A Room Full of Dry Heat
If spirits tar and the sauna can avail nothing, then there is no cure.
--Old Finnish Saying
A writer named Constance Malleson, after a prolonged tour of Finland in the late 1930's, wrote, "The sauna…is an apotheosis of all experience; purgatory and paradise; earth and fire; fire and water; sin and forgiveness. It is lyrical ecstasy. It is resurrection from the dead. It is eternal new birth…You are healed, you are made new."
Sauna, a Finnish word which simply means "bath house," is a 2000 year-old practice that has rapidly warmed its way into the American experience since the 1950's. In Finland, a country with only five million people, there are an estimated 700,000 saunas, or one for every seven people! In addition to the Finns, various forms of the sweat bath has been used by the Greeks, Romans, Russians, Slavs, Turks, Africans, Germans, Eskimos, Irish, Mexicans, Mayans and North American Native Americans.
A few months ago, we purchased an infrared sauna and set it up on our deck. Since then, we can hardly keep the anticipatory smiles off our faces as the sun goes down and the evening brings cooler air. Taking a sauna was always a physically refreshing and mentally relaxing experience, but what I never looked forward to was the feeling of suffocation in the hot air of the sauna room. The technology of the infrared sauna has taken care of that concern. More about this later.
For many of the past 50 years, the only place most of us could find a sauna was in a health club or commercial spa. Although I had experienced steam rooms, the first sauna I experienced was in the early 1980's in the Volcano rain forest. The butt end of a small wood-burning stove stuck through the wall into the sauna room. We would stoke the fire from the outside and it got almost uncomfortably hot in the room.
The modern infrared sauna provides a thermostatically controlled dry heat between 160 and 200 degrees enjoyed in an insulated wooden room (usually cedar) with less than 30 percent humidity. Taking a sauna begins with sitting in the sauna room until the sweat begins to flow in steady drops. The next step is a cold shower, followed by a plunge into a cold water tub (or river) or a roll in the snow. This temperature contrast seals the pores so excreted toxins cannot be reabsorbed and enhances circulation. The hot/cold sequence may be repeated two or three times, or until you are so relaxed and "wet noodley" that you can hardly move. Although most newcomers to saunas are reluctant to take a cold plunge after getting so nice and toasty, after a few times, the hot/cold experience feels so good it almost becomes addictive.
Many health benefits are attributed to regular sauna baths. Perhaps the main benefit is skin and liver cleansing of toxic wastes through induced perspiration. A daily sweat can help reduce levels of toxic metals absorbed through environmental exposure like lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, as well as sodium and sulfuric acid. One study noted that regular saunas may help lower cholesterol.