Section 1: How to fit in and sauna like a local
Saunas have been an integral part of European life for many years and are widely regarded as a holistic treatment with benefits for body and mind alike. They are also the perfect way to unwind after a day of hiking and exploring.
To the locals, saunas are as much a part of daily life as taking a shower or drinking a coffee.
However, if you’re from a country which doesn’t embrace ‘sauna culture’ to quite the same degree, the idea of disrobing and stepping into a hot cabin (possibly with a bunch of strangers) might seem a little daunting.
This course will help you understand why saunas are so beneficial – and to ensure you feel fully comfortable using them when you visit Europe.
Saunas are typically inside a building that has individual, wooden sauna cabins. These facilities can be simple or elaborate. Some feature special sauna cabins with different temperatures, and others may have relaxing music and ambient lights that change color.
To use a sauna, you simply disrobe and sit or recline, in temperatures ranging between 70 °C (158 °F) and 100 °C (212 °F). The dry heat of the sauna promotes sweating, which has great health benefits for the immune system and skin, and it induces feelings of relaxation and wellbeing.
You will usually find a poster or information board up in sauna areas explaining precisely what you need to do.
People generally take up to three sauna sessions in one visit, lasting anything from 5 to 20 minutes each. The timing really depends on your personal preference. The ‘rest periods’ in between should last at least as long as the previous sauna session; 20 to 30 minutes is recommended. A short sauna visit takes two to three hours.
A typical sauna facility will offer a variety of dry saunas and steam saunas.
For additional fees, you can get massages, and there may also be special steam rooms where you and your partner can lather each other in honey and salt, or mud, or even coffee grounds! Discovering the variety of offerings of a new sauna has is part of the fun.
The sauna is for everyone to enjoy, and is priced accordingly and reasonably. Typically, saunas sell blocks of time such as two hours, four hours, or a day pass. A typical price at a normal (not fancy) sauna can be around 10-12 Euros for two hours, 15-17 Euros for four hours, and 18-20 Euros for a day pass. The price may be more or less than this, depending on the individual sauna.
Northern Europeans will go to the sauna with spouses/partners, family members, friends, and even work colleagues. Sometimes children will be present, but it seems many frown upon this because they want to relax. Many saunas have an age limit of 16 years old. Saunas are where Europeans can find common ground and everyone is on the same level. Without clothes on, you can’t tell who’s rich or poor or even guess at one’s profession.
Most saunas will give you a waterproof watchband with a locker number, a locker key, and an electronic disc thing where the “watch” normally is for entering and exiting the sauna area. Place the disc to the reader to enter and exit through the turnstiles.
Depending on the sauna, there may be a common changing room where both sexes change, or there may be separate changing rooms for women and men.
There may be private changing cabins. Change into your robe and sandals, and lock your stuff in your locker.
You must take a shower to clean yourself both before and after the sauna. If someone notices that you haven’t, you may get a stern warning.
Typical sauna baths request you wear swimwear in the thermal pools and robes in the lounge areas. Swimwear is not permitted in the saunas and showers.
The wearing of a bathrobe or towel is often compulsory in restaurant areas.
You will need to bring sauna shoes, two towels and a robe at a minimum. Larger facilities often will rent you these items, but many local saunas do not.
BE PREPARED TO SEE NAKED PEOPLE.
All you will see, the entire time you are in a sauna, are naked people. Sweaty, naked people. If your sauna happens to have a bar and a food station, you’ll probably see naked people drinking beer and eating bratwurst.
But just have fun with the experience and, and relax!
Your skin will feel great afterwards and you’ll feel refreshed and renewed.
Who can use saunas?
Adults of all ages use public saunas. Children under 16 are usually not permitted to use one – if in doubt, do check the age limit before entering.
Pregnancy: The advice with regard to pregnant women and saunas varies from country to country. While women who are in an established pregnancy in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Italy can use saunas if they are used to them, in the UK and Ireland, for example, the government does not sanction the use of saunas, steam rooms or jacuzzis during any stage of pregnancy.
Medical Conditions: People with severe cardiac problems must seek medical advice before using a sauna. Anyone with acute fevers, inflammations, lung diseases or phlebitis should not use saunas. However, there are a number of medical conditions which can benefit from sauna use, including asthma, rheumatism, arthritis and back/spinal complaints. If in doubt talk to your doctor!
Saunas have numerous benefits for both mind and body. Here is a summary of some of the main reasons why they are so popular in parts of continental Europe.
