I am a relative newcomer to the Minnesota sauna culture. [Note before proceeding further: sauna is pronounced SOW-na, not SAW-na. Use this handy pronunciation guide from PBS if you need further instruction!] If my husband had his druthers, a sauna would have been the first structure on our little piece of lake property in the northern Minnesota woods. A sauna became a necessity for cleaning up, however, given that the structure we eventually constructed lacked running water, and will likely continue to do so until we get our kids through college! (Yes, a true cabin, none of this lake home stuff!)
When I came across the Finnish sauna pronunciation guide, I learned of the Finnish Sauna Society. The Society’s website has a wealth of information on the history, use and health effects of sauna baths. The Finnish immigrants who settled in Minnesota brought with them the sauna, or Finnish bath house. A wonderful recounting of both historical and modern sauna culture can be found in The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition, a book which is a fixture in our little cabin.
Detailed instructions as to classic sauna procedure, consisting of multiple hot-cold cycles, can be found here on the Finnish Sauna Society’s website. Summarily: Enter the hot sauna for as long as you can tolerate, leave to cool off or take dip in the lake, reenter the hot sauna for another round, and repeat. I do not want to risk scaring off small children who may be passing by (let alone my own children), and since the post-sauna dip in the lake particularly during the summer season is not necessarily a private affair, I usually sauna in my swimsuit, although a “true” sauna invites you to sauna in only your birthday suit!
I do believe I need to post at the cabin a modified version of the Finnish Sauna Society’s “recommendations for a pleasant sauna” at the Society’s saunas, particularly highlighting recommendation #6 for my husband:
6. Ask the other bathers, either when entering or leaving the sauna, if they would like to have more steam. Contests for whom can stand the hottest degree of steam do not belong to the customs of the Sauna Seura, but respect for others do.
Some of us simply cannot enjoy a 200 degree Fahrenheit (93 degree Celsius) sauna, trying to breathe between clenched teeth as someone ratchets up the steam without warning (ahem! are you listening, dear?!). For me, 170 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit (77 to 82 degrees Celsius) is just about perfect — I can work up a good sweat without discomfort, cool off by stepping outside, dump a bucket of cool lake water over me, repeat the cycle, and then during the warmer seasons, walk down to the lake for a cooldown swim when I am done.
And when I have completed a classic sauna cycle? The pure sense of relaxation following a good sauna session is unrivaled. Sleep is deep and restful, my body feels rid of toxins, and my skin feels better than any spa session could provide. Once you are introduced to this sauna culture, you understand the allure of the sauna.
Beyond the practical cleansing effects when no shower is available, a sauna session with a family member or friend is a wonderful opportunity to sit back and have a good conversation. On a warm summer night, we work up a sweat, cycle through a couple of times, and then troop down to the lake as the sun is setting. As we peacefully paddle around the shallows, we enjoy the reds, purples and golds of the sunset glancing off the lake’s still surface and listen to the loons calling out their evening songs.
I will close by repeating the words found on the Finnish Sauna Society’s website:
We wish you a sweet steaming in good company!
Ciao! ~ Kat
P.S. If you like our little barrel sauna (which comfortably fits four adults on the benches running along the inside), we highly recommend the wonderful craftmanship of the saunas from Rozycki Woodworks, LLC.