Saunas: A place to socialise, be adventurous: Why Finland’s saunas are so cool

It sounds pretty awkward – you’re sitting on a wooden slab with a group of strangers, wearing a swimsuit, in a very steamy setting. Before you get other ideas, what I am talking about are saunas – a Finnish lifestyle staple that brings together families, friends and even business acquaintances.
Saunas are becoming fashionable the world over but the best place to get sweaty is still Finland, where they are an intrinsic part of the culture.In recent years, they have had a resurgence of sorts, becoming a way for young people tosocialise. There are fancy ones where you can sip a glass of wine with friends once you’re done, and older ones that utilise heating technologies of yore, harkening back to simpler times. There’s even a sauna on a ferris wheel, if you’re feeling dangerous.
Saunas are not just public, but exist in people’s homes too. While some apartments in cities come fixed with a common sauna for residents, there are even some one-bedroom apartments that have a sauna inside them, says Valtteri Helve, head of product offering at Finnair, who reminisces about childhood memories sauna-ing and swimming in the summer cottages of friends and family in the north part of the country. “It’s strangely refreshing and you feel great afterwards. In the summer, it’s nice to be by a lake and in the winter, you can just stand in the cold after the sauna for a few minutes,” he says.
This combination of hot and cold is a big part of sauna culture. At Helsinki’s Loyly sauna, patrons take a break in the middle of their sauna time to take a dip in the freezing cold sea water and then make their way to the warmth of the sauna yet again. Others opt for a version of the ice bucket challenge (but this time it’s not for a charitable cause), as they dunk a bucket of icy water on their heads. It could seem daunting to those not used to it.
Besides its health benefits, it’s also an interesting activity from the perspective of body positivity. While public saunas that have mixed gender rooms require you to wear a bathing suit, some have segregated saunas where each gender is in the nude. Similarly, when people have personal saunas they go to with friends, they may pick and choose their desired level of undress. Looking around the room full of warm bodies in Loyly, you focus on the rolls of sweat all over your own body rather than the rolls of fat that many have been programmed to notice. There is an inherent comfort in being just another body in a room full of diverse ones – and it makes sense that when one brings up how they’re so comfortable with nudity, Finns tend to shrug, as if they’re used to it.
The writer was in Finland on invitation from FinnAirand Visit Finland


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