Raising your body’s temperature in the sauna increases the production of white blood cells and cytokine, substances that assists the body’s immune system. Cold and flu viruses therefore don’t stand much of a chance with sauna enthusiasts.
Saunas stimulate the heart and circulatory system (in much the way that exercise does – but without the effort!).
The switching between heat and cold in sauna use helps make your body more efficient at regulating itself against changes in weather and other temperature fluctuations.
Sweating is also great for your health. If an adult takes in three sessions in the sauna, he produces up to 1.5 litres of sweat and therefore excretes a number of toxins, including caffeine, alcohol and metabolic deposits. Naturally, this does mean that some other important minerals are also lost.
Drinking fruit juice or mineral water, however, directly after the sauna, will quickly restore the imbalance.
The chill factor
Heat helps the body to produce more endorphins, the so-called “feel-good hormone”.
Particularly during the winter, when a lot of people fight against depression and inertia, a visit to the sauna can give your soul a real boost.
Your skin will thank you
Saunas can also be a fantastic natural cosmetic. The dry heat opens the pores of the skin and helps to shed impurities and dead skin cells.
Sauna users often comment that their skin has a ‘glow’ about it – and dermatologists believe that regular visits to the sauna can even slow down the skin’s aging process.
4 Things European Women Do to Stay Healthy That You May Not Be Doing
The sauna experience that Europeans practice is called the Finnish Sauna - and for a good reason.
Sauna is the only Finnish word that has been internationally accepted by other languages.
The first modern wooden saunas were built around the 5th century when northern European tribes abandoned their nomadic lifestyle and settled down.
When Americans hear the word “sauna” we generally think of those small, wooden rooms attached to the locker room of our local gym, with barely enough space to fit three of your closest friends, and where a swimsuit and a towel are required.
But that is not the genuine sauna experience that Europeans enjoy.
Saunas in Europe are amazing, elaborate, sweat-inducing luxury palaces.
For centuries, the sauna has been a place for physical and spiritual cleansing, for getting bare in all senses of the word, and entering the core of humanity.
The Finns believe that due to its social nature and relaxing effect, the sauna is an excellent place for negotiations, and exchange of ideas and opinions.
They believe that doing business in the sauna is conducive to mutual understanding and consensus.
U.S. and U.K. travelers should put a sauna visit at the top of their list when visiting, because it’s a way to gain insight into the culture as well as one’s own.
If you open yourself to the experience, you may just find you learn about your own relationship to your body and what your culture says about your body. Plus, it’s a refreshing way to kick the jet lag after a long flight.
There are all body types and ages in the sauna – young, old, and all shapes and sizes. There are just normal people.
German culture as a whole has no problem with nudity. Nudity in the sauna is not about sex, but about relaxing and health. If you enter a normal, typical sauna, you will see there is not much about it that is sexy.
You will find people just minding their own business and relaxing. The only one who will be staring is you.
Many saunas are mixed, which means men and women are nude together. For women who may be uncomfortable with this, there are often days or designated hours for women only, or there may be a private area/sauna cabin for women only
If you’re not used to parading around your home naked all the time, being in a European sauna is going to be difficult at first.
You will awkwardly adjust your towel or robe to cover your most intimate parts, and you’ll walk out of the locker room feeling exposed and vulnerable.
And then you’ll look around and notice you are the ONLY person with any clothes on (with the exception of any other tourist that may be visiting the sauna). Which makes you stand out like a sore thumb.
You will be broadcasting the fact that you are an American tourist.
If the humiliation of being the only one too modest to drop your robe and experience the freedom of being naked is not enough, sitting in one of the sauna rooms creeping upwards of 180 degrees F. will do the trick.
Nude bathing is a key feature of the sauna culture, and Finns consider it completely natural.
They believe that wearing a swimsuit to a sweat bath is unhygienic and as uncomfortable as taking a shower with your socks on!
10. Close the door.
Nothing upsets some Europeans more than having someone leave and not closing the door behind them.
It is also offensive when someone enters and then stops to chat with someone else while holding the door open.
When the sauna door is open, it does not take long for the heat to spill out of the sauna. It’s even worse in a steam room.
It may take ten minutes or more for the sauna to recover from the door being open for just a minute.
If you are going in or out, please do it quickly, and make sure the door closes firmly behind you.
Also, be sure to leave your bath shoes outside of the cabin or you risk getting a stern reminder from a local.
9. Sit on a towel.
You are naked during a sauna session but on’t forget you still need a towel to sit or lay on while you are in the room.
