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A Brief History

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PRONOUNCING IT:  The Anglicizing the word “sauna” has evolved into the incorrect pronunciation of “saw-na”. True sauna enthusiasts are taking increasing care in the using the correct Finnish pronunciation of “sow-na” (as in cow), as it has been accepted elsewhere in the world.

The Romans. 2000 years ago, they considered the heat bath as an enjoyable experience and of the sociability of roman life. It was a place to unwind, a time to enjoy and a rite to be shared among friends. The air was dry and hot enough so the could stay in the heat for 30 minutes at a session.

The Russian Bath. Still found in Europe, the Russian uses a combination of hot air and steam piped from a special boiler. The atmosphere is quite humid as large quantities of water are used. However, if the body absorbs too much heat during these sessions, it can perspire continuously long after the bath is finished.

The idea of using heat or moisture as a thermal bath in a specially built room is an idea that has been practiced by many civilizations for 2000 years. Heat bathing has been used by the Greeks, Romans, Turks Mayans, Japanese and even some of the North American Indians in various forms of dry or steam baths.

The Greeks realized the value of the heat when Hypocrates (460 – 377 B.C.) said. “Give me the power to create a fever and I shall cure every illness”. Our modern way of life has again reached the point of accepting that heat and relaxation are necessary and that the Finish sauna is an excellent answer for relaxation through the use of heat, and for enjoying the best of a “Finnish lifestyle”.

The North American Indians. Several of the Indian tribes used separate hut or a covered sweat pit build partly into the ground. Large stones were heated in a fire and taken inside the hut where water was regularly sprinkled on the hot rocks. It was an important ritual and a certain reverence was attained in the darkness of the hut. A session in the heat was usually followed by a dip in a cold creek and a rest in the fresh air. The Indians also considered their bath essential for curing colds or easing arthritis.

The Japanese. While the Japanese bath is taken in hot water and not in hot air, it is important to recognize their concept. The hot water soak bath, used by the Japanese daily, is the Oriental “martini” – for part of the soaking, soaping and scrubbing is the mental regeneration that occurs when heat, fun, relaxation and adequate time are all mixed together.

The Finish “Sauna”. While the Romans were still occupied with their architecture of their “thermae”, the hardy Finns were sitting in crude log and earth dugouts soaking up the sauna heat. Live was hard in Scandinavia and the winters were long. From plentiful woods, the sauna evolved as a way to cleanliness and renewed strength as everyone, young and old, were able to focus on the sauna for periodic escape from the hardships of life.

Men and women of all ages bathed together in the sauna. Being the cleanest place available, it was used for childbirth as well as a place for dying. It was a convenient kiln for drying meat or farm produce

In pre -Christian Finland, the sauna was a holy place. Fire was a gift from the gods and the sauna was the answer to heal all ills. An old Finnish saying goes, “if the sauna can’t cure it as a last resort, nothing can!”

Swearing, loud noises and vulgar behavior were never accepted in the sauna nor is it tolerated in any church.

Even the Finnish word for the steam that is released when water is thrown onto the rocks is “loeyly”, which originally meant “spirit”. If it rose from the heat in a birth of fire and water and mystically disappeared ghost-like into the air, it must be a spirit. For only a gift from above could do so much good, physically and mentally.