In the Nordic countries, especially in Estonia and Finland, “doing” a sauna is a banal activity of everyday life. Here are some explanations on the true function of the sauna and the traditional care rituals associated with it, which are excellent for health.
A traditional bathroom
No doubt have you ever had the opportunity to relax in a sauna, to enjoy its beneficial warmth? In the Nordic countries, this practice is otherwise different. Of course, the sauna has relaxing virtues, but it is, beyond its effects, neither more nor less … a bathroom!
Many individuals today still have their own sauna, a pretty log cabin, usually located on the edge of the pond. It comprises two rooms: a “cold” room, intended for rest, and a “warm” room, heated with wood, reserved for the care. The latter is equipped with a fireplace or a wood stove, in which one burns the essences with the adequate properties: the alder, which releases healthy fumes, or the apple tree, which makes it possible to eliminate the overflows of soot. The sauna is a regularly used space, at least once a week, with family or friends; for example in Estonia on Saturdays, considered the day of the sauna.
Inside the Estonian sauna: the stage and a whip. The “viht”, in Estonian. Credit: VàR.
How is a sauna session?
You know the principle: throw water on hot stones to generate steam. In a traditional sauna, the first step, preparation, is the longest. It often requires the participation of several people: lighting and maintaining a fire to reach a temperature between 65 and 70 degrees (90 to 100 degrees in Finland), convey and heat water (the sauna is not systematically connected to running water), prepare the “martinets” , these essential bunches of young birch shoots (we’ll come back to this later). When the sauna is ready, the ritual can begin.
Undress completely , go into the oven room, sit on the platform. It is right in front of the hot stones, giving all participants the opportunity to enjoy. One of you will be responsible for throwing the water on the stones, neither too much nor too little, to create a healthy and breathable vapor. Relax, let yourself be enveloped in warmth, sweat at will. Your body will slowly rise in temperature.
A sauna can last more than three hours, alternating obligatorily stages of sweating and steps of rest in the cool, in the cold room or outside. Staying indefinitely in front of the stove is indeed dangerous for the health. In Estonia, count three rounds of warmth: a few minutes to start, then longer until your body is heated deep, literally to the bones. In summer, during the resting stages, dive into the pond to cool off; in winter, heated to the point, ride in the snow. A great way to activate your blood circulation!
Inside the sauna, the cold room, intended for rest. Credit: VàR.
Rituals of care or well-being
Vapors cause heavy sweating, allowing your body to “self-clean”. This is the great property of the sauna: to evacuate natural toxins accumulated while purifying the skin. Many accessories exist to perfect the action of the sauna, such as brushes or horsehair gloves to self-massage, erase the body or rub your back.
Imagine the result after three hours of sauna: you come out like new, sweet as a baby. You will have changed skin, literally and figuratively. Because the sauna also provides its benefits on the mind, a real eliminator of bad energies. Formerly, in Estonia, the sauna also served as a pharmacy: pregnant women gave birth to it; Bony care was used to treat the bovine affections (colds, sprains, etc.). The sauna, warm and clean environment is therefore conducive to healing.
Essential ritual of the session: the whipping of the body using the swifts. An assembly of young birch shoots, which we learn to make and handle from childhood. This exercise, which can be done alone or with someone, is vigorous (but painless!). Its roles: eliminate dead skin and other roughness of the epidermis; to tone the body after this intensive relaxation! Another version exists with the nettle, provided you have previously soaked the bouquet in hot water to remove its pungency.
After the effort, the comfort: at the end of the session, we soap! Participants are invited to wash in the hot room, men and women always separately.
The sauna is a place conducive to relaxation, care, or even meditation. It is governed by a few rules, absolute nudity and absolute calm, among others. In Estonia, people do not speak much and in a low voice, on pain of irritating the sauna spirit, Saunavana . This is in any case what we tell children to be wise! So, tempted?