A sauna is a small, enclosed, heated environment that can quickly increase your body temperature to about 104 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Harvard Health Publications. This heating allows your metabolic rate and pulse rate to increase, gives your blood vessels more flexibility and induces extreme sweating, according to Health Services at Columbia University. These changes in your body may generate feelings of inner peace, purity, rejuvenation and increased sensitivity, but exposure to extreme heat can also be dangerous. The best way to use a sauna is to be in tune with your body throughout the whole process.
A sauna is a little wooden cabin or a room in which you take a bath in dry steam. In this closed space, a wood-burning or electric stove heats sauna stones in a receptacle. Once the heat is built up in the stones (they are special ones as they don’t break down under extreme heat), water is poured over them to create steam. Unlike a Turkish bath or hammam, a sauna is dry, with between 3-20% humidity. This is why the temperature is much higher: 80 to 90°C on average.
Nudity is the norm, as all clothes and swimming costumes generate the evaporation of sweat and pose hygiene issues. However, a towel must be placed between the bench and skin to protect from the heat and absorb sweat. According to the rules of the art, a sauna session should last between an hour and a half and 2 hours (gulp!) in 2 or 3 phases. You must start with a shower, washing with soap from head to foot to eliminate germs and bacteria, warm up the body (especially the extremities) to prevent thermic shock when you enter the sauna, and clean the skin to aid perspiration.
Once you’re clean, go into the sauna for the first phase. Sit on your towel with your limbs, preferably all at the same level, and concentrate on relaxing. Your breathing will become deep, your heartbeat and blood circulation will accelerate, and your blood vessels will dilate. You should think about leaving the sauna when sweat starts dripping down your body. This first phase should not exceed 15 minutes. You need to shower again with tepid or cold water, dry yourself, then give yourself a few minutes to lie down.
You might then want to return for the same period of time. When you leave, shower, dry and rest and relax as before. If you feel able to go in again, have a third session. You must stop as soon as you feel tired. After this last session, rest for at least 20 minutes. Given the strong heat in a sauna, loss of water by perspiration can exceed 1 litre per hour, and body temperature can reach 40°C. To compensate for dehydration, it’s essential to drink plenty of water between sessions.
Not recommended for some
Saunas make your blood vessels dilate, so are not recommended under any circumstances for people who suffer from high blood pressure, heart problems or cardiovascular disease. If you have kidney problems or epilepsy, ask your doctor if you can go in the sauna. Saunas are a no-no for pregnant women, and for anyone under the influences of drugs, alcohol or medication. During a session at the sauna, it is essential to listen to your body and leave if you feel the least bit concerned, respect the rules of usage and don’t skip any steps.
TIPS FOR THE BEST SAUNA EXPERIENCE
Saunas deliver a myriad of health benefits that make them an excellent addition to a healthy lifestyle. Sitting in a hot environment has an aerobic effect on the body. As your heart rate increases and your metabolism rises, you’re able to burn more calories which aid in weight loss. As blood pumps faster through your veins, the blood vessels expand, which helps improve blood circulation.
Endorphins are responsible for giving you a feeling of satisfaction and calmness. Spending time in a sauna is a great way to relieve tension and stress. Not only are these benefits helpful during daylight hours, but they can also help you sleep better at night. These same endorphins also help reduce pain. If you’re suffering from achy muscles or sore joints, you may find relief after a sauna session.
Spending time in a sauna may leave you with a glowing complexion. This is because the high heat in a sauna causes the skin to shed dead cells, uncovering new and vibrant skin underneath. Regular sauna sessions can also provide other excellent skin benefits, such as rinsing away bacteria, improving skin texture, relaxing facial muscles, keeping skin soft, and creating an overall more youthful look.
Aromatherapy oil such as eucalyptus, pine, citrus, lavender or peppermint can add to your experience in the sauna. The benefits of using these oils vary. Eucalyptus is the favourite scent for its clean and natural aroma. Lavender is good for tension relief.
Add to the sauna sensory experience. Adding eucalyptus, citrus, peppermint, or birch stock sauna oils (1 part scent to 20 parts water for our Harvia blends) to your sprinkling water will make you feel worlds away. The essential oils each have different medicinal or disinfectant qualities. Birch is the traditional Finnish scent for the sauna, but pick your favourite and enjoy.
Enhance your sauna experience by incorporating aromatherapy oils into your session. There are many great scents available, such as pine, citrus, eucalyptus, and peppermint. Certain scents are also known to provide specific health benefits. For example, lavender is believed to provide tension relief.
Wear a bathing suit in a public sauna out of modesty, but at home, nude is the rule. The fabric of women’s bathing suits, in particular, is so insulating that you’ll feel uncomfortable very quickly in the heat of the sauna. Let every inch of skin-the body’s largest organ-reap the benefits of sweating unbound.
Many saunas have music and entertainment systems. Play something soothing or meditative. Many sauna owners meditate in the sauna and report that their best meditation is done while there. If you do meditate, be sure to time your session, so you don’t stay in too long.
