Sauna is growing in popularity here in America and especially up in our corner of Maine where winter is long, dark and cold. Sauna allows us to melt into our bodies, to relax muscles that spend their time tense against the cold and helps us embrace the harsh elements.
As a Sauna host who grew up in a place without ‘real winter’ I’ve found Sauna greatly improves my mental health and sense of well-being. There is truly nothing like standing outside in the icy January wind and feeling thankful for the cold and snow and darkness. I’m amazed to realize Sauna has changed my relationship with winter and helps me feel joyful during the most challenging time of year.
So then, what is the absolute best way to enjoy Sauna? How can you have the greatest, most excellent experience possible?
Here’s our top ten tips to create a truly enjoyable Sauna:
Drink water. You’re going to sweat, so hydrate early. Drink plenty of water throughout the day leading up to and after your sauna. Avoid alcohol before your sauna and being overly caffeinated.
Eat lightly. Saunaing on a full stomach can make you feel uncomfortable. Saunaing on an empty stomach can make you feel light-headed. I recommend eating a light snack or meal an hour or so before you sauna, so your body has done the work of digestion but your blood sugar is not too low. Pro-tip: Easy to eat fruit, crackers and cheese make excellent Sauna snacks!
Arrive early. The best time to arrive for one of our Sauna sessions is five-ten minutes early. Gather your towel, water bottle and swimsuit. Use the bathroom if you need to. Our sauna staff work hard in between sessions to clean the sauna, refill the tubs and get everything set up for you, arriving on time and leaving punctually helps their day flow smoothly.
Dress in easy to remove layers. You may want to bundle up on cold days, but you wont need all your layers once you’re in the Sauna. Try leaving heavy coats, scarves, hats and gloves in the car - where it’s less likely to forget them. Wear easy to pull on loose fitting layers. Sweat pants, sweat shirt and/or a sauna robe help you dress more easily after getting out of the sauna. Think about it like getting dressed after a nice hot bath when your body is all relaxed, you want easy things to pull on and off.
Listen to your body. Folks often ask, how long do I stay in for? How often should I cool down? How will I know when to finish? The honest answer is: Your body tells you. There is no set way or right amount of time. Your body decides how long it wants to be in the hot and what kind of cold it needs to cool off. Sauna is not about pushing yourself to extremes, it’s about tending your body.
Compare and despair. As Sauna in America becomes synonymous with health and fitness culture we’re seeing people approaching Sauna with a kind of competitive mentality that’s out of sync with traditional Sauna ritual. Sauna isn’t about comparing yourself to others, matching the way anyone else Saunas or even how you’ve Saunaed in the past. It’s truly about learning to honor your own shifting needs. Sometimes you’ll feel great sitting in the hot room and be excited to embrace the cold plunge. Other times you might want shorter visits to the hot room and longer periods cooling down. Sometimes you might want to avoid the cold plunge altogether. It’s all good. Avoid comparing yourself to anyone else (and especially to other versions of you) because the best way to Sauna is to listen to what you need on the day.
Use steam. The steam that arises from water thrown on the rocks in Finnish Sauna culture is called the Löyly. The löyly is considered the life force of the Sauna. The steam adds moisture to the air and temporarily raises the heat in the Sauna. It changes the experience from one of dry heat to humidity and offers a different experience in sweating. How you pour the water on the stones and how much you use is up to you. Try it!
Breathe. Take some time to focus your breathing and breathe deeply. Practice simple breathing techniques like breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth. Just like you do in a yoga class or meditation. Bring your awareness to your breath and notice what it feels like to sit in the warmth of the Sauna and breathe deeply. Deep breathing calms your nervous system, helps you clear your mind and ground yourself in the present moment.
Explore silence. The Sauna is a bathhouse, a ritual space and a community hub. While chatting and connecting in the Sauna is incredibly fun, energising and healing, what many of us lack in our busy lives is a chance to experience silence. Intentionally calling for some silent time in the sauna allows you to embrace the quiet and tune in a little deeper.
Practice gratitude. At the end of each night we pour some water on the stones for the sauna spirits. To thank them for their work watching over the Sauna and for helping us feel good in our bodies. At the end of your session you can simply acknowledge them by saying thankyou or pouring a little water on the rocks as you leave. If you want to extend that gratitude to your Sauna hosts, tips are always appreciated.
We’ll see you at the Sauna! Feel free to ask your Sauna Host for their Hot Tips.