"All people are created equal, but nowhere more so than in a sauna." - Anonymous
If you've been to PLUNJ before, you may know that the Nordic countries inspired our sauna and cold plunge experience. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, sauna is a typical part of life. And in Finland especially, sauna is as common as taking a shower or making toast in the morning.
Sauna in Finland
In fact, Finland is home to about 3.3 million saunas, which is enough to house each of Finland's 5.5 million inhabitants at once! Practically every single home has a sauna.
Sauna culture has been handed down for centuries in families, sauna clubs and even universities – people and their loved ones go to the sauna to wind down, open up in deep conversation, get warm and cozy when it's cold outside, and literally bathe with soap!
Sauna has been considered a "church of nature," or sacred space, traditionally.
Many pronounce "sauna" with an "aw" sound as in "straw." But the word in Finland is pronounced with an "ow" sound like in "cow." Either pronunciation, however, is acceptable.
Only recently has sauna use become popularized in the United States, and in recent years, researchers are eager to learn about the physical and mental health benefits of sauna.
There are many types of saunas – wood-burning, smoke, electric, and infrared. The former three are most used in Finland. Many Fins own their own small cabins (often without running water) in the woods or by the sea, and each cabin property typically houses a wood-burning sauna as well.
Fins take their sauna in snow, rain or shine, and they jump into the freezing sea or roll around in snow to cool off between sweat sessions.
A typical day at the cabin includes pulling out chairs, sipping drinks (alcoholic or non), and chatting while drinking and eating rye bread and smoked reindeer-flavored cheese or other snacks. It's even commonplace to wrap sausages in tin foil and cook them directly on the sauna stove rocks, then to eat them with mustard sans bun.
People move back and forth from the sauna to jumping into the sea to sitting in the chairs. Back and forth, back and forth they go, chatting and drinking all the time.
Integral to most Finnish saunas is löyly, or the steam that rises when water is thrown onto the hot stove's rocks in a wood-burning or electric sauna. The steam ramps up the humidity and makes it feel hotter inside the sauna. Löyly is the good stuff! One regular practice is to put essential oils or fragrance into the water that spreads through the sauna as steam. Fins love to use tar-scented essential oils!
When taking a sauna in Finland, the common way to express pouring water on the rocks in English is to "throw." So you'll likely hear the phrases,
"Do you mind if I throw?" or,
"Want to throw?"
Sauna even has unspoken rules. For example, since some people like to go overboard with steam, there is a rule that if you are going to throw water on the rocks, you can't leave everyone else in the sauna and avoid the löyly you created. You have to stay for your own löyly.
True Sauna Bathing
After the sauna is over, people grab buckets and fill them with stove-heated water. If the water is too hot, they'll cool it down with cold water. Then they take bar soap and scrub themselves clean, using a ladle to transfer water from the bucket to rinse their bodies.
Arguably one of the best parts of sauna is the way it makes sauna-goers feel comfortable opening up. It's the perfect place for a deep chat or to simply feel connected to someone else. As the saying goes, "All people are created equal, but nowhere more so than in a sauna."
Whether you come to PLUNJ to relax, meditate, socialize, try something new, or you have a different motivation entirely, come as you are! Make yourself welcome.