Only one Finnish word has made its way into everyday English, and that’s sauna. This bathing ritual has been practised all over Finland for millennia, since the very first settlers heated up stones in a pit and enjoyed the soothing steam, which is known as löyly.
Nowadays, it is a huge part of the Finnish culture and it is estimated that there are more than 3 million saunas in this country of 5.3 million people – enough for every Finn to simultaneously sit naked and sweat! There is an official sauna in Helsinki’s Parliament, and in business, the big decisions are made in the sauna, not in the boardroom. Traditionally this is the place where everyone is equal and you ‘leave your worries with your shoes’.
How to sauna
So, if you’re on a holiday to Finland and you want to take the plunge, here’s how to sauna. First things first, off with your clothes! Don’t worry if you feel a little reticent about that, you can wear a towel or swimwear if you wish but expect your Finnish counterparts to be naked.
Relax body & mind
It’s the done thing to shower before entering the sauna, to remove any perfumes or dirt, then in you go. The heat in the sauna is more intense the higher you go, so novices should choose the lower benches. Always sit on the small towel provided, and then relax your body and mind and soak up the heat.
To add moisture to the air you can throw a little water on the hot stones, and some people like to move between levels to enjoy the different temperatures. You can enjoy socialising with others while you’re here, but keep noise levels to a minimum as many simply want to meditate.
You are free to leave and re-enter the sauna as many times as you wish, and in between, depending on the season and your surroundings, you can indulge in a cooling roll in the snow or dip in a lake or the sea. Once back inside you might choose to use a vihta, a bundle of birch twigs which you use as a whisk on your skin to open pores, improve circulation and leave you with a healthy glow.
After all that sweating you’ll need to drink plenty. Water is the best option, particularly during your sauna, but the Finns also enjoy a cold beer or cider afterwards to help the rehydration process.
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