Sauna culture in a nutshell
In Finland, there are more than 3 million saunas but only a little over 5 million people so you can imagine that sauna is really important part of the Finnish lifestyle.
It is estimated that 99% of Finns goes to sauna on regular basis, once or twice a week. Traditional sauna day is Saturday.
Sauna plays an important role also on public holidays like Mid Summer and Christmas. At these festive events the sauna is cleansed thoroughly and on the eve of the holiday we all go to sauna to settle down and start the holidays refeshed, leaving the wordly worries on the sauna benches.
Sauna has always been considered having a special, even supernatural, cleansing effect.
Especially the sauna sessions during the eve of the Mid Summer and Christmas holidays were considered very ritualistic and this is the case still today.
In the Finnish folklore there are legends about sauna spirits who lived in saunas. Those were honored by behaving nicely in sauna so that the spirits would allow you to have a relaxing sauna experience.
Finnish sauna culture was chosen to the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage list on 2020 and we, as a nation are very proud of this acknowledgement!
Nowadays we consider sauna being more like a meditative atmosphere where we can
- enjoy our own sauna rituals
- get away from the hectic daily routines
It is hard to overstate the importance of sauna in the Finnish culture. It is such an integral part of the lives for majority of the Finnish population.
In sauna, people cleanse their bodies and minds while embracing a sense of inner peace.
It is actually a state of mind rather than a ritual of cleanliness.
If you ever visit a Finn in Finland you are likely to end up in sauna. There is nothing more Finnish than sauna, and many Finns think you can not grasp Finland or its’ culture without bathing in sauna. However, Finns understand that foreigners have certain inhibitions and concerns when it comes to stepping into a heated box with no clothes on.
Getting invited to sauna in Finland is an honour. Bathing in sauna almost or totally naked with people, even with strangers, is also a bonding process.
In sauna, the shy and reserved Finns often open up and reveal their secrets, as well as have deep conversations. It is also said that, in Finland, the most important decisions are made in sauna.
The basic sauna ritual is the same as it always has been:
- warming up
- taking löyly vapour and whisking
- washing and cooling off
Cooling off nowadays often includes swimming. Many people like to cool off in the open air. Especially during the winter time there are brave ones who want to roll in the snow or take a dip in the sea or lake through a hole in the ice.
The following words of advice from the Finnish Sauna Society are worth remembering:
“Big meals and alcohol should be avoided before sauna.” However, “the sauna leaves you not only content but also thirsty and hungry.” Then, of course, refreshing drinks should be taken to quench the thirst and restore the body’s fluid balance.
What is your sauna ritual like?
Sauna bathing does not only clean the body but is also purifies the mind.
The bather’s frame of mind after a leisurely relaxed sauna ritual could be best described as euphoric.
It is like a rebirth; all unpleasant feelings fall away and you feel at peace with the whole world. This is what Finns mean by the care of the soul received in the sauna.
According to recent research on Finnish sauna bathing, the long-term health benefits from sauna are achieved when you spend at least 30 minutes in sauna.
You don’t need to do that all at once; in fact it is probably wiser to have two 15 minutes sessions than a single half an hour – at least before you know your limits!
To subtly track time you can use sand timer to inform you about the 15 minute sequences.
A sauna bath without a birch whisk is like food without salt & pepper as the saying goes.
The bather uses the whisk to beat him/herself lightly which
- raises the blood circulation on the skin
- speeds up perspiration
- produces a pleasant aroma into sauna
This all has a relaxing effect on your muscles. Did you know that whisking also helps to soothe the irritation from mosquito bites?
The whisk is normally self-made of young birch twigs which are aromatically superior to all other trees. Out of season this birchy smell of Finnish summer can be reproduced by using dried or frozen birch whisks.
The sauna may also provide cosmetic care. Famous Finnish writer, llmari Kianto (1874-1970) describes a countrywoman’s facial transformation in his novel The Red Line:
“There in the gentle löyly, the wrinkles on her face smoothed away, and the deep-blue shadows under her eyes gave way to a healthy colour. It was as if the heat had also melted away the darkness of her soul…”.