Sweat, break, beer – benefits of a Finnish sauna

Sweat, break, beer. At first, it’s not a suitable combination to describe the symbol of Finnish culture: The sauna.

Some people do important business in the sauna, others give birth to their child there. For me it is a place of relaxation, of cleaning and the perfect place to stay after an exhausting workout.

Good things come – to those who sweat

And even better things come to those who sweat twice! Because the sauna is optimal as part of a cool down – yes, that sounds strange at first, I admit it. But as a restorative measure after physical exercise, the sauna promotes blood circulation and thus the transport of substances to regenerate the muscle cell. This not only helps the muscle cell immediately, but also prevents muscle soreness.

In addition to stimulating blood circulation and the formation of new cells, the sauna has many other benefits:

  • it strengthens the immune system and prevents colds in particular
  • it cleans the skin
  • it trains the blood vessels
  • it has a sleep supporting influence
  • it has positive effects on the vegetative nervous system and 
  • it gives peace and serenity

Good things come – from Finland 

Peace and serenity, this is also what distinguishes the supposed origin sauna place. Not only the (in my opinion) best bands with the most beautiful and melancholic melodies come from Finland. No, also the sauna has a long tradition there. Even if it was probably not invented in Finland, but in Asia. At least the earliest finds of primitive sweat baths suggest this.

Good things are – in Finland

I myself had the opportunity to visit a real Finnish sauna twice already. 

On my first visit to Finland I was in Helsinki’s last public wood-fired sauna. The Kotiharjun Sauna. And by the way the only woman there. Which gave me absolute silence and relaxation in the sauna. In the breaks, however, it was quiet at first, but then more and more fun. And in the breaks one did not relax with a bottle of water and lying on the relaxation couch like in stuffy Germany. No, during the break man (and woman) took a beer from the fridge and sat down – on the sidewalk at the front door of the sauna. And from break to break or from beer to beer the company became more and more funny…

Good things are – Sweat, break, beer

Anyone who has never went to sauna may ask: Sauna? Break? Beer? How does it work? 

Sweat and beer in the sauna
Beer in the sauna – not common in Germany

In general, you don’t drink beer in the sauna. So not in Germany. In Finland (I think) they do. At least I have seen more people with beer than without beer.

Before entering the sauna, take a good shower. Dried off, otherwise sweating will be delayed, you start your first sauna bath. At 90 degrees Celsius for about 15 minutes. Then shower again. But this time cold. Best of all, really cold. I admit, I am quite a wimp. I turn on warm first, before I shower cold bit by bit.

Then comes the first recovery. In Germany. In Finland comes the first beer and the first good conversations.

This is also one of the fundamental differences between the German and Finnish saunas. In Germany you don’t speak during the sauna. In Finland you do. But there isn’t so much spoken in Finland on other times… 

After you have recovered for about 20 minutes or after you have been drunk a little bit, you can go to the second sauna bath. Thereafter taking a shower and relaxing again.

The process is repeated, so that one had a total of three sauna baths. That is the general recommendation. Who is already completely exhausted after two sauna baths, respectively beer, does not have to make a third one. Here, too, it is the case that what does good is good.

Good things to sweat – mint, eucalyptus & tar?

In addition to communication, there is another difference between Finnish and German sauna culture. In Germany the infusion is celebrated. Infusion means that water mixed with essential oils is poured onto the stones of the sauna stove and vaporizes there pleasurably. In none of the two public Finnish saunas did I find fragrance essences. In Germany there is usually a new fragrance every hour. Very popular: mint and eucalyptus. Rather unknown: Tar. In Finnish Terva. 

Sauna scent from Finland - Tar
Sauna scent from Finland – Tar

I tried Terva in my own sauna at home. It was a souvenir from friends who were on holiday in Finland. Probably the friends didn’t like me anymore… It smelled like: a new road, an old ship, an indefinable rotten fish… Therefore Terva did not manage to become my new favourite smell. But I still make an infusion with other smells at each of my sauna baths and enjoy the Löyly.

