The Nordic region of Europe is made up of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Finland. In Finland alone, there are around 3 million saunas to satisfy the country's 5.5 million people. It's safe to say that steaming in saunas is a way of life for most Nordics
Follow along to find out what's the deal with the Nordics and saunas.
History of Nordic Saunas
Even though saunas are now found all across the world, the first sign of these sweat rooms were found in Northern Europe and date back to 2,000 BC. Saunas back then were mainly used to support the harsh conditions of everyday life.
Within a cave, a bundle of rocks would be heated from beneath by a fire. To contain the heat, the opening of the cave would be covered by animal skin. Once the fire was out, the hot stones would be doused in water, creating steam and providing warmth for everyone inside the cave for several hours.
These ancient saunas served as homes during freezing winters but also as birthing rooms, hospitals, kitchens, celebratory spaces, and even preparing the dead for burials.
Given the history of its uses, saunas have strong spiritual elements and traditions that are still in place today. Saunas are considered to be sacred places and the biggest rule is to be respectful of the space, the people within it, and to behave in the same manner as you would when entering religious grounds. It isn't a place for boisterous behavior, eating or drinking, or discussing contentious topics. Believe it or not, legend has it that the saunatonttu or "sauna elf" guards the sauna, and if anyone acts unruly and disobeys these rules, the saunatonttu will punish them by burning the place down.
Health Benefits of Saunas
When visiting a sauna, you reap many physical and mental health benefits. First off, the warmth improves blood circulation. The room temperature causes your body temperature to increase, which then causes your blood pressure to rise and in response, your blood vessels widen to allow your heart to pump blood faster to the rest of your body.
Next, the heat causes your muscles to relax and loosen and the other changes in your body can reduce the feeling of pain. To add to that, the heat can help decrease inflammation and tight joints which can give those suffering from chronic arthritis and other conditions some relief. We all know how important relaxation is for your mental well-being.
It's also been found that toxins from the liver and kidneys may be released through your sweat during the session. So, be sure to stay hydrated, and don't be shy to sweat it out!
What's it like at a sauna?
In most sauna rooms, stones are heated to increase the room's temperature to about 100º Celsius (212ºF). Water is continually thrown on the stones to produce steam and create moisture in the air.
It's always courteous and good practice to shower before entering the sauna. Typically, you remove all of your clothes before going in. No need to be embarrassed as this is normal sauna etiquette, however, you may also wear a swimsuit.
You may use some Birch tree branches that are bundled together which are called vihta in Finnish. They're first soaked in water and then can be used to delicately hit someone all over their body. This action is thought to get your blood flowing.
Saunas are so common in Nordic countries that an invitation may even be extended from a potential business partner. Many government members have private saunas and you can find them in vacation homes and urban condos. Locals also use these hot houses several times a month to bond with family and friends.
It's clear that the Nordic people are onto something. Sauna room soaking is a stress-melting activity that everyone should experience. Who knows, it may become a part of your weekly ritual too!
Written by Arista Caldera