Finnish Sauna Traditions: What to expect

Guide to surviving your Finnish sauna



Finnish Saunas

You've just finished a successful business meeting, clinched that deal and your Finnish counterpart has dropped a clanger, 'What about a sauna?’ The Finns are fanatical about them and in a country with more saunas than cars; the possibility for such an invitation is high.

The obvious thing to do is agree with the man who has just signed your multimillion-pound contract but what exactly is it going to entail?

Going for your Finnish Sauna

First of all take a shower before you go in. Decide whether it's prudent or prudish to wear a cosie. Locals bare all and you'll really be expected to do the same. Open the door, try not to let too much steam seep out and step into that dimly lit inferno. Finnish saunas are kept at about 80 degrees Celsius so be prepared for something a little more intense than the steam room at your local gym.

Once you've found a space on the bench, lay down a small towel and sit on it. Don't worry too much about having to handle a serious conversation with a complete stranger while naked, the Finnish regard the sauna as something of a ritual and silence isn't an issue.

Relax, let the sweat drip down the back of your legs and enjoy the experience. You'll find that there's no need to be self conscious about your beer belly, it'll likely be in good company. Above all, don't complain about the heat. Breathe deeply and stay calm. It's not a competition, there's no award for staying in the longest and if the heat gets too much step outside, shower and return when you've recovered a bit. For most Finns two sessions in the sauna is normal.

In summer some people will flail themselves with twigs to improve blood circulation but the real sauna experience comes in winter when the 1000-year old tradition of Avantouinti is practiced. Basically it means shedding all inhibition and racing naked from the sauna to a lake or pool of ice water and diving right in. If you're a little less adventurous a roll in fresh snow will suffice. The Finns believe this tradition boosts resistance to the common cold, and just remember that the water will actually be warmer than the air above it.

Dry yourself off, let your body return to normal temperature, throw on some clothes and enjoy a cool beer. You've survived!

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