No sweat… sauna for beginners
It’s said there are enough saunas in Finland to easily accommodate all 5.4 million Finns simultaneously – there’s even one inside parliament.
Be it a wood, smoke or electric, private or public, one with a glass wall overlooking a lake or one in an apartment basement, there is always a sauna close by and it is probably being heated right now.
relax and imitate
The prospect of using a sauna can be rather daunting for the foreign newcomer, especially the group nudity. Relax. You can wear a bathing suit, use a towel or even keep on your coat because nobody will judge. If you do find the courage to strip off then you might earn some respect.
When it comes to sauna routine, the basic approach is shower, sauna, rest, sauna and wash, but the best advice is to simply imitate the locals. Many Finns also believe that you should behave in sauna as you would in church, though with less clothing.
Dare to explore?
Temperatures vary greatly and it takes time to build up a tolerance to the heat and steam, so don’t overdo it. Even though relaxation is the goal, sauna is physically exhausting so drink plenty of water alongside those ice-cold beers and ciders.
As you become familiar with sauna, you can explore further. Revel in the total silence and darkness of a smoke sauna or sit in a public sauna with 15-20 other people. You may even be tempted to indulge in the bizarre ritual of lightly beating yourself with birch branches or take an invigorating roll in the snow.
Sauna virgins may be rather startled by all the strange practices on offer, yet they will leave you feeling surprisingly refreshed and relaxed. In fact, you will want to come back for more, just as the Finns, including their politicians, have done for thousands of years.
In the rush and crush of modern life, the rarities are what we value most, such as space, quiet and time. The space to breathe, a time to dream… you can find these treasures in Finland, where the lakes are many and the people are few.