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by Eija Rissanen, Business Manager

Every now and then someone throws water on top of the rocks of a special heater called kiuas, increasing humidity and creating steam called löyly. After sweating for a while, you run outside naked and jump into a lake, if it is summer, or roll in the snow or jump into a frozen lake, if it is winter. Then you go back inside, and the cycle starts over.

Without a doubt you should answer, “Yes!” or you will miss an enjoyable and culturally significant experience.

For Finns, sauna is no punishment, nor something to make fun of. According to Virtual Finland, a Web page that promotes Finland and Finnish culture, sauna is a national institution and a vital part of the Finnish life.

” I miss sauna the most when I am here in Hawai‘i,” said Tiina Kari, a graduate student from Finland at HPU.

Finns go to the sauna before they learn to walk or talk, and it is a family tradition to go at least once a week. The real sauna lovers go every day. According to Webster’s dictionary, ‘sauna’ is one of the few Finnish words transferred to English. And when Finnish settlers came to America, they brought sauna with them.

Nowadays saunas can be found all over the world, most often in gyms and spas. However, the real sauna experience can only be achieved in Finland or abroad in saunas owned or managed by Finns. In Finland, there are more saunas than cars, according to Virtual Finland.

Virtual Finland tells that sauna has a 1000-year-old history in Finland. The first Finnish saunas were only heated holes in the ground covered by canvas. These holes evolved into a smoke sauna, the most traditional form of sauna. A smoke sauna had a fireplace as a kiuas but no chimney. The smoke was released from the room through a small hole just below the roof peak. Because of the open fireplace, smoke saunas had a tendency to burn down.

The next step in the sauna evolution was to add a chimney. These saunas were still heated with wood, and nowadays they are still the most popular ones in the summer cottages in Finland. At the beginning of the 1950s, when the electric kiuas was invented, saunas moved from the summer cottages to the city apartments as well. Today sauna is a part of every modern Finnish apartment.
“ When my mother moved to Sweden and her apartment did not have a sauna in it, she added a sauna into her second bathroom,” said Katja Silverå, a Finnish HPU alumna.

Historically, sauna has been a place to treat illnesses, give birth, and wash the dead, according to Virtual Finland. In Finnish culture, sauna has always been a sacred place for rituals such as cleansing of the body, and most importantly, the mind. This happened during all stages of life, and women were the ones who performed all the rituals in the sauna.

Until World War II Finnish women gave birth in the saunas because the sauna was the most hygienic place on the farm and provided easy access to hot water. According to folk tradition, the newborn baby was ceremoniously carried into the house after the birth.

Finns still associate sauna with healing powers, even though they know that sauna does not prevent nor cure long-term illnesses. However, it is proved that sauna can improve general well-being and be beneficial to health. Because of a high temperature, sauna speeds up the heartbeat, improves breathing and circulation, raises body temperature, stimulates metabolism, and may temporarily lower blood pressure.

Changing the body temperature from hot to cold makes the body more resistant to colds, diseases and infections. In addition, swimming in a lake, rolling in snow, or jumping into a frozen lake after sweating in the sauna creates an adrenal rush, which can be unforgettable.

Relief for aching muscles and limbs is still sought in sauna, which is thought to toughens the body and pacify the mind. These beliefs in the beneficial effects of sauna are rooted in the traditional Finnish-Karelian folk medicine of cupping, bloodletting, and spinal manipulation. An old Finnish proverb says, “If sauna, liquor, and tar don’t help, your condition is fatal.”

Nowadays sauna is the place to heal the body and sooth the mind. According to Virtual Finland, “a good sweat and a shower cleans the skin better than normal washing.” Heat opens the pores in your skin and all toxics in the body are sweated out.

” Every time I go back home to Finland, the first thing I want to do is go to the sauna as your hair, skin and mind feels so different after a sauna,” said Silverå.

“ Sauna is also more than just a place to wash yourself,” said Kari. “For Finns it is a place to socialize and spend time with your friends, in the same way other people do in bars and restaurants.”

Saunas are excellent places to unlock tense negotiations, produce good, unanimous decisions, and sooth tired minds. The presidents of Finland, Finnish ministers, and Finnish businessmen use sauna during negotiations with foreign countries, companies, and business partners. Also Finnish Nobel prize-winning author F.E. Sillanpää used sauna to restore his creativity after a long period of writing. Sauna also offers busy Finns with tight schedules a place to relax and to forget all daily tasks and routines. After sauna, Finns are in no hurry, and they feel blissful.

“ Sauna melts all your stress away,” said Kari. “Afterwards you feel content, like a whole new person.”


Kalamalama, the HPU Student Newspaper. All rights reserved.

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