A Finnish Sauna is an important part of Finnish tradition and has become popular world-wide. Most every house and hotel in Finland has one. For a Finnish Sauna, a small-sized room or outdoor hut is typically heated to about 70-100 degrees Celsius (158-212 degrees Fahrenheit). While you’re in there, water is gently poured on very hot stones, increasing the humidity in the room to around 20%. The sauna has a long history and close relatives in other cultures: the Russian banya, the Native American sweat lodge or inipi, the Turkish hamam, even the Japanese onsen. In Finland it has at least a thousand years of history.
Finnish Sauna Etiquette
Crucial elements in a Finnish sauna experience are löyly and vihta or vasta. Löyly means the process of throwing water on the hot stones on top of the stove (kiuas) to increase heat and humidity. Vihta or vastais a whisk made with tender birch twigs that is used to gently beat the skin to improve circulation, help muscle relaxation and to remove impurities. The birch leaves also fill the sauna with a beautiful fresh scent.
The average temperature in a Finnish sauna is usually between 80 to 100 Celsius (176 to 212 Fahrenheit) although it can easily rise up to 120 C (248 F). A period of sitting in the sauna is followed by some cooling-off time, preferably spent swimming in a lake or at least a swimming pool. This routine can be repeated as many times as one wishes before a final shower. First-timers can start with short periods of just a few minutes in the sauna room followed by a swim.