Why is it so hard for people to understand the concept of a sauna? That’s sow-na for you non-Finlanders. Say it with me……SOW NA. That’s it, one more time….SOW NA. For the record, Webster was not a Finlander. Okay, now that we’ve got that straight.
I’ve been dealing with the questions, the looks, the snubbed noses and the non-understanding of the sauna most of my life. I grew up in a town where probably 75% of the people had a sauna or at least access to one on a regular basis so there shouldn’t have been questions or concerns but there was. So here it is, my thoughts on the glorious sauna.
The sauna is a cure all. Pretty much no matter what ails you, the sauna will cure it. Sunburn, yep, sure does. Runny nose, yep, sure does. Headache, yep, sure does. Sleeplessness, yep, sure does. Crabbiness, yep, sure does. I’m not sure about constipation or diarrhea, I’ve never actually tested out either theory, that’s one you can test on your own if you want.
The sauna at the gym is not a real sauna. You can’t throw water on the rocks. It’s a steam room and it’s a decent alternative if you don’t have a real sauna available. The sauna at the gym should not be taken naked, not once, not ever.
A ‘real’ sauna should be taken naked. Yes, I said naked. Naked as the day you were born. Naked as a jaybird. However you want to look at it, it’s NAKED. It’s a bath. It’s sacred. It’s life altering. It’s relaxing. Be naked.
Don’t ask me about public saunas. I have no idea what goes on in there and if you do know what goes on, that isn’t going on in all saunas.
After you are done throwing water on the rocks and sweating all the toxins out of your body, you bathe. Either under a shower or from a pan that you’ve scooped clean cold and hot water into to use as bath water. You wash up while your pores are open, head out to the bench, chair, couch and relax for several more minutes. Sometimes you even fall asleep because you feel so good. Uber clean.
There are times you go to someone else’s house to take a sauna. That’s okay, it’s perfectly acceptable. Yes, that’s like going to the neighbors to take a bath but it’s okay, you may not have wanted to start your sauna that day or you just plain didn’t have one at home. Growing up, we tended to go elsewhere for sauna in the winter, since our sauna was in a building of its own and it wasn’t electric.
Sauna can be a social thing. More so with the men in my family, two or more people will sauna together. I remember the first time an ex of mine was invited to sauna with the boys. He looked at me as if the Deliverance theme song started to play in his head. I explained to him he could say no and it wasn’t some sort of initiation into the family. I also explained it’s just what they do, there’s no judging, no weirdness, just conversation and sometimes a beer.
Yes, there were times when we would sauna as a group, with bathing suits on, and jump in a snow bank or a cold lake after we had poured lots of water on the rocks. Not so great for the old ticker but we were young. I’ve even done that when I wasn’t so young I guess. Keeps your blood flowing or something like that.
Saunaing as a couple is allowed and encouraged. It’s a nice relaxing time to spend together, talk or don’t talk, whichever floats your boat. However, extracurricular activities are not encouraged unless both parties are very accustomed to the sauna. Overexertion can easily lead to heart palpitations, shortness of breath or dizziness. I do not have the official Finnish doctor’s word on this one but I’ve heard stories.
Fibbing to ‘sauna rookies’ is encouraged. For those of us veterans, it is a must to ‘mess’ with the rookies. We tell them that if you pour cold water on the rocks the steam will be cooler. Tell them this as often as it takes for them to finally get it.
You will experience things you will never encounter in your bathtub or shower. Such as: scalding hot shampoo/conditioner (always leave it on the lower bench), soap that is literally melted to the bench, again, leave it in the dish on a lower bench, same goes for razors and any other paraphernalia you may have in there. It’s hot. Just to remind you, it’s hot! Say it with me, IT’S HOT!
Antics are not always encouraged but happen nonetheless. My sister used to make me sit on the floor. The floor of a sauna is not hot, it’s actually fairly cool and rather creepy. It was my punishment for her having to take care of me I think. A friend told me that they used to put the hot metal ladle (you know, to scoop the water onto the rocks) on another’s bare butt cheek, ummm, ouch. That didn’t happen at my house thank goodness. Plugging the chimney while siblings or friends were in there to turn the sauna into a ‘smoker’ was another of my friend’s antics. We didn’t do that one either.
A sauna is a way of life, a culture, a special occasion, almost a religion in some households. We crave a sauna like a fat kid craves Twinkies. Don’t judge, embrace. Don’t assume, ask. Don’t knock it, try it.