For Finns, sauna is not just a place for cleansing oneself. Sauna has been part of the Finnish culture – the everyday life and celebration as well – for several millennia. There are nearly 3 million saunas of various types and sizes in Finland. South Ostrobothnia is a place that offers sauna experiences for various tastes, from smoke saunas to infrared saunas and everything in between. Welcome to the sauna!
DIFFERENT SAUNA TYPES – the seven generations of sauna
According to the architect and sauna expert Pekka E. Tommila, the Finnish history of sauna can be divided into seven generations of saunas. The first sauna generation dates back as far as 10,000 years ago, to a primitive ground sauna. These days the ground saunas or teepee saunas are also called ancient saunas for the reason that they don't exist in Finland anymore.
As the way of life of the Finnish people was stabilized, the permanency of the places of residence resulted in changes in sauna construction as well. After teepee saunas, people came up with a way to dig saunas in a slope in the ground, in the form of a room, keeping the heat better, with a heap of heated stones in one corner. This type of sauna can be called the second-generation sauna, or primary sauna, for it clearly is the "foremother" of all more modern saunas.
The third generation of saunas began shortly after the beginning of the Current Era, when log construction started to become more common. These log cabins can be called as "mothers" of all modern saunas, because they match the criteria of the Finnish sauna proper:
- a log-built room with four corners and a ridge roof
- a smoke stone stove by the door
- an elevated platform on the back wall
- proper ventilation
- good steam
- and of course, a familiar sauna gnome as the protector.
In the 1930's, about a half of the saunas in Finland were of the smoke sauna type. Today it's estimated that there are about 25,000 smoke saunas in use in the country, representing c. 1% of all the saunas.
The fourth-generation sauna was actually a multifunctional building that can, with a slight generalization, be called a yard sauna. The brick-laid oven stove had evolved significantly from the Iron Age stone stove. The oven stove was laid with natural stones and later with bricks, and retained heat for a longer time. It also had a special steam hatch, and most importantly, its own chimney. The yard sauna culture was vibrant for 500 years, first in the countryside villages and homesteads, and coming into the 19th century, also in the outskirts of towns and cities. As the yard sauna culture evolved, the stoves evolved as well.
After the war there was a shortage of pretty much everything, so Finns came up with a good way to save wood: a continuously-heating stove with a metal casing that gives the possibility to keep the fire burning even while the sauna is being used. The fifth generation of saunas had been born.
The post-war time of shortage affected the sauna culture as well: apartment-specific bathing rooms, or home saunas replaced separate sauna buildings. The latter part of the 1950's saw saunas starting to be equipped with a technological novelty of the time: an electrical stove. Thus began the sixth generation of saunas. Electrical stoves didn't need a chimney, so saunas could be fitted in any space and on any floor. However, Finns weren't content with the dry heat of the electrical sauna, and with the advent of the heat-storing electrical stove in the mid-1980's, the seventh generation of saunas can be said to have begun.
Continuous effort has been taken to develop more modern saunas with more high-tech elements. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the so-called intelligent stoves have resulted in a big change in home saunas. Home saunas have turned into miniature spas, with their whirlpool and barrel tubs.
SAUNA & HEALTH – sauna is the pharmacy of the poor
The old Finnish saying tells it all: "If there's no help from sauna, tar and booze, in the grave shall one snooze". Sauna has a significant role in the Finnish folklore, according which it is strongly believed that sauna has healing powers. Women in labour, the ill, the young and the old – everyone was taken into the sauna. Cupping was also, and still most often is, conducted in the sauna.
The health benefits of sauna are quite well known these days. Sauna increases metabolism, enhances blood circulation and makes breathing easier. It also lowers blood pressure, at least momentarily. The steam also "tempers" the body and pacifies the mind. There is saying in Teuva, South Ostrobothnia that says: "Sauna is the pharmacy of the poor". Significant effects on health haven't been scientifically proven, but everyone who has been to a sauna knows that the relaxation achieved from there isn't easy to get from elsewhere. Sauna doesn't only cleanse your body; it also cleanses your mind and spirit.
According to present knowledge, going to the sauna is safe for people of all ages with normal health. Listening to one's own body results in the best health benefits. One should only be in the sauna as long as it feels good. This applies also to the amount of steam thrown on the stove. However, it should be taken into account that special saunas (e.g. infrared saunas) might set certain limits for pregnant women, for example.
After the sauna one's skin feels soft, because the moisture from the steam has absorbed into the skin. Many people complement the effects of the steam with various balms, oils and natural products, such as peat or honey. The active ingredients in the products are considered to work more effectively in the heat. South Ostrobothnia offers plenty of options for sauna treatments – read more here!
According to Finnish folklore, those about to get married were treated with a bridal sauna, decorated with flowers and birch branches. On the way to and during the sauna, magic spells were cast, bringing luck and providing strength for the ups and downs of marriage. Nowadays a similar bridal sauna is part of almost every bride's bachelorette party.
Pesonen, Hanna. MTV3.fi
Martikainen, Anne. MTV3.fi
Tommila, Pekka E. The Finnish Sauna Society