Finnish Saunaculture

Some 2000 years ago, the sauna was already part of Finnish culture. The sauna appeared in the rest of Scandinavia in the 11th century, and in continental Europe, in the Middle Ages. But only in Finland and some remote mountainous and forested regions in Europe did the custom of sauna continue uninterrupted to the present day. Roman and Russian spas were famous predecessors of the sauna, and the Finnish sauna has traits of both. In the Finnish version, dry and humid air alternate. First the dry air of the sauna-room is heated. When the temperature is hot enough, water is thrown on the hot stones of the sauna stove, and the bathers are enveloped in steam. Good ventilation allows the humidity to escape, and in a few minutes, the air is dry again. Optimum bathing temperature is 80-90 degrees centigrade.

Scandinavia and the continent are enjoying a sauna revival. In Finland, there are approximately 1 million saunas at the present time, and the number is growing. In addition to bathing and washing, the sauna was the place in the old days for curing disease and brewing remedies. Because the sauna is clean and subdued, women gave birth here, and the deceased were laid out in the sauna.

The KIUAS, the stove that holds a layer of hot stones, is the most important part of the sauna. The stones are heated with a wood fire, although electric stoves are often used today. The oldfashioned SAVUSAUNA, a sauna without a chimney, is becoming a thing of the past. LAUTEET, the high wooden benches that bathers sit on are another important element of the sauna. Buckets for water and rinsing are necessary, as is the LÖYLYKAUHA, a ladle for throwing water on the stones. Using the ladle is the traditional duty of the host or the guest of honour. The VASTA or VIHTA is a unique sauna accessory; it is a twenty-inch bouguet of fresh birch branches, which bathers use to gently beat, or massage their bodies. Authentic VASTAS can be dried for storage and soaked before the sauna until they are soft, preferably on the kiuas. Sauna bathing in moderation causes no significant strain on the human organism. It refreshes both body and soul, an effect proven by scientific research and tested emperically by every Finn.

The Sauna is a natural part of the Finnish way of life. No matter what circumstances, a Finn builds a sauna. At the front, the soldiers transformed tents or dug holes in the ground for saunas. Today we make tiny, mobile "barrel saunas", which are small enough to transport in a lorry.