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
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
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
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
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
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.”