You may have often seen signs saying, ‘Sauna’ next to gyms or in hotels and I bet, you have wondered what it is like inside.
So what is a Sauna?
To put it simply, sauna is a space (a room or a building) that is heated up and where people can spend some time in order to benefit from the heat. This heat can either be dry or moist, but can turn out to be good for your health.
Saunas have a Finnish origin, and it would not be far-fetched to say that they consider their culture incomplete without it. The concept of saunas has been around for quite some time, and several continents show historic evidence of its usage. And like all other things, different cultures adopted it in their own unique style.
For those not looking for many details, here is the heath formula –
Source of Heat + Hot & Humid Air + You = Sweat + Great Health!
How does it work?
To get the desired heat in the room, rocks are heated to a high temperature which also warms up the room as a result. The temperature in the room can go up to 160-200 °F and this, in turn, stimulates sweating in those who are in the room. Additionally, if water is poured over the rocks then steam is created. Also people can opt to step into a sauna after taking a shower and let the moisture on their bodies evaporate to produce steam, which can also benefit them in many ways.
Types of Saunas:
If you are considering trying out sauna for the first time or if you want to buy one for your home, you should know the types available in the market and determine which one would be suitable for you. Here are some of the popular ones:
- Smoke Sauna – Rocks are heated with burning wood, but without a chimney in the room. You are allowed to enter only after the room is freed from smoke and ash. The residual heat from the rocks is sufficient to have the desired effect on everyone in the room. This particular option might seem cumbersome, and hence it is losing in popularity to the other newer types of saunas.
- Wood Burning Stove Sauna – These are traditional Finnish saunas. Here again, the rocks are heated with burning wood but in a sealed compartment (stove) with a chimney to let out the smoke. These saunas are easier to use and control as compared to smoke saunas.
- Electrically-heated Sauna –The industrial revolution led to the birth of these electric sauna heaters that are easier to use. They have all the controls you need, such as temperature control, timers and so on to give you a pleasant experience. They can be fitted on the floor or walls easily and will not cause you any trouble. Available in various sizes, they are ideal for urban settings.
- Infrared Sauna – These units emit infrared light waves which heat the body directly, unlike others which heat the air. They are relatively cooler in temperature, but have the same effect as traditional saunas. Infrared saunas are slowly rising the popularity charts with many celebs opting for them as well. And if you wish to have your own private sauna, this is a great option.
Why should you use a Sauna? What are the benefits
Something with so much of history has to have exotic benefits, right? So coming back to the main question, ‘Why sweat it out in a sauna?’
- Improves your appearance –When your body gets heated and starts to sweat, it leaves behind a glow. Improved blood circulation and the cleansing activity of sweat gives you the skin you have always dreamt of. You look great and that automatically makes you happy. In fact, steaming is an age old practice for getting that perfect skin. There are no two-ways about it.
- De-stressing – No matter how much you love your job or life, there is a bit of stress lurking is some corner of your mind. There is no quieter place than a sauna to relax and unwind. And as stated earlier, it helps you body loosen up and you can enjoy those precious carefree minutes.
- Improvement in the functioning of the brain and heart– As the blood vessels dilate, the heart rate increases which has a similar effect to that of cardio. The University of Eastern Finland conducted a research which has shown that regular saunas can reduce the risk of heart diseases and dementia. If you are looking for numbers, then it has been proved that men indulging in sauna 4-7 times in a week are at 66% lower risk of suffering from dementia than those who indulge in saunas once a week.
- Gets rid of toxins– In some way or the other, toxins and heavy metals manage to get into our system. Sweating mobilizes these toxins in the body and brings them up to the surface.
- Serves as a social outing – In Finland especially, a sauna bath is like a social get-together and a place for bonding. You can meet new people and spend some relaxing time getting to know each other.
- Improves your immunity– Remember how they say that fever is a useful symptom? It stimulates the production of disease-fighting blood cells and certain hormones. Sauna has a similar effect as the body is exposed to high temperatures and helps you fight diseases better.
Although saunas are quite safe to use, a few absent-minded actions can get you into a lot of pain. So you should keep the following things in mind:
- Touching the heat source can injure you.
- Wearing jewellery or any other metal accessory can cause burns as they are capable of overheating.
- Getting into a sauna if you are pregnant or have a heart condition can lead to serious health issues- your best option, in that case, would be to consult a doctor.
- If a sauna is not well maintained and cleaned, you can catch infections. Because of the high moisture in the air, there can be fungal growth on the surfaces. Touching these places even by mistake can cause you significant harm. So it is advisable to go to well-reputed saunas.
The rules to follow:
While sauna is not something that will get you huffing and puffing, it does not mean that there are no rules on how to practice it. Would you head for a run after a heavy meal? So if you are new to a sauna, make a note:
- Drink a lot of water before and after the sauna because sweating can dehydrate the body. You may even sip on some water during the sauna.
