Here in the UK we have a similar climate to some of the other “Finnic” countries; it’s cold and wet, we lose daylight hours in the winter… So why don’t we have a sweat bathing culture too?
Sauna is a bathing practice.
It’s meant to be a way of cleansing both body and mind in a manner that no conventional bath or shower can, no matter how hard you scrub!
Sweat will push dirt from the pores. When the steam condenses on your skin, you wipe the dirt away with the moisture as a wash. Showers don’t do this. You need a sauna if you truly want to be clean.
Here in the UK and over in the US, we generally only use saunas as a status symbol, an add-on to a workout to “maximise the benefits” or sometimes even as a replacement for exercise. This is only a tiny fraction of the host of benefits that sauna can provide.
UK gym and hotel saunas are very low quality, mass produced imports with poor designs and no drainage or ventilation and they have given sauna a bad name. Gym managers limit the temperature to 60-70C or won’t allow you to throw water on the rocks for fear of damaging the heater itself… listen, if it says “don’t throw water on the rocks” then it must be a cheap heater. Genuine quality sauna heaters are designed to have water thrown on them, how else are you supposed to make steam?
The steam is there to cleanse your skin. It is supposed to be comfortable and pleasurable, not harsh or painful. You should feel energised after a sauna, not tired and lethargic; a lack of oxygen within the sauna environment or insufficient cooling periods are usually responsible for this.
Contrary to common sense, ventilation is important in the sauna. Carefully designed air intake and extraction actually helps the sauna to heat efficiently and gives you the oxygen rich air that you need to breathe. You also need to allow the sweaty stale air to exchange sufficiently – it’s a matter of hygiene at the end of the day and any good sauna will provide a deep, penetrating and all encompassing heat whilst giving the user the fresh air that they need to breathe.
Throughout Europe, saunas are regulated. “Infrared sauna” is an advertisement that comes with a big fine in Germany. Infrared is not a sauna and certainly doesn’t provide the full spectrum of benefits that a traditional sauna can, so Germany decided that they would not tolerate the association of Infrared and Authentic sauna. Real sauna is an ancient tool, essential to vitality and wellbeing and cannot be reduced to lamps and circuitry.
There is now a registered organisation called the British Sauna Society. They have been created to improve the quality of UK sauna experiences and aim to introduce minimum standards and regulations to UK sauna construction.
There’s a bit of a wave starting in the UK lately. The US started theirs around 100 years ago around the lake superior states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. They begun a revival 10-15 years ago and their sauna scene is thriving.
There is a nationwide network of mobile sauna owners all over the UK. Most of them are coastal, which makes me a bit jealous because here’s me in Costa del Stoke with the Trent for my cool down. 😬
We did once have a sweat bathing culture in the UK though…. It was quite shemanic and dates back 1000’s of years. The Romans didn’t bring us bath houses either, they were already here when they arrived.
Tents would be built, lifted and placed over glowing hot stones that were heated in a fire. The bathers would undress, seal themselves inside and throw water on the stones to wash their skin with the steam. They would even use the oils created from steamed birch whisks as a cleansing and protective agent. It was the only way to rid yourself of parasites and lice. As Hippocrates once said, “Give me a fever and I can cure any disease!”
I will say it again, you cannot truly feel clean until you have washed in the sauna.
Mobile sauna pioneers and entrepreneurs are increasing in number too. We’re all working together with the British Sauna Society to really show the UK what it is they’ve been missing out on and I’m really chuffed to be a part of it. It’s all going on and what a bunch of lovely people.
I am waiting for the all clear when I will book the next flight to Finland to experience secluded lakeside sauna cabins and tour the public bath houses. I will also be meeting suppliers of some beautiful cabins and high tech Finnish stoves. There’s lots to do and I’m looking forward to it.
Get on the British Sauna Society group.
Look at saunatimes, saunatalk and saunawave podcasts.
Or shoot me a message if you have any questions or want to learn more about the ancient worldwide practice of sweat bathing. I’d love to give you more information.
Watch this space because there’s a sauna wave coming!