Good things to sweat – Löyly 

Löwly is not only the name of the steam produced by the infusion, but also a chic, relatively new sauna in Helsinki. After I had visited one of the oldest saunas with the Kotiharjun, I wanted to see something hip in one of my following holidays. Really beautiful, the Löyly sauna. Although quite small compared to the German wellness temples. But with smart sauna masters. So one of them kindly pointed out to me that a bath in the neighbouring Baltic Sea after the sauna would be very pleasant. And he was really a master of his trade and instinctively noticed that I am a wimp. So he stayed next to me and motivated me until I was sunk up to my neck in the really, really cold Baltic Sea. A great man and a great experience! 

Sauna "Löyly" in Helsinki
Sauna “Löyly” in Helsinki
left in the picture the access to the Baltic Sea

Good things to sweat – swimsuit & sauna hat 

Another difference between German and Finnish sauna habits is the clothing. While in a mixed German sauna you sweat completely without clothes, in a mixed Finnish sauna you wear a lot. In addition to a swimsuit or swimming trunks also a sauna hat, which protects the body from overheating. I didn’t have to wear the hat in the mixed Löyly sauna, but I did have to wear a bikini. That was not pleasant. I think, in order to sweat properly, you have to be textile-free in the sauna.

Good things to sweat – Hot Yoga  

But for a particular occasion in the sauna I would prefer to get dressed as well. Yoga in the sauna. Unfortunately, I’ve never taken part in it before, but I know that there is Yoga in the saunas of the Badewelt Sinsheim, for example. Hot Yoga, also called Bikram Yoga, is Yoga that is ideally practiced at 40% humidity and about 40 degrees Celsius sauna heat. A series of 24 Asanas (exercises) and two Pranayamas (breathing exercises) is performed in a special order. The increased room temperature is said to correlate with increased physical performance. However, there is no scientific evidence for this yet.

Balasana - Bikram Yoga in the sauna
Balasana – one of the 24 Asanas of Bikram Yoga

Good things to sweat – the Karelian sauna ritual

The Karelian sauna ritual is also performed in a special order, but much more effortlessly. Is the ritual really Karelian? I am not sure about that. Because the ritual is not performed in Karelia, but in the Europabad in Karlsruhe. It is so basically consistent with the Finnish sauna culture, as it says in Kanteletar, the old Finnish folk poetry, by Elias Lönnrot

…I was preparing the sauna
comfortably warm with birch logs,
softened the birch tufts
in the middle of the hot stones,
ran to get some water,
to the source under the hill,
brings it home in the brass bucket,
get it over here in the golden bucket…

The Suspicious Groom, III 48
– free translation –

There are also birch tufts at the Karelian ritual in Karlsruhe. In this variation you are gently beaten off by the sauna master. The birch tufts have a cleansing, anti-inflammatory and have a mood-lifting effect. Perhaps the mood-lifting effect also comes from the dark beer that is served with it: Typically Finnish. I think of one of my favourite albums. That is also mood-lifting and typically: Karelian Isthmus by Amorphis.

Good things come – to those who build a sauna 

We should do it like the Finns. Sauna first! Because in former times in Finland the sauna was built as the very first part of a house. The sauna was the warmest, cleanest and quietest place in a Finnish household. And even today this place is still very much appreciated. Almost every Finnish household has its own sauna.

Good things come – to those who take a sauna

What I learned about sauna is:

It is incredibly multifunctional. Whether relaxing, giving birth to children, drinking beer or being whipped, you can do everything in it. 

A visit to the sauna is definitely worth it! Be it in Finland or in Germany. Be it with or without beer. 

The only thing you should really avoid, is using Terva fusion…

The best is, of course, a sauna session after an exhausting workout. Because double sweating is also double healthy!

So stay tuned and don’t forget: Good things come to those who sweat!

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