Many saunas are equipped with sound systems that allow you to listen to tunes as you enjoy a relaxing session. Opt for music that is soothing or meditative to help de-stress the mind and ease the body. If you’re using a public sauna, consider bringing along your own personal music device and headphones.
Music can soothe our minds and bodies, further relaxing us. Combining your preferred music with your sauna time can help remove you even more from the stresses of commuting, your job, and everyday concerns. Make sure your audio system can withstand the heat and moisture, though. Our sauna audio system consists of an amplifier, audio jack, and speakers allowing you to plug in an iPhone, mp3 player or other devices while in your sauna.
USE 100% COTTON TOWELS
Have you found a towel in your Spa bag? Yes, let’s use it. Place it on the sauna bench and lie or sit down on it. Your body and feet must stay on the towel not to come into contact with the wood as your sweat may ruin it and make the wood surface less hygienic.
While it’s no secret, you’re going to sweat while in a sauna, you’ll be surprised at just how much sweat you secrete. Bring along several fluffy 100 per cent cotton towels to absorb sweat from your face and body. Sit on a towel and place one under your feet to catch moisture drips.
I cannot stress this enough. Layer several towels wherever you sit or lie down. You will want one towel to help wipe off and absorb perspiration as it accumulates on your body so that you sweat more. You will also want one towel placed under your feet to catch any perspiration that might otherwise fall to the sauna floor.
Invest in the best Turkish towels you can afford. 100% cotton towels with a full loft are the best for absorbing sweat and will feel best on your skin. A loofah is recommended to scrub off dry, dead skin.
Did you know that Nordic people wear a hat too? This way, they protect their head from the heat by lowering the overheating so that they can stay in up to 12-15 minutes. When you are sitting, the perceived heat increases 8-10 °C from feet to head.
A curious thing for women; the sauna hat sauna helps to protect your hair from the intense heat and leave it soft and moisturized.
A suggestion for you! If you have never entered a sauna or if you don’t like high temperatures, sit down on the lowest bench available. The heat will be less intense, and you will enjoy your sauna experience much more.
Whether exercising before or after, purposefully re-hydrating is a must. Help the sauna do its best work with a fully hydrated body for a great detox and heart health benefits. If you drink alcohol in moderate amounts in the sauna, we also recommend being sure to get some water into your system as well.
You must stay hydrated. No alcohol, please. Alcohol is not only dehydrating; it lowers blood pressure while the heat raises blood pressure. Even if you’re in peak condition, it’s not wise to drink alcohol in the sauna. Save that cold beer or glass of wine for after your sauna.
TAKE A WARM SHOWER BEFORE SAUNA EXPERIENCE
While not essential, showering before hopping into a sauna can optimize your experience. When you shower, your pores are open and free of debris which allows sweat and toxins to escape freely. You’ll also want to shower after using a sauna to remove any sweat, skin cells, and toxins that have come to the surface of your skin. A brief shower can also help cool down your skin and make you feel refreshed.
You need to wash your whole body – and face – with warm water and neutral soap to let the skin pores open, release impurities and to drain more toxins through the sweat.
Once dried and before entering the sauna, remember to take your slippers off.
Taking a warm shower will increase the effectiveness of your sauna experience by preparing your skin. A warm shower will open up your pores, wash away excess oil and lotions, and moisten your skin.
Your pores will then be clear, allowing for efficient perspiration and cleansing. Just don’t apply any lotions, oils or powders after showering, as this will re-clog pores and lead to the sauna experience being much less effective!
NO BODY OILS OR LOTIONS
Do not apply body oils or lotions before or during your Infrared Sauna session, as this will inhibit sweating and clog up pores. Also note: Even your facial cream is wasted if used before or during your sauna. As you drip sweat, your lotion will run, and it can get in your eyes. It is much better to wait until after you have cooled down and showered before applying your favourite body lotion.
AVOID CONSUMING A HEAVY MEAL BEFORE USING A SAUNA
One of the principal benefits of sauna use is improvement in blood circulation. This can be counteracted if you consume a heavy meal beforehand, due to the blood being primarily concentrated in the digestive system. When using saunas, you would want your blood to circulate as much as possible, being able to reach all parts of your body equally.
Saunas help increase the flow of nutrients such as amino acids, fatty acids, and glucose throughout the circulatory system. As the circulatory system goes into full gear to deliver the skin and muscles with essential nutrients, digestion gets put on the back burner. To ensure that your body does what it’s supposed to be doing, skip the heavy meal. If you need to eat, opt for a light snack.
Avoid the sauna after eating. Heavy food or a full meal and sauna bathing do not mix. If you’re hungry, a piece of fruit before a sauna will tide you over until you’ve finished bathing. After a sauna, you’re not likely to feel as hungry as you normally would. Eat something light after. Do this regularly and watch the pounds melt away.
If eating a heavy meal beforehand cannot be avoided, you should wait at least one hour before sauna-use. However, if you have the choice, choose a lighter meal that can be easily digested.
WHAT NOT TO BRING INTO THE SAUNA
Remove all metal jewellery (gold, silver etc.) before you sauna. Jewellery left on can heat up and may burn you. It’s happened. Experience being completely nude without rings, necklaces, earrings or bracelets