Bring a towel in the sauna or steam room that is large enough to make a barrier between your body and the benches. If you’re sitting upright, a small towel is enough. If you’re going to lay down, you probably need a longer sauna towel. It will protect you from what others have left behind, and keep you from leaving things behind.
Make sure you have a second towel that you leave outside the sauna to use when you off after your session.
The pro tip on towel use is to remember to use your sauna towel only in the dry sauna to keep it fresh.
8. The sauna is not a clothes dryer.
The sauna is not your personal clothes dryer. do not bring sweaty clothes, wet bathing suits and towels to hang on the railing around the sauna stove to dry. I have never seen this behavior in Europe, but have heard from others that this poor behavior happens elsewhere.
7. Silence is golden.
The sauna is for relaxation and introspection. The expectation is for the room to remain quiet. Brief, quiet questions asking about the Aufguss infusion or adjusting the heat of the room are OK. Having an extended discussion with your partner is not.
6. A sauna is bath. A sweat bath
A sauna is a way to clean and exercise your skin. The best way to sauna is naked with all of your skin exposed to the heat. A nude sauna is more hygienic and better for you too.
5. Keep your hands and eyes to yourself.
The Finns have a saying, “behave in a sauna like you would in church.”
This is pretty self-explanatory, even if you are a couple enjoying the sauna with others. Touching and other signs of affection will make your neighbors uncomfortable.
4. Leave your electronics outside.
Leave your camera phone in your locker. Talking on the phone at in a sauna facility is a big no-no. Also a camera phone will make others feel very uncomfortable
Besides, the sauna environment can damage electronics.
A sauna is a often place where it can be hard to find a clock. That is intentional. A sauna is meant to be an unmeasured, uninterrupted relaxation experience.
3. No spitting on the rocks.
I’ve never seen this happen before, and I shouldn’t have to say this it. But just don’t do it.
2. Shower before you sauna.
Be considerate to the others who use the sauna with you: Take a shower first.
It is amazing how some people see nudity as dirty, but don’t see actual dirt on their bodies as something to clean up. If you are coming in from outside, shower first to remove sweat, perfume smells and dirt. If you are coming in from the pool, rinse the chlorine off your body before entering the sauna.
If you’re wearing a swimsuit or some other clothing in the sauna, take it off while you shower.
Also don’t forget to take at least a quick rinse off after you sauna before you get into the pool.
1. Remember to ask first before you do anything that will affects others.
Want to add some aufguss water to the rocks? Ask your neighbors first.
Want to change the heat setting? Ask first.
Sauna’s can get crowded right before an aufguss session.
Be sure to gently ask before you move to a free spot right next to someone. Especially if they are of the opposite sex.
What to bring and what not to bring to a Sauna
The classic sauna routine
The Aufguss ritual
The Aufguss infusion ceremony is the pinnacle of sauna bathing.
During an Aufguss, a staff member will serve as a Saunameister and perform an infusion ritual.
The saunameister pours essential oils and water onto the hot rocks and heating up the cabin to induce sweat.
In a public sauna, an Aufguss session takes place at scheduled times and there are special rules that you must follow.
The first thing to look for the posted Aufguss timetable.
Sometimes it is marked on the door
Most session begin at the top or the bottom of each hour.
Note that a busy sauna facility with many sauna cabins (like the Claudius Therme in Cologne) will have an elaborate schedule of times and locations posted for the various infusion treatments.
An Aufguss session in progress might be indicated by a sign hung above the sauna entrance.
German’s start their sessions start on time and latecomers will not be allowed in once a session starts.
At the Neptunebad in Cologne an Aufguss therapy is announced by a gong.
What happens during the Aufguss?
The Saunameister will begin by exchanging fresh air into the sauna room by opening the sauna door for a short time while slowly whisking their towel.
Next, the sauna bathers sweat for a few minutes while the Saunameister explains the oils that will be used in the infusion and the sequence of the session.
For the infusion, a wooden sauna bucket is filled with about five liters of fresh water and induced with an infusion oil.
The classic essences are softwoods such as birch, eucalyptus, and mountain pine.
But citrus scents, menthol and mint are often featured in the schedule.
These essences have either stimulating or calming effects on the body.
Note that Salt, honey and birch branch infusions include extra steps.
and will talk about those incredible skin therapies in the next lesson.
It is not unusual that ice cubes will be offered by the saunameister at the start of a session.
Ice is frequently served with the Menthol aufguss session because it highlights the effect.
If there is crushed ice available outside the cabin, I like to make a snowball and bring it with me into the cabin before a session..
The Claudius Therme offers this in winter, for example.
