With approximately one sauna for every three people in the country, sauna bathing has become a national pastime in Finland. The practise began thousands of years ago as a method of bodily cleansing and relaxation, and most Finns still take a weekly sauna bath. As masters of the technique, the Finnish Sauna Society and heat therapy enthusiasts provide detailed recommendations on how to get the most out of your sauna experience.
Do enough of these tips the right way, enough times, and you’ll gradually improve the results you’re getting from your sauna routine. Do you know how long you should stay in a sauna or how often you should use a sauna? Following these sauna tips is essential to enjoying the maximum health benefits provided by your sauna.
Shower Before and After Using Your Sauna
Some sauna enthusiasts find that showering before stepping into a sauna makes them sweat more rapidly and heavily, giving them an extra refreshing, restorative experience. Showering also helps stimulate blood flow through the body while removing dirt, lotions, and other residues that clog pores, allowing you to perspire freely.
Although not necessary, some users find showering prior to using their sauna results in a faster and heavier sweat and a more invigorating experience. It can also begin the stimulation of your body’s circulation.
This shower will also remove dirt, dry skin, lotion or any other residue which could hinder proper sweating. As well, you could also dry brush your skin. This brushing will increase circulation and has additional benefits. It is not necessary, but it does add some benefit, and many think it feels great.
Many people also shower immediately after a sauna session because it leaves them feeling clean, invigorated, and energized. After the last sauna session, don’t wash your body with shower gel. Instead, just rinse off as your body is already perfectly clean and rejuvenated from the sauna.
Sauna Bathing Au Natural
Ideally, wearing no clothing in saunas optimizes the health benefits of sauna bathing. Clothing interferes with the ability of infrared heat to penetrate your skin and body. If you suffer from fibromyalgia, arthritis or other pain condition, reducing inflammation as fully as possible requires painful areas to be exposed directly to infrared light waves.
For traditional sauna users, clothes can hamper sweat evaporation. The body produces sweat to keep the body cool, and if the sweat doesn’t evaporate, it hasn’t been successful in cooling. You want to keep the loop going: heat, sweat, evaporate, repeat. Maximizing your skin exposure in the sauna provides your body with the opportunity to sweat freely for maximum benefit.
Ideally, no clothing at all allows the best experience, especially in an infrared sauna. This is possible if it is in your home. The infrared is hindered by clothing, so if any area is injured or needs special attention, it needs to have direct contact with the infrared light waves.
If you are wearing clothing, wear as little as possible of loose-fitting, breathable clothing. Cotton shorts and the top would be the better choice. Although rolling up the sleeves, legs and waist to expose as much skin to the infrared as possible are what is needed.
How Long Should You Stay in a Sauna?
How long it feels comfortable to stay in a sauna differs, depending on your tolerance of heat, your age, and certain health factors. Typically, sauna users remain in the sauna for 10-15 minutes before taking a break to cool off and then entering the sauna again. Some people enjoy a quick dip in cool water followed by a brief cool-down period before re-entering the sauna and repeating the process. Three rounds of sauna bathing and cooling off are typical, but you should increase or reduce the number of cycles depending on what feels good to you.
Beginners should start with 10-15 minute sessions. Slowly build up to 25-30 minutes. But I also listen to your body. If you begin to feel weak, tired or too hot, open the door or simply step out of the cabin. When beginning you should definitely try not to overdo any session.
Many beginners that have been more sedentary may also notice they may not begin to sweat until being in the cabin for 20-30 minutes. This can be normal. Your body will learn to begin sweating sooner as your progress.
Infrared saunas are best experienced at lower temperatures of 110-125 degrees F. This may seem cool for you if you have been used to the traditional steam variety where temps can reach 180-200 degrees Fahrenheit. But in fact, you will receive more benefits when the temps are kept lower.
According to an article published by Mercola, staying in the sauna until you feel tired increases norepinephrine levels, critical for focus and attention, by up to 3-fold, while also raising prolactin levels, which are involved in the process of myelination, required for the proper functioning of the nervous system, by up to 10-fold. In addition, hyperthermic conditioning, which means acclimating yourself to heat, independent of aerobic physical activity, through sauna use, works to boost your endurance, as it induces adaptations in your body to elevated temperatures.
