Through the ages people have taken sweat baths in different forms and for different purposes:
- religious ceremonies
- healing illnesses
- bodily cleaning
- 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.