MEDICINE FOR THE BODY AND MIND | Kitty's corner
Sauna. The hot core of the Nordic culture. Ten thousand years ago, it was just a hole in the ground, covered with an animal skin. Later, according to ancient myths, it was very important where the sauna was built and what wood was used. Each sauna had its own protective Spirit. It helped the owner to gain luck and happiness, but only if they were able to behave well in the sauna.
Different rituals played a big role in the healing experience. Spells, used by wisdom keepers and medicine men, were considered very powerful. Spring Solstice and Harvest Gratitude cleansings were among the highlights of the sauna season. Even today a Christmas sauna is a very important ritual for many families, not forgetting the Midsummer Sauna, which apparently is very powerful in amorous activities!
Sauna has been a central spot from religious ceremonies to curing diseases. Women went to give birth and old people went to die in the sauna. During old times, sauna was called the “Pharmacy of the Poor”, since folk medicine already acknowledged the many health benefits of sauna. For example, that sweating deep cleanses the skin and birch whisking is a combination of massage, physiotherapy and herbalism. The heat relaxes the muscles and thereby can even help in sleeplessness.
Sauna is a temple of healing and wellbeing of basically every household in the North. In Finland there is 1,5 million saunas. Every summer cottage has its own sauna, usually located in one of the best spots of the property, may it be attached to the waterline of a lake or on the highest top a cliff with phenomenal panoramic views.
The sauna is a place to sit in complete silence staring at the sunset, above the calming open sea of an archipelago, with hundreds of little islands in front of your eyes. For many foreigners, not familiar with the habits of the native Northerners, this silence can be taken as rudeness or bad behavior, but it is actually the opposite. Even though crammed together in a small, hot closet, usually completely nude, everyone respects the privacy and quieting down of each person.
City culture also involves several saunas, open to public. In Helsinki a more modern version is Löyly (http://www.loylyhelsinki.fi/en/front-page/), where business people come at lunch time to sit in the sauna for a while and take a dip in the cold Baltic Sea, before returning to their busy jobs. The very popular, traditional wood heated sauna in the heart of Helsinki, the Harjun Sauna (http://www.kotiharjunsauna.fi/), is a beloved gem. For a more high-end experience, head to Sturebadet in Stockholm (http://sturebadet.se/, with all the socialites mingling in their white, fluffy bathrobes. Regatta Spa in Hanko, Finland, offers luxury and peacefulness in an idyllic little town, with a state of the art sauna and spa (https://regattaspa.fi/).
At its best, sauna is a true holistic experience. It should be a natural part of a healthy way of living. It relaxes us, nurses us and slows down our hectic life. It helps to soothe emotional stress, nimble a tired body and opens mental jams. For the bravest ones a jump in an ice hole straight from the boiling hot sauna is like floating in light afterwards.
There simply isn´t any other place in the whole world, that would be socially, culturally or gender wise so equal, serves so many purposes from rituals to wellness, which has existed through ages, than a sauna, may it be the original Nordic version, the Native American sweat lodge, the Japanese Kama-buro or the ancient Turkish Hamman. Long live the healing power of the sauna!
This article is a part of "Kittys corner" series written by Helena "Kitty" Ihamuotila. Kitty is a Finland-based writer and creative who has worked in the fields of lifestyle, fashion, culture and arts. With Kitty we'll deep dive to Finnish culture and habits, as well as lifestyle and beauty.
Photo credit: Alexandra Alholm