First things first. How many of you know how to properly pronounce the word “sauna”? Show of hands! Looks like a lot of you think you know how, but some of you are unsure. Let’s practice for a moment. I hear some of you saying “saw-na”. No, that is not the way the true Finnish folk in this area pronounce the word. Let’s try again. “Sow-na.” Yes! Now you’ve got it!
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a sauna today at my friend Catherine’s house. Yes, indeed. It was time to sweat. Time for a little steam and purification. Before she crumpled up the newspaper, placed the kindling inside the stove and struck the match, I was fortunate enough to meet her friend, John. Luckily, they agreed to pose for a photograph for the little Sony Cybershot.
We said goodbye to John and got serious about our sauna preparations. (Well, mostly Catherine got serious about our sauna preparations. I stood around and looked helpful.) Soon she had a roaring fire going in the tiny sauna stove.
While the fire is heating up, let’s talk about some sauna facts. Here is what our good friend Wikipedia has to say about the first saunas: The oldest known saunas were pits dug in a slope in the ground and primarily used as dwellings in winter. The sauna featured a fireplace where stones were heated to a high temperature. Water was thrown over the hot stones to produce steam and to give a sensation of increased heat. This would raise the apparent temperature so high that people could take off their clothes.
The first Finnish saunas are what nowadays are called savusaunas, or smoke saunas. These differed from present-day saunas in that they were heated by heating a pile of rocks called kiuas by burning large amounts of wood about 6 to 8 hours, and then letting the smoke out before enjoying the löyly, or sauna heat. A properly heated “savusauna” gives heat up to 12 hours. These are still used in present-day Finland by some enthusiasts, but usually only on special occasions such as Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, and juhannus (Midsummer’s Day).
There will be a quiz at the end, so study hard. I suppose many of you astute readers will notice the phrase “This would raise the apparent temperature so high that people could take off their clothes.” So you astute readers are wondering what people wear when they take a sauna together? My acute observations over the years point to three possibilities: A) towels B) bathing suits or C) nothing. It seems to depend on the group with whom you’re choosing to sauna, your modesty and the sex of your fellow sweaters. Catherine and I chose the first two options.
We enjoyed a rather mild sauna today. Catherine did not even pour icy cold water over the hot rocks resulting in a potent steam bath. No. We sat on the top bench and chatted and yes, eventually sweated. It has been almost FOUR months since we last saw one another in the raspberry patch. How could so much time pass? It is amazing that we can be so busy that we don’t take time to visit our closest friends.
We also took a short hike down to the beaver pond before our sauna and was it COLD! Only eighteen freezing degrees. I was thoroughly icy-frozen for the first time since last winter. It didn’t help that I had forgotten my warm boots and had to borrow John’s too-big sized boots, even though they were stuffed with nice warm socks. Tomorrow I will how you some photos of the snow-covered pond and other exciting winter photos.
After the sauna we lingered over dinner (until I abruptly announced it was time to go home and write the blog) slowly savouring delicious oven-roasted root vegetables over quinoa. Oh Heaven! Food and sauna and outdoor adventures are so wondermous when shared with friends.
P.S. I have decided to forgo the quiz. I’m sure you all memorized all the facts anyway. Instead I will paste in some more sauna history for those of you who are interested. The rest of you can go about your day plotting about when you can enjoy your next sauna.
As a result of the industrial revolution, the sauna evolved to use a metal woodstove, or kiuas [ˈkiu.ɑs], with a chimney. Air temperatures averaged around 70–80 degrees Celsius (160–180 degrees Fahrenheit) but sometimes exceeded 90 °C (200 °F) in a traditional Finnish sauna. Steam vapor, also called löyly [ˈløyly], was created by splashing water on the heated rocks.
The steam and high heat caused bathers to perspire. The Finns also used a vihta [ˈvihtɑ] (Western dialect, or vasta [ˈvɑstɑ] in Eastern dialect), which is a bundle of birch twigs with fresh leaves, to gently slap the skin and create further stimulation of the pores and cells.
The Finns also used the sauna as a place to cleanse the mind, rejuvenate and refresh the spirit, and prepare the dead for burial. The sauna was (and still is) an important part of daily life, and families bathed together in the home sauna. Because the sauna was often the cleanest structure and had water readily available, Finnish women also gave birth in the sauna.
Although the culture of sauna nowadays is more or less related to Finnish culture, it’s important to note that the evolution of sauna has happened around the same time both in Finland and the Baltic countries sharing the same meaning and importance of sauna in daily life. The same sauna culture is shared in both places still to this day.
When the Finns migrated to other areas of the globe they brought their sauna designs and traditions with them, introducing other cultures to the enjoyment and health benefits of sauna. This led to further evolution of the sauna, including the electric sauna stove, which was introduced in the 1950s and far infrared saunas, which have become popular in the last several decades.
In Tibetan, there is a word Shokhang,wich means Sauna.