History

Saunas flush toxins. Many – if not most – of us do not actively sweat on a daily basis. Deep sweating, however, has multiple proven health benefits. Benefits derived from a deep sweat can be achieved via regular sauna bathing.Due to the heat of a sauna, the core body temperature begins to rise.

Sauna has been a way of life in Finland, where it was invented, for over 2000 years. One of the first written descriptions of the Finnish Sauna was in 1112. The earliestSauna was dug into an embankment in the ground. Later Saunas were built above ground with wooden logs.

Temperatures range between 78-90°C (180-195°F), though many are content to get in their sauna at 140°F while it gets hotter. Sauna bathers like set-off a blast of moist heat by pouring water over hot rocks creating steam. This results in a temperature of 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity of 5 to 20%.

You can still find people in Finland who were born in the sauna. Not when it was heated, of course, but it was a sterile place where hot water was available. It is estimated that there are two million saunas in Finland, for a population of 5.3 million.

A sauna, or sudatory, is a small room or building designed as a place to experience dry or wet heat sessions, or an establishment with one or more of these facilities. The steam and high heat make the bathers perspire. Saunas can be divided into two basic types: conventional saunas that warm the air or infrared saunas that warm objects. Infrared saunas may use a variety of materials in their heating area such as charcoal, active carbon fibers, and other materials.

History

In Mexico and Central America, more specifically in the highlands of central and southern Mexico and Guatemala, there is a version of the sauna indigenous to the Americas, called a temazcal. It is the Mexican, Central American version of the sweat lodge used by indigenous peoples of the Americas, though the temazcal is usually made of clay or stone rather than wood.

Archeological sites in Greenland and Newfoundland have uncovered structures very similar to traditional Scandinavian farm saunas, some with bathing platforms and “enormous quantities of badly scorched stones”.

In Europe, the Nordic countries have a sauna tradition. The Finnish sauna culture is well established; there is a built-in sauna in almost every house in Finland. The oldest known saunas in Finland were made from 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 on 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.

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 70–90 °C (158–194 °F) but sometimes exceeded 100 °C (212 °F) in a traditional Finnish sauna. When the Finns migrated to other areas of the globe they brought their sauna designs and traditions with them. This led to further evolution of the sauna, including the electric sauna stove, which was introduced in 1938 by Metos Ltd in Vaasa and far infrared saunas, which have gained some popularity in the last several decades. Although the culture of sauna nowadays is more or less related to Finnish culture, the evolution of sauna happened around the same time both in Finland and the Baltic countries sharing the same meaning and importance of sauna in daily life, shared still to this day.

Modern saunas

Under many circumstances, temperatures approaching and exceeding 100 °C (212 °F) would be completely intolerable and possibly fatal if exposed to long periods of time. Saunas overcome this problem by controlling the humidity. The hottest Finnish saunas have relatively low humidity levels in which steam is generated by pouring water on the hot stones. This allows air temperatures that could boil water to be tolerated and even enjoyed for longer periods of time. Steam baths, such as the Turkish bath, where the humidity approaches 100%, will be set to a much lower temperature of around 40 °C (104 °F) to compensate. The “wet heat” would cause scalding if the temperature were set much higher.

In a typical Finnish sauna, the temperature of the air, the room and the benches is above the dew point even when water is thrown on the hot stones and vaporized. Thus, they remain dry. In contrast, the sauna bathers are at about 38 °C (100 °F), which is below the dew point, so that water is condensed on the bathers’ skin. This process releases heat and makes the steam feel hot.

Finer control over the temperature experienced can be achieved by choosing a higher level bench for those wishing a hotter experience or a lower level bench for a more moderate temperature. A good sauna has a relatively small temperature gradient between the various seating levels. Doors need to be kept closed and used quickly to maintain the temperature inside.

Some North American, Western European, Japanese, Russian and South African public sport centres and gyms include sauna facilities. They may also be present at public and private swimming pools.

As an additional facility, a sauna may have one or more jacuzzis. In some spa centers, there are the so-called special “snow rooms.” Also known as a cold sauna or cryotherapy, it works as a way to draw blood flow into the body core and stimulate the body’s white blood cells to help fight disease much the same way a hot sauna does. Operating at a temperature of −110 °C (−166 °F), the user is in the sauna for a period of only about 3 minutes.