Scandinavian Sauna Culture

"The only Finnish word to make it into everyday English is "sauna". But what it is, and how much it means to Finns, is often misunderstood - and it's definitely not about flirtation or sex.

In a dimly lit wood-panelled room, naked men sit in silence, sweating. One beats himself repeatedly with birch branches. Another stands, takes a ladle of water and carefully pours it over the heated stones of the stove in the corner.

There is a hissing noise.

Within seconds a wave of moist heat creeps up around your ankles and over your legs before enveloping your whole body. Your pores open up and sweat covers you from head to toe." - Mark Bosworth 

It seems that among all the Nordic countries there is a common way to beat the cold; The sauna. Finland, it seems, has the strongest sauna culture; it is estimated that there are 3.3 million saunas in Finland, for a population of 5.3 million. You can find saunas anywhere from city apartments to country cottages, factories and downtown offices. 

Traditional saunas are heated by wood, burned either in a stove with a chimney, or by a stove with no chimney. The latter - a smoke sauna - is the original sauna and believed to be the best. The door is closed after the wood has burned down (and most of the smoke has escaped), leaving the embers to heat the sauna to the proper temperature, but giving a soft heat and the aroma of woodsmoke.

Apart from offering general relaxation and reason for social gathering, sitting in a sauna also has several health benefits. The effects of just 15 minutes in the sauna has results akin to light exercise - your heart gets a mild workout while your body works hard to pump out stored toxins. On top of this, saunas have been proven to help treat chronic fatigue, mild depression, arthritis, musculoskeletal pain and a variety of skin conditions - giving it the accurately coined term "poor man's pharmacy."