The golden aufguss rules
During the infusion ceremony, the sauna bather is expected to not leave
Opening the door interferse with the infusion effect.
Of course, if you have a genuine overheating problem, you will be grudgingly excused.
The suanameister is in charge and expects that bathers will follow the expected behavior.
These include not wearing swim attire into the saua, leaving your bath shoes outside, sitting fully on a towel and especially not talking.
Being singled out in the sauna room for breaking any of the rules is far more embarrassing than sitting in a hot room with 30 naked strangers.
A good Saunameister will be pleasant, calm and friendly.
They may tell a small joke to relax the bathers.
What happens next?
The Saunameister will usually perform three infusion sprinklings and use a towel to distribute the essence between each pouring.
There are special towel techniques: The first is the rapid “Spinning” where the towel is folded like a propeller and swung overhead in a circular motion.
Next comes the “fanning” in which the saunameister uses the full width of sauna towel to sweep the essence over each sauna guest.
At the end, chilled fruit pieces (Oranges or apple) are usually served or available immediately outside the cabin.
Salt scrub and honey infusion routine
Some aufguss sessions feature a salt application step as part of the ritual.
The purpose is simple - the salt is used as an exfoliant to make your skin smoother
Salt application in a sauna can look bewildering to those unfamiliar with the routine.
Other sauna visitors will notice that has just aufguss has begun
and when only a few minutes later
they see 30 naked people suddenly emerge
rub salt on each other’s skin
and then jump back into the cabin.
There is a reason for this.
Salt is corrosive, so any salt application must be done outside of the cabin between infusion poutings.
At the liquidrome in Berlin, coarse-grained mineral salt is used and the saunameister will ladle out a large handful for you and will tell you (in German) to avoid putting salt on your genitals, your face or near any open wounds.
That’s important information!
I found out the hard way just how valuable that knowledge is.
And that’s why I am telling you
The salt acts as a disinfectant and the skin is peeled by the rubbing.
When you return to the cabin after the scrub, the saunameister will do at least one more infusion allowing the salt to melt into your sweaty skin. Conifer oils are normally featured during a salt infusion.
A salt infusion should be among your first aufguss sessions in order to get the full health benefits from spending a day at the sauna.
At some facilities a special salt sauna room might also be featured. The most common sight is a low-temperature sauna cabin that has at least one wall made of Himelayen salt bricks. This salt room is designed to be therapeutic.
At some facilities a salt or coffee ground scrub is more common in the steam baths and hammams areas.
Coffee ground and chocolate infusions are popular in the Victorian-era steam room of the Neptuebad in Cologne
The corrosive scrubs are easily washed away afterward in a tiles room like this so there is no need to go outside and re-enter.
The honey infusion ceremony is similar to the salt infusion.
You can typically ask a saunameister for a pot of honey before any aufguss session but do save this honey infusion for your last sauna session of the day.
Like before, honey is applied outside the cabin usually after at least one infusion.
You cover the whole body with the honey until it becomes very fluid through the heat
It smells good and sinks into our skin when you go back in for the final infusion.
Citrus oils are normally used for the honey infusion ritual
Afterwards, you will want to rest in the cool down are for at least 15 minutes before showering.
Air dry if possible to leave your skin feeling silky smooth.
Birch ritual in a Banya
The Veick infusion ceremony features Russian traditions
At the Claudia Therme in Cologne you will see a special cabin called a Banya.
The Banya is a hybrid between the Finnish sauna and the Turkish bath.
It is cooler than the former and drier than the latter.
There is a lot more water used and people often massage themselves or others with branches and leaves from white birch, oak, or eucalyptus in order to improve the circulation.
The dried branches are moistened with very hot water before use.
Sometimes in summer, fresh branches are offered.
The principle is simple: the steam room has a stove with smoldering stones; water is poured onto them to produce hot, dense steam and temperatures will often exceed 90 degrees Celsius.
Once you have built up a good sweat, the hot and cold contrast becomes all-important.
Traditionally, people jumped in a nearby lake or rolled in the snow in winter.
At the Claudius you will find a cold plunge pool and ice buckets outside.
The authentic "birch ritual" is a particularly special experience at Claudius
This two-hour ritual takes place several times a week in small groups of 6 up to 12 persons.
They employ a specially trained 'banschiki' who will you through the ritual.
• The first sauna session traditionally begins with a swig of vodka
• The traditional venick massage is carried out in the second session
• The salt and honey peeling rituals take place in the third session
• Tea and treats are served in the breaks between sessions.
A guided tour of the best sauna houses in Europe