How To Bathe in a Finnish Sauna
There is no one right way to take a sauna. Above all you should be in good company, so that you can enjoy the experience in peace. One usually goes to the sauna naked, but you can wear a bathing suit or towel if you feel more comfortable: no erotic meaning is implied.
Try this first, and once you've tried it out, you can change it to suit your taste:
- Start by taking a shower. This helps to keep the hot room clean.
- Enter the sauna and sit on the upper bench. You may want to use a small towel to sit on.
- Sit back for a few minutes and let the heat permeate your body and open the pores of the skin.
- You may adjust the air moisture by throwing water on the stones of the heater. The steam will make the room feel hotter.
- Step into the changing room to cool down, maybe take another shower.
- You may go back to the heat a few times, taking your time to relax and enjoy the warmth.
- Finally shower to clean yourself from the sweat.
- Allow yourself to cool and dry properly before clothing yourself.
- Follow the sauna with a peaceful rest and a drink.
To get the most of the sauna, you will need:
- At least half an hour of time, preferably an hour or more, so you have ample time to relax.
- A large towel to dry yourself
- A smaller towel to sit on
- A moisturising lotion for after the sauna
- A bathrobe to wear while cooling down
The temperatures in a sauna are of the order of 60 to 100 degrees Celsius. The air can be relatively dry, or water can be sprinkled over the stones to increase humidity. The air must never be completely dry, however, since it could be harmful to the respiratory system.
Splashing water on the benches has a cooling effect, since the evaporating water will take heat out of the air.
A cool, refreshing shower during or after the sauna completes your relaxation. Many Finns have saunas at their summer homes by the literally tens of thousands of lakes in Finland, and a sauna is not complete without a refreshing swim. In the winter, sauna veterans will even make a hole in the river ice and dive into the icy water (approx. 3 to 5 Celsius).
Also, you should try the vihta if you ever get the possibility. In the picture below, sauna enthousiasts show how to use the vihta in a mock sauna during a summer festival in Kotka, Finland.
How long can I stay in there?
Enjoying a sauna is a personal thing, you should always listen to your body and do as you feel best. For a first time I would suggest you stay in for a few minutes, depending on the temperature. After cooling down for a few minutes, go into the sauna again and stay a bit longer, maybe five to ten minutes. When you feel like having another break, feel free to do so. A serious sauna enthousiast once told me he doesn't consider it a proper sauna if it lasts less than an hour and a half, but that's just him...
How many times a week can I use the sauna?
If you are reasonably healthy, you can bathe in a sauna as often as you like without worrying about health effects. As with showering, taking saunas very often may dry your skin, so you may want to use a moisturising lotion after a sauna.
Isn't 100 C deadly?
As long as you use your sauna in a sensible way (no temperature or endurance competitions...) sauna is thought to be entirely safe. You can read more on health effects, but if you are worried or have health limitations, consult you doctor.
Visitors to Finland can be surprised by the passion Finns will show towards their sauna culture. Not many visitors can avoid trying the sauna and some will probably relate to the following vivid article about sauna by Tim Bird: Letting Off Steam.
The real sauna heater uses wood as an energy source and a large amount of stones to store the heat. Electric heaters with enough stones are good as well. While not a sauna in the traditional sense, modern technology brings us the infrared heater.