Finland is enjoying a resurgence on the world stage; In 2019, it was ranked #1 in the World Happiness Report for the second consecutive year, and it’s completely reversed the label of being one of the world’s unhealthiest nations. Could this be in part down to enjoying a traditional Finnish sauna?
“There is nothing that Finns have been so unanimous about as their sauna. This unanimity has remained unbroken for centuries and is sure to continue as long as there are children born in their native land, as long as the invitation still comes from the porch threshold in the evening twilight: ‘The sauna is ready.’ ” – Finnish writer Maila Talvio.
British people usually only experience sauna when we visit a gym, pool or a health club. The steamless ‘hot box’, usually without an efficient ventilation system, is mainly endured rather than enjoyed and only taken for about ten minutes after exercise. In Finland, the home of the sauna, the story is very different.
The practice has been happening for thousands of years in Finland and to enjoy a sauna properly we should understand that the Finns see them as egalitarian places which promote togetherness. They are somewhere that titles and hierarchies disappear and the relaxed environment should offer the opportunity to express oneself more openly and directly.
We usually miss out on the full benefits of the hot evaporating steam needed for what Finnish people call ‘Löyly’ (pronounced Low-Lou). It’s this steam, produced by throwing water on hot stones of the ‘Kiuas’ (sauna heater), followed by a cold plunge or cold shower- and repeating the process. It’s so crucial when it comes to the very real health benefits associated with regular sessions.
In recent years infrared (IR) saunas have experienced a wave of popularity and have been hailed by some as a cheap alternative. However, while they can offer some of the similar health benefits, they cannot match traditional steam saunas in either amount or range of overall health benefits.
Finns always take time to prep their sauna. Whether it’s an electric sauna heater or a wood-burning heater, it is vital to make sure the heating up process starts early (usually 30-40 mins before you’d like to get in. It allows the sauna time to reach an ideal temperature of between 70°C to 85°C and once there’s 5-10% humidity on the hygrometer, it’s time to get in.
A trusted authority in the sauna health field is Dr Jari Laukkanen, Cardiologist and Professor at the Central Finland Health Care District and the University of Jyväskylä. His work helps educate people about the ways traditional Finnish sauna can help improve their lives. He’s one expert that UK sauna company Finnmark ltd have cited in their health benefits series which went live at the start of this year.
Robbie Thompson is their PR Manager, and he spoke to us recently. He enthused, “Helpfully, our team has spent lots of time out in Finland, enjoying the lifestyle and the true authentic sauna experience. It means we are well versed in the subject and we love letting people know about some of the lesser-known health benefits.
Many people are aware that they reduce stress, but when we started looking closely at studies concentrating on their health benefits, and the numerous ailments they can help with, we wanted to share it with our audience. They give you a big endorphin high, and the benefits are numerous. They improve cardiovascular health, help with pain and fatigue and improve exercise performance and muscle recovery. Finnish sauna also helps with respiratory disease, dementia and Alzheimers.”
To further enhance the experience, there’s a number of Finnish things you can do to enjoy the sauna even more. Using a vihta (sauna whisk) helps improve blood circulation, and it cleanses impurities in the skin. Made from different tree species, they contain essential oils and release a pleasant aroma to the air.
For best results, one bather should gently beat another bather with the whisk after dipping it in warm water. Also, try adding essential oils such as birch oil because they offer health benefits, including fungal and bacterial prevention, skin toning and body detoxification. The sauna hat is also a staple of sauna bathing in Finland. The rather odd-looking, bell-shaped design protects the part of the body that’s often most exposed to the sauna’s heat.
Read more articles and guidance relating to health in our dedicated section here.