Sauna is almost a sacred tradition for Finns. Every week, even every day, it is an obligation to get warm. If you want to adapt to Finnish culture, then you will have to start sweating inside that hot room.
Almost every house in Finland has a sauna. Even the Parliament has one! Approximately, there are about three million saunas in the country. Are you still unfamiliar with Finnish sauna? Then you should know some tips before your first experience.
1. No clothes
Normally Finns go naked to the sauna. Families, friends and even strangers participate in this ritual without clothes.
This means: no towels, no swimsuit, no underwear. Sometimes it is allowed to cover yourself and if you are a foreigner, they will understand that you would be ashamed, but sooner or later you will have to show how you were born.
2. Under 70ºC it is cold
Actually, a proper sauna session should be at least at 80 degrees to consider it warm enough. If the temperature is 70ºC or even below, Finns consider it is cold.
Public Sauna Helsinki. Photo: Visit Helsinki
3. Better without glasses
If you wear glasses, you’d better leave them outside. ‘Löyly’ (steam generated when throwing water to the rocks) will fog them and you won't see anything after a few seconds.
4. This is not a competition
Leave the sauna as soon as you can’t stand the heat.
It doesn’t matter if you are only five minutes inside: this is not a competition. In addition to this, staying for too long time could be unsafe. It is rare, but some people have even died inside the hot room, the reason why annual world championship that used to be held in Heinola was cancelled in 2010.
5. From hot to cold
After experiencing extreme hot, it is typical to take a swim in the lake -even if it is frozen- or, if this isn’t possible, to jump over the snow blanket. In a few seconds, people can experience an exceptional drop of temperature: about 100 degrees Celsius less.
Only people who suffer a serious illness should avoid this.
Swimming in a lake during a sauna session under midnight sun in Rovaniemi. Photo: Visit Rovaniemi.
6. No sex in the sauna
Although some people could imagine sauna as an ideal place to have sex, it isn't.
It is too hot for doing any kind of exercise. Moreover, Finns believe this is a space for relaxing, socializing...
7. Hit yourself with vihta
Hit yourself with vihta, a bunch of birch branches.
Although it may sound harmful, Finns know that doing that improves blood circulation. That's why in summertime they go to the forest and collect some branches. As it isn’t possible to make it in winter, some families save some inside the freezer.
Eating and drinking after sauna in Rajaportti, the oldest sauna in Finland. Photo: Laura Vanzo.
8. Take a drink during/after sauna
After losing liquids, it is recommendable to take a drink.
You can have your beer or cold beverage inside the sauna or while resting outside. During the hottest months of the year, staying on the terrace with a can of soda, feeling the refreshing breeze, is one of the simplest pleasures anyone can experience.
*Pablo Morilla is a journalist, author of the blog Michan en Finlandia.