As for how often you should use a sauna, studies have shown increased benefits with more frequent use. While 1-2 days per week saw some improvement, 3-4+ days per week resulted in maximum benefits.
Exfoliate and Boost Circulation
While you’re in the sauna, there are a couple of different ways you can boost the circulation to the skin and maximize the benefits you feel. When you sit in the sauna, brush, lightly scratch, or tap the skin on your arms, legs, belly, and back. This will stimulate your pores to open more while you’re in the sauna and boost the circulation at the surface of your body.
Saunas are extremely beneficial since they help you get rid of the toxins present in the body through sweat. But when you sit in a sauna, brush yourself lightly, especially on your belly, legs, back and arms. Doing this will stimulate your pores so that more pores open while boosting the blood circulation in your body. A bath brush works great, or even a sauna whisk (which is a traditional method using a bundle of small branches, usually Birch or Oak that you lightly slap your back arms and legs with while in the sauna). Whatever method you chose, these methods will help you to rid your body of toxins while you sweat.
Some sauna users enjoy adding a “vasta” or “vihta” (the name varies by region) to their sauna routine. The term refers to a bundle of fresh birch twigs used to whip yourself gently. As odd as that sounds, you’ll notice the smoothness of your skin afterwards.
Fibre for Mobilized Toxin Removal, Detoxification Of Chemicals And Heavy Metals
Once the toxins are released and mobilized in the body, those that are not secreted in the sweat are released into the digestive system. Without proper fibre in the intestines, a portion of these toxins will be reabsorbed back into the body, being again deposited into fat cells.
While eating a heavy meal prior to entering the sauna is not recommended, having fibre in the form of a smoothie, green powder, fruits or vegetables more than an hour before or after your time in the sauna use can be beneficial in aiding the removal of these toxins.
The skin is a major detox organ, and sweating through the skin is a critical human detox function, yet most people don’t sweat regularly or enough. Think detoxing is a woo-woo, airy-fairy, pushing-giant-shopping-carts-full-of-kale-through-Whole-Foods myth? Think again. You may want to read this.
As you’ll see if you read that article above, the body is very effective at eliminating toxins via the skin (and the liver, and the poo), but the skin side of things only really works if you make your body sweat. But many of us sit in air-conditioned indoor environments all day, and even gyms with temperature control can be a tough place to work up a serious sweat. So in these type of situations, you completely miss out on a major source of toxin elimination: the skin.
To combat these effects, a sauna can purify the body from the inside out, eliminating compounds such as PCB’s, metals and toxins that are stored in fat cells, which can undergo lipolysis and release toxins upon exposure to infrared-based heat. Yep, you read that right: you are going to battle against and kill little screaming fat cells to death when you sweat in a sauna.
Stay Hydrated to Maximize Health Benefits
Don’t drink alcohol before or after a sauna session for the same reason you should drink 2-4 cool glasses of water after sauna use: hydration. You’ll be sweating profusely during sauna use, so you want to make sure you’re replacing the water you lost. The average person will lose about a pint of sweat during a brief sauna. However, it evaporates so quickly in the dry air that a person may not realize how much he is perspiring.
A proper protocol for detox starts with something that is obvious. Hydrate. Drink a glass of water before beginning the sauna session. The higher the temperature will be, the more water should be consumed before, during and after the heat therapy.
You should drink a full 16-20 ounce glass of water prior to your session. You could also drink a non-sugary sports drink or better yet coconut water. Coconut water has the added advantage of being loaded with electrolytes and all the nutrients needed for your body to assimilate the fluid completely and quickly.
Avoid sugary drinks, sodas, coffee or fruit juices with added sugar. Your body will want to sweat out toxic matter from itself and will need a lot of fluid to perform this task well.
How important is this? The Holistic Healing Centre, located just outside Sydney Australia, has a good brochure describing how to use their saunas best. And the largest section has to do with hydration:
Some sauna users enjoy drinking tomato juice after a sauna session, which helps replace the potassium lost through sweat.
