What Is an Authentic Finnish sauna?

Finnish sauna is a source of wellbeing. It is a place where both mind and body can relax and clean up. Finnish sauna reduces stress, enhances quality of sleep and increases the overall wellbeing—a perfect counterbalance to the hectic life.

There are plenty of saunas in the world, but ”sauna” is actually originally a Finnish word, the only one that hasn’t been translated to other languages. What makes a sauna Finnish, then?

Finnish sauna design

A typical Finnish sauna is a wooden room or a separate building with wooden benches inside placed on different levels. An authentic Finnish sauna has a proper insulation and sewerage, so the room keeps the heat inside effectively and excess water doesn’t stay on the floor. One of the key elements is a good ventilation: even when heated, the air inside a sauna should circulate, so you can always breath fresh heated air easily. Read more about designing a Finnish sauna.

Temperature of a Finnish sauna is moderately high compared to other saunas in the world and alters between 70 to 100 celcius degrees (158 – 212°F). Finnish sauna is heated up with an electric or a woodburning stove with rocks piled on top. The main practice of the Finnish sauna bathing is throwing water on the rocks to create steam (löyly in Finnish) and to add temporary soft heat to the sauna. The typical humidity inside a Finnish sauna varies from 40% to 60%.

Finnish saunas can be of all sizes and shapes, as long as they include the elements mentioned above. Finnish saunas can be built to city surroundings, countryside, or even on top of water. They can be altered for various purposes—for example relaxing in a spa, recovering after a gym session, or spending time with your friends and family.

Going to a Finnish sauna

In addition to throwing water on the heated rocks to create löyly, another essential part of Finnish sauna bathing is cooling down between sauna sessions. Basically it means that you come out of the heated sauna room to drink fresh water, sit down on a patio, take a cool shower or a dip in the lake. The hot-cool temperature alteration makes the blood flow and increases the heart beat, which are great for your health. Moreover, drinking fresh water and getting out of the steam when your body says so is very important as well.

Whisking is also a typical part of Finnish sauna bathing, although it’s included in Russian banya culture as well. In Finland, the sauna whisks (vihta or vasta) are typically made from fresh birch branches that are tied up together. Whisking is done by softly hitting the bunch of branches against the sauna heated skin. It creates a wonderful smell in the sauna, and the sapines of birch cleanse the skin gently. Whisking increases blood flow as well and eases joint and muscle pain.

Finnish sauna bathing is supposed to be a pleasant and relaxing experience. Compared to many other sauna cultures, Finnish sauna bathing doesn’t include any specific rules that tell the bather how long to stay in the sauna, how often to cool down, when to throw löyly and so on. The most important thing is to listen to your body’s sensations and act accordingly. On some days you might feel like staying in the sauna for a shorter time and on others you could spend a whole day sauna bathing.

Despite the lack of general rules, many public saunas, hotels and spas do give you kind guidance about how to behave in the sauna area. You can also ask for instructions yourself. Finns are always happy to help you with that.

 


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Satu Freyberg

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