Sauna

The sauna is one of Finland’s gifts to the world.

You should know at least three sauna words

Kiuas
Sauna stove

Löyly
Steam or vapour created by throwing water on the stones of the stove or the heat, humidity and temperature in the sauna in general.

Vihta, vasta
Whisk, made of birch (or similar) twigs. Used for beating the body in the hot room to stimulate the feel of the löyly.

More sauna terminology.

One word: sauna. Sauna, I believe, is the key to unlocking community life in Finland. Take sauna early and often.
- U.S. Scholar Grantee 2016-2017

The sauna is basically a bath, a traditional way to clean oneself. It is not intended for weight control, physical conditioning, or sexual activity. Families usually have a sauna time once or twice a week, in which the whole family may go together. Otherwise, saunas are segregated - the men go to one, the women to another.

Nothing beats the winter blues better than savusauna, avanto, and then same coffee and Karelian pastry
- U.S Student Grantee 2014-2015

A Relaxing Experience

The sauna has a very clean, wholesome, pure, and almost religious connotation in Finnish tradition. You will probably find the experience simple, relaxing, and enjoyable. Almost all apartment buildings and most houses have their own saunas. If you are a first-timer, do not be afraid to ask a few questions about procedure and sauna etiquette. You seldom ever know a Finn well unless you have been to a sauna together, so prepare yourself for one of your more pleasurable learning experiences.

Learn from a Finn

A nation of five million people with 1.5 million saunas has no need to acquire a formal sauna education - learning to bathe in the sauna comes as naturally as learning to speak. First-timers would do well to have their first encounter with the sauna in the company of a Finnish friend or acquaintance, rather than following a mechanical set of instructions that reduces sauna bathing to a drill by numbers.

A visitor hesitant about having a sauna should remember that if it has been heated specially for him or her, it is a matter of pride for the hosts, and only medical constraints are an acceptable reason for not trying it. But, trying is enough to earn the respect of the host.

A Matter of Preference

Having a sauna is something natural to all Finns, yet people do have their own ways of bathing in the sauna. But a Finn would never say to another that he is 'doing it wrong'. It is a matter of preference. This is a good principle to follow for the visitor too: listen to your own body and follow your own rhythm in moving between the hot room, the washing room and the open air, perhaps including the lake or the sea.

It is helpful to follow what others are doing, but avoid extremes: some Finns feel the need to demonstrate their tenacity by sitting in a scalding hot sauna for inordinately long periods. In such a situation, a wise visitor will quietly slip out to consume some beverages and enjoy the scenery. On the other hand, it can be equally rewarding to surrender to unknown rituals with an open mind. The feeling of being slapped on the skin with a bundle of soft birch leaves in the heat of the steam room can be a pleasant therapeutic experience and excellent aroma therapy.

Enjoy

The sauna is no place for anyone in a hurry. When the bathing is over, it is customary to continue the occasion with conversation, drinks and perhaps a light meal. A guest's comments on the sauna experience will be listened to with interest, after all, this is a subject that Finns never tire of talking about.

More about the Finnish sauna culture on the Finnish Sauna Society's page.

 

Photos on this page are from Visit Finland.