Introduction to sweat baths

Through the ages people have taken sweat baths in different forms and for different purposes:

  • religious ceremonies
  • healing illnesses
  • bodily cleaning
  • relaxation
  • social life.

By sweat baths we understand exposure of the body to a high enough temperature for a long enough time so that the body starts to perspire. Through perspiration the skin cleanses itself of impurities, and the heat that causes the body to sweat relaxes the muscles and consequently relieves muscular aches and pains. This is the idea behind sweat bathing in a nutshell.

Theoretically thinking any form of habitual sweat bathing requires two things:

  • the need and desire to bathe, and
  • resources (firewood, water, etc.) to make bathing possible.

It is generally believed that these conditions can become true only when a group of people or a tribe settles down and starts to cultivate land. Among people getting their living from hunting and fishing sweat baths are not found. The hard work required in agriculture creates the need, and ample sources of wood and water provide the means. A third contributing factor could be added to the two above: a cold climate, at least part of the year. Thus, it seems fair to assume that most of the natives once inhabiting the wooded areas of Europe, northern Asia, North and South America have used sweat bathing in one form or another.

On these pages we concentrate on one form of sweat bath, namely the Finnish sauna. Other types of sweat bath are e.g. the Roman balneae and thermae, the Turkish hammam, the North American natives' sweat lodge, the temascal in Mexico and Guatemala, the Japanese hot water baths sentoo and o-furo and the Russian bania.

In Europe public baths have been common since the Roman times, but during the 15th and 16th centuries bath houses were ordered to close due to widespread promiscuity and epidemics of syphilis. Only in remote areas such as northern Russia, Estonia and Finland did the bathing habit continue undisturbed to this day.

 

A commentary due to the World Sauna Championship in Finland 2010 

The annual World Sauna Championship in Heinola, Finland ended tragically with the death of the Russian finalist. The event had nothing to do with ordinary sauna bathing; it was a heat endurance competition. Neither the Finnish Sauna Society nor the International Sauna Society had nothing to do with the rules of the competition or its arrangements. 

To have a normal sauna bath is totally safe. Additional information of good sauna bathing can be found on Finnish Sauna Society's web pages www.sauna.fi: Sauna Information, A Recommended Sauna Procedure.  

In a good sauna, the bather can enjoy warming steam and pleasant heat in a relaxing atmosphere; well-being both for body and soul. 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A PLEASANT SAUNA AT THE FINNISH SAUNA SOCIETY  

  

1. The saunas of the Sauna Society are primarily reserved for the use of members. As a member you are entitled to bring 1-2 guests with you per sauna session. On arrival please add your name and the names of your guests to the bather’s list which you will find at the coffee bar check out.    

2. It is understood that the person who recommends a new member to the society (referee) is responsible for acquainting the newcomer to the Sauna Society’s customs and practices, or alternatively to make sure that an experienced member is on hand to offer guidance.  The referee is to instruct the newcomer on the Sauna Society’s accepted practices and customs.   

3. Please switch off your mobile phone when you arrive and only turn it on again when you leave the  premises.

4. Always use the sauna bench towel when seated in the sauna or when sitting outside. When using the lounge or walking between the dressing room and washroom please drape a bath towel around you or wear a bathrobe.   When you have finished taking a sauna please remember to dispose of your sauna bench towel and bath towel in the laundry basket. 

5. In addition to washing off the dust and cares of the day, please take the time to wash away any trace of perfume or after-shave before entering the sauna.  Please refrain from using heavily perfumed hair conditioners or bath oils or bathing salts that could soil the sauna benches. The same restriction applies to the use of any kind of additive to the water used to cast on the stones of the sauna stove. 

6. Ask the other bathers, either when entering or leaving the sauna, if they would like to have more steam.    Contests for whom can stand the hottest degree of steam do not belong to the customs of the Sauna Seura, but respect for others do.   

7. You may talk in the sauna. The discussion should however be of the level that other bathers could take part in if he or she so wishes to do so. Religion, politics, problems and strife at work and the diversity of opinions within the society are better left out of sauna bench discussions. The same kind of respect and consideration for others should also be observed in the lounge. 

8. Sauna 1 (Aino) is reserved for a truly calm and peaceful sauna. Kindly observe this particular feature with your own reserved behavior.  

9. The society saunas are heated to different degrees according to their own particular nature. Attempting to change the degree of heat by leaving the sauna door open for a longer period of time or spraying water on the stove is not allowed. 

10. The use of a sauna whisk is permitted in saunas 2 (Väinö), 3 (Louhi) and 5 (Sampo). Whenever possible please collect any leaves that have fallen from the whisk and put them in the waste bin. Please do not leave the used whisk in the pail on the sauna bench when you have finished bathing. Replace the pail in its right place and take the whisk to the hatch in the washroom reserved for this purpose. It can be used later as tinder for lighting the sauna stove the next time.  

11. Whoever is last to leave the sauna should ensure that nothing has been left that doesn’t belong there and that the sauna stove door is securely closed. 

12. After taking a swim please do not forget to collect your sauna bench towel from the jetty. Leaving it there could raise the alarm and result in a life saving exercise in vain. When taking a dip in winter be very careful of the slippery steps on the jetty and of the edge of the opening in the ice.  In the interests of safety preferably take a dip in the company of others when it is dark.  

13. Your enjoyment of the sauna experience can be noticeably improved simply be reserving a sauna washer to scrub you and /or a masseur to give you a good massage.  

14. Remember to drink enough to ensure that you maintain your sugar and fluid levels during your time in the sauna and eat something if you feel the need.  Savoury and sweet snacks and soft drinks can be purchased from the coffee bar.  Please inform the coffee bar cashier of your sauna turn number when buying drinks and snacks.   

15. All food and drinks should be consumed within the coffee bar premises. Please clear away your dishes when you have finished. Please do not take any containers made of glass into the sauna or washrooms.  

16. The consumption of alcoholic beverages is not permitted at the Sauna Society nor is it allowed to come to the sauna intoxicated. Smoking is not permitted inside.  You will find certain areas outside that are reserved for smokers.   

17. Only take as much sauna as your own health permits. Do not come to the sauna when you are sick or unwell as doing so could affect others. If do you happen to feel unwell ask for assistance if necessary and leave the sauna. The coffee bar cashier can call for assistance when needed in cases of sudden illness.  

18. Please play your part in keeping the premises clean and tidy. Place all rubbish in the waste bin and tidy up after you have finished. Remember to return the pails to their reserved place, put your sauna bench towel and bath towel into the laundry basket and pay the cashier when leaving. 

At the Sauna Society we feel that we are like sauna brothers and sisters.  We wish you a sweet steaming in good company!