This was definitely the day for it!
We finally utilized the sauna in our building tonight, and the experience was nearly as good as I recall the sauna in Lapland being. There are a few differences, mainly in that I have to be fully dressed to get to the actual sauna, and then fully dressed coming back. If you are fortunate enough to have one in your apartment/home, then you can simply go straight from sauna to shower to bed, which is nice.
The sauna is a very Finnish thing, and everything you read will tell you that it is fully ingrained in Finnish culture. There are some public saunas, but I haven’t been to one, and many apartments come with either a sauna in the apartment (nice!) or with one in the building that gets shared via a reservation system. Ours is the latter. We actually have to leave our part of the building, walk outside, and go into the next section to get to it, which kinda sucks. However, the ‘after glow’ of the experience was still there when I got home, so I was relieved for that.
There are apparently all manner of traditions and ways to do sauna, but just a few things, I think, are really the ‘must-do’ things. One, have a towel to sit on in the sauna. No one wants to sit where your skanky bare butt was, so put a towel down. Besides, it’s probably a lot more comfy than sitting on the bare, hot wood. Secondly, take a shower before and after the sauna. It’s kinda like having to shower before you enter a public swimming pool, and then you definitely want to afterwards.
Other than that, you can sort of mix it up.
- You can and should go naked, but you can wear a towel or bathing suit if you are going with others that you’re not comfortable being naked around. But you might actually end up feeling more self-conscious if you’re not nekkid!
- Men and women don’t sauna together unless they’re married. And I think even in the public saunas, you are strictly separated by male or female, regardless of marital status.
- Saunas are not places for sex, anyway. Seriously, in that heat??
- You can bash yourself with birch branches or not. I hear it’s great for the skin and circulation, but I’m not there yet.
- Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. And apparently, it’s kosher to hydrate with beer while in the sauna. And you can cook sausages over the hot rocks. I wouldn’t suggest doing that last part in your shared sauna, though.
- Know your limits. You’re not competing for any sort of world record. Try to get a good ‘burn’, so to speak from it, but don’t push. Definitely leave if you are feeling light-headed or dizzy.
My own experience with the sauna was an eye-opening one. I have MS, and anyone with MS will tell you that heat tends to exacerbate the symptoms. And during the summers in Louisiana, I would get light-headed, dizzy, nauseated, and my fingers, arms, and legs would tingle if I was out in the midday heat for too long. So I dug in my heels with the sauna. The one time I tried it, I stayed in for like fifteen minutes, and thought I was going to die. I was so sad, because I really wanted to experience it!
Fast forward another year. My neuro had told me that in low doses, the heat might actually do me good. So to just take it slow and easy. While we were in Lapland over this past winter holiday, I tried again. Lower temperature (about 80-85°C), and only stayed in for about 5 minutes. It was like an epiphany! I couldn’t believe how good I felt that night after the sauna and shower. No dizziness, just a feeling of being so very clean, and actually feeling energetic. Not in the sense of wanting to go out run laps, but more of being alert, in a good mood, that sort of thing. Very ‘positive energy’. I slept quite soundly and woke up feeling refreshed. We did the sauna nearly each night, and not once did I have a bad reaction! Also, my back was less sore, my complexion was clearer and I just, overall, felt better.
Coming home, I was downright depressed to realize that I was going to have to give up the sauna, as we don’t have one in our apartment. However, we do have a ‘shared’ one in the building, and my darling Wellu emailed the landlord to see if there were any slots available. Out of the few times that were available, we settled on Saturdays at 2100. It’s a bit of a bother as we have to actually walk outside to get to the part of the building that houses the sauna, but having done it tonight for the first time, it’s not so bad. And come spring, I see a bathrobe and flip flops in my future. 🙂
If you’re new here, and haven’t tried the sauna because you weren’t sure what to expect in the lower recesses of your apartment basement, let me put your mind at ease. Now, not saying that they are all the same, but given how ingrained this is in the culture here, I would hazard to guess that most of them are pretty similar. I grabbed a few snapshots to let you in on sort of what to expect.
First off, a large dressing area, which can be locked, and so you are afforded complete privacy. Well, from anyone outside of those you are going to sauna with.
Next, is the shower:This is attached to the dressing area, through a door. You can see the door to the sauna to the right of the picture. Ours has two showers. You can rinse here first, then move straight into the heated sauna. Because the sauna is attached to it, this room stays pretty warm and comfortable, too. You can see the wooden bucket laying upside down on the bench. You just put some water in it and bring it into the sauna with you to splash on to the hot rocks.
Here you can see the sauna. You lay your towel down on the wood bench and then just sit and let the heat soak in to you. I managed to not get it in the picture, but within the wooden railing area is a metal box with some rocks in it. You can ladle water on to the rocks to give you steam.
In our case, you get an hour reserved for you (and your guests, if any) to use the sauna. Etiquette suggests that after you shower, you squeegee the floor, empty the sauna bucket, turn off the lights, and leave everything cleaner than when you came in.
For me, I have decided that I am definitely a convert to the sauna culture. I love it, and actually missed not being able to have a sauna in the evening. Once a week will be better than not at all, and while I don’t think I’ll get into the birch branches and beer-drinking (don’t like pain, don’t like alcohol), I do love the way it makes me feel. I’ll always probably be at the ‘toddler’ stage in terms of heat and stamina, but I don’t care, I love it!
Here’s some links to read more on the sauna culture in Finland: