Finland is the capital of sauna culture. Here are nine things to know about how to do saunas as the Finns do.
Saunas are an integral part of Finnish culture, and most people who live outside Helsinki and other major cities have a sauna in their home, or, at the very least, in their lakeside summer house. It’s not uncommon to meet people who have inherited summer houses from both sides of the family, and so you might meet some Finnish families who have a number of saunas to choose from.
This sauna concept is alien to many of Finland’s visitors, who may need to read up on how exactly it’s done. There are indeed ways to make a fool of yourself in the sauna. And whether or not you go fully nude or wear a swimsuit is down to personal preference. Here are nine things you should know.
1. They’re museum friendly
It is a testimony to the Finnish love of saunas that a museum dedicated to the World War II Salpa Line defenses has its own sauna. The site, built with large financial donations from the Swedish, was never attacked by the Russians because it was too formidable, and they decided to take the fight elsewhere. But why you might like to take a sauna after a bit of WW2 military history is anyone’s guess.
2. Sauna sitting was once a competitive sport
Finland even holds sauna competitions. In 2010, a Russian competitor, Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy, died after spending six minutes in a 230°F hot sauna. Following the tragedy, Finland’s annual sauna world championships were permanently called off.
3. Keep an eye out for the lake
The best way to sauna is in close proximity to one of the nation’s thousands of gorgeous lakes. Often fed by swamps, the lakes’ gooey residue sticks to your skin, which apparently has health benefits. After a good twenty minutes in the sauna sweating out the toxins, run straight into the freezing lake and feel your body tighten. Although painful at first, the experience is meant to convert your body fat to a type better suited to the cold. As you swim out towards the fir-lined horizon shuddering at the thought of all the fish swimming around your exposed body, you’ll undoubtedly be craving the sauna’s intense heat—in fact, a typical evening involves several trips between the lake and sauna.
4. Abide by sauna etiquette
Sauna culture has its own rules, and one must take care not to upset the others when filling the wooden bucket with hot water. Also, it’s considered good form to stay for the duration of the steam you create. So if you pour loads of hot water on to the coals be sure to wait until the steam has cleared, and don’t forget to ask the others if they are happy for you to do so first.
5. A natural masseuse
The birch trees around the summer house can be used to create long massage brushes. You simply grab a few leafy branches, tie them together and dip in hot water then use the “brush” to gently stroke your back and arms. After a while, the aroma fills up the sauna and even helps you breath better.
6. Keep your cool
Perhaps it goes without saying, but arguing in the sauna is prohibited.
Alcohol, of course, hits you a lot harder when you are in a sauna, and Finns love to bring beers with them. The healthy option is to bring mineral water to replenish all that you sweat out in the heat.
8. A family affair
From a young age Finns go to the sauna together with their families, and family sauna time is even a Christmas Eve tradition. That means the whole family sees each other naked and, as a result, the Finns tend to develop a mature and relaxed attitude toward nudity.
9. Nudity not required
It is common for men and women to share saunas completely naked as fabrics are thought to carry bacteria into the sauna. But if you are feeling a little shy, a swimsuit is perfectly acceptable.