After the Sauna
After your session, take a warm shower to wash off the toxins that are now on the outside of your skin. Many find that a cool shower rinse after a warm shower invigorates them and their skin. So enjoy a good shower followed by a cool rinse. This will also close up the pores.
When showering, avoid chemical-laden soaps and heavy lotions. Your pores are open wide immediately after a sauna, and you want to avoid clogging them.
Plan a little time to relax as a session can often leave you feeling a little drained for a few minutes.
Some users find the session will relax them, preparing them for a good nights sleep and they enjoy the sauna in the evening. Others are invigorated by the session and like to enjoy the renewed energy hours before bed. You will learn quickly what time of day you enjoy the best.
Hydrate again. Have another 8-16 ounce glass of water to replenish what has been lost during your heat therapy.
Instead of sitting upright in your sauna, stretch out your legs and arms to enjoy the full benefits of sauna therapy. If it is possible, lie down, because then the whole body is affected by the same temperature equally. This also helps increase the range of motion/flexibility and can help expedite the reduction of pain and stiffness.
In order to maximize the health benefits of sauna bathing, make sure you have the right sauna to address all your health needs. Contact a Finnleo dealer to learn more about the different types of sauna and to find the right one for you.
Use a sauna the first thing in the morning or the last thing at night says holistic physician Lawrence Wilson in “Sauna Therapy.” The sauna treatment will be more effective at those times because you are likely to feel most relaxed. The more one relaxes, Wilson says, the more you will sweat. Wilson also suggests using a sauna twice weekly. Begin with a maximum of one session daily for no more than 30 minutes, he says. If you are recovering from illness, begin with one sauna session a week and work up to daily use, Wilson says.
Don’t drink alcohol while inside the sauna, says the Finnish Sauna Society. Don’t heat the sauna to temperatures greater than 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave the sauna immediately if you feel faint, stop sweating or if your heart starts to race, Wilson says. People with heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma or skin disease should keep the temperature under 194 degrees Fahrenheit and avoid rapid changes from hot to cold and vice versa, the Finnish Sauna Society says. Pregnant women can safely go to the sauna under the same conditions, but should lower the temperature to 158 degrees Fahrenheit, they say. Wilson says pregnant women should avoid saunas.
What you can expect to happen in the sauna
Don’t expect to sweat right away when you enter the sauna. For someone who has learned how to take a sauna, taken many and sweats easily, it can take a few minutes or more to start sweating noticeably.
As you use the sauna more regularly, you’ll notice that you sweat more profusely. At some point, if you persist, you’ll likely become a champion sweater, like I did! You should see the sweat drip off me! I can soak a towel! The more you sweat, the more you have to drink to make up for the loss.
Some people don’t sweat in the sauna initially
But, if you’re new to the sauna, you might find you don’t sweat at all the first few times or even the first several times! That may sound strange, but some people have suppressed sweating mechanisms due to past pesticide exposure or other toxic exposures.
If that’s the case for you, take things slowly, realizing that you won’t be able to tolerate the sauna as long or get the same sauna benefits from it without sweating. As you keep at it, the problem should correct itself, and your ability to sweat will return.
Also, remember that you have to be well hydrated to get a good sweat going. If you’re not sweating as well as usual in the sauna, try drinking some more water.
My mother didn’t sweat at all from her right knee down during the first 14 days of our sweat detoxification program. She had had surgery on that ankle, followed by leg swelling up to the knee and her lymph system and sweating ability in that leg was affected. Two weeks into the program, we cheered when we saw she was sweating normally from that leg again.
Although historical evidence provides solid ground for us to believe the benefits of saunas in the Americas, their origin is mainly attributed to Europe, particularly in the Nordic region. The Finnish sauna culture is well-established and recognized all over the world.
Wherever it might have originated, sauna culture has spread all over the world in modern times. If you are new to the sauna or steam room, start with a short exposure and gradually increase the time you spend inside the rooms. And remember to check with your physician if you have any health concerns or if you experience dizziness or other symptoms. This is because of the recognition of health benefits offered by a sauna session, by therapists and common people, alike.
Ultimately, sauna bathing is best thought of as an optional addition to a healthy lifestyle. It’s something you should look at adding to your routine if and when you enjoy doing it. Just don’t do it while you’re drinking.