’ll always need to bring a towel to sit on.
If you’re not alone in the room, ask others before pouring water on the sauna rocks to create steam.
In Finland it’s normal to plunge into water (or sometimes, snow!) between sessions but if your sauna doesn’t have that option, just make sure to drink water in the interval before your next session. Stay hydrated.
Finally, keep in mind that saunas are not for everyone, as certain medical conditions preclude partaking of it. If you have any conditions that you think might prevent you from enjoying some sauna time, double check with your doctor. But otherwise, be ready to add a new tool to your toolbox for relaxing and clearing your mind.