There's no escaping the fact that it's winter and for many of us that means hunkering down, wrapping up and spending less time outdoors. It's a time to crave warmth and comfort. It's a time to think about the pleasures of saunas.
However, whilst it's perfectly understandable why we might associate sauna bathing with the chilly months, in Finland the tradition of sauna doesn't stop when it's summer. It's a year-round activity for the Finns and absolutely integral to their culture and their national identity.
Understanding Nordic Sauna Tradition
Let's start with a bit of history. Archaeological evidence suggests saunas have been in use for at least 4,000 years and the first recorded mention of the term sauna comes from the early 12th century. It's certainly not a new phenomenon and it's perhaps one of the most defining features of Finnish, and Estonian, culture. In fact the word sauna is the only Finnish word used in the English language.
There's no doubting that saunas are integral to the Finnish way of life and today you will find saunas present in almost every home across the country as well as in workplaces and public settings. There's even a sauna in the Finnish parliament building in Helsinki, and for that matter in many Finnish embassies abroad. Those who live in apartments will always have access to communal sauna facilities whilst many still have individual saunas within their own apartments as well.
There are so many saunas in Finland that they actually outnumber cars, which might give you some idea as to just how significant they are to the locals! And Estonia is not far behind.
We know today there are a huge number of benefits to using saunas but even before medical science was able to confirm their many health benefits Finns knew that the sauna was a place to relax and ultimately improve wellbeing. With most of the country having a subarctic climate and temperatures below zero being recorded for every month of the year it's perhaps easy to see why the desire to embrace all over body heat became a national obsession. However, they're culturally far more significant than simply existing for providing warmth.
Throughout history Finnish saunas have been used as places to entertain, hosting friends and family throughout the year. Seen as a safe space within which to come together it is still common today for Finns to receive guests in their home sauna. What's more they were traditionally used for new mothers to give birth as the hot sauna would be the most sterile part of any home! They also commonly serve as places for Finns to meet for conducting business and cementing commercial relationships.
There is a sense of everyone being equal within a sauna, which is why they can help act as a leveller, leaving hierarchy outside. This explains the popular custom of companies taking employees away for sauna breaks to improve team bonding..
So what are the health benefits that go hand in hand with these many social scenarios in which saunas are typically enjoyed in Finland and the Nordics?
As well as the benefits to mental wellbeing that come with being able to relax and switch off from the outside world there are plenty of physical health benefits to the wider sauna ritual. Among them: improvements to blood circulation, cleansing of the skin, soothing chronic pain, muscle recovery and strengthening of the immune system!
Some of these benefits come simply from sitting within the hot sauna itself whilst other parts of the typical sauna routine can help introduce further benefits, such as using birch leaves to hit the skin (this aids circulation) and exposing your body to a cold temperature immediately after being in the heat (such as by running into the sea, having a cold shower or jumping into a plunge pool).
Sauna Tradition in the UK
Obviously we are no strangers to saunas in the UK and they have long been found at health clubs, spas, wellbeing retreats and gyms etc. but they're not quite so commonly found in the home yet, though demand is certainly growing. Trends do suggest that we tend to seek the comforts of sauna in the winter months at the moment but perhaps over time we can start looking at saunas in the same way as the Finns do, as part of a beneficial daily or weekly routine enjoyed year-round.
If you'd like to know more about being able to embrace the benefits of sauna on the regular in your own home, Wildhut can help. Get in touch with us to learn more about our luxury traditional outdoor saunas.