- Take a shower and clean up before entering the sauna so you keep the air clean and free of any odour. The idea of body odour in a closed room is not appealing and you should be careful.
- Maintain proper hygiene and follow practices such as sitting on a towel rather than directly on the bench. Even these small things make a difference.
- Allow the body to slowly cool down after a 10-15 minute sauna session. Either fresh cool air or a cold water shower can help but make sure that the exposure is not sudden, or else you might fall sick.
- Leave all your jewellery and accessories at home as overheated metals can burn you.
- Understand the culture of the place before you decide to go in. Different countries have different rules for saunas. Some have separate spaces for men and women, while some do not. Some expect complete nudity, while others are open to whatever you are comfortable with.
- Put up your best behaviour. Since it is a shared space, maintain peace and try not to disturb others.
- Never use the sauna if you are ill or have a certain medical condition without consulting a doctor first.
- Avoid alcohol just after finishing a sauna bath. The body loses fluids during the sauna and alcohol can cause further dehydration.
- Try not to spend more than 20 minutes in a sauna. Everybody reacts slightly different to heat and steam and you need to figure out how much you can take. If you feel dizzy, come out immediately.
- Avoid having more than three sessions in one visit if you really want to enjoy the experience.
How often can you treat yourself to a sauna?
Actually, it depends completely on you. The fact of the matter is that nothing in excess is good and so the trick is to work out some permutations and combinations. Many opt to do it once a week and in that one visit, they can indulge in 2-3 sessions. But if you want to be a more frequent user, it is advisable that you reduce the number of sessions per visit. Too much time in a sauna can be taxing on your body.
Improvisations and Exercises:
We are in the age of improvisation and this calls for something exciting to do in saunas as well. Health experts are now recommending exercises you can try in a sauna such as:
- Crunches and Pushups
However, no matter how engaging it becomes, always follow the 15-20 min per session rule in a sauna.
Often when age-old practices pick up as modern trends, there is a spurt of information going around as everyone tries to give their inputs. Obviously then a lot of myths also creep up as well. Let’s kick those myths out.
Can Saunas make you lose weight? Does sweating help lose weight?
No! Instead, what happens is that as the sauna makes you sweat. You lose a lot of body water which gives you an illusion of weight loss. It does not mean the loss of body fat and is therefore not real weight loss. As soon as you take in some fluids or eat something, the weight you seemingly lost is restored. However if you can chalk out a plan of right diet, exercise and sauna, no one can stop you from becoming fit and healthy.
Steams baths and saunas are the same:
In steam baths, steam is generated and circulated in the room to increase the temperature. Saunas use dry heat and the steam is created by splashing water over the source of heat. Steam baths are not traditional Finnish saunas, so this is another myth that is baseless.
Saunas are only for cold countries:
You can enjoy a sauna whenever you want and wherever you want. The facility is available in a wide of range of hotels and spas across the globe
All saunas have aromatic fragrances:
Traditional Finnish saunas never incorporated music or fragrances. They are later additions and can, no doubt, enhance your experience.
Alternatives to Sauna – The Other ‘Hot’ Practices
The wonders of heat on the body are by now quite obvious. So over the years new ways of utilizing heat have been introduced. A couple of such practices that need a mention are – Moksha Yoga and Bikram Yoga. Let’s see what’s so hot about them.
Moksha Yoga – To start with, of course, there is a heated room. There are a set of postures that are practiced and this session can last up to 90 minutes. It is fun, interesting and dynamic as it is allows you to experiment with various postures. Since this is a style of yoga, its benefits are similar to that of traditional yoga. For example- flexibility, toning, strengthening of the body and so on.
Bikram Yoga – This came up much earlier than Moksha Yoga. It was started by Bikram Choudhury in the 70s. Unlike the dynamism of Moksha Yoga, Bikram Yoga has 26 definite postures. They work in such a balance that the whole body is benefitted as the postures help oxygen reach every part. The temperature in the room is kept around 105 °F. The effects are similar to that of a sauna- high temperature helps to get rid of toxins and improves blood flow. However, the results are not as well backed up by research as in the case of the sauna.
Facts to know:
While you can continue pondering over visiting a sauna, here are some interesting facts for you.
- Nudity is an integral part of Finnish saunas. They prefer it that way and so is the case with several other countries as well. Do a quick checkup on the sauna etiquette before you enter one.
- In traditional Finnish saunas, people whip themselves with birch twigs. This further stimulates blood circulation.
- In Finland, sauna baths are more like occasions which you attend to socialise.
All in all, sweating is good – even if you may not like it.
The age old tradition of sauna has a whole lot of benefits, which have been proved by innumerable studies. From your skin to your heart and mind, sauna does good for you.
However, since it is not necessarily a solitary activity you should know the sauna culture and rules to make sure that you sweat it out right.
Why wait? Head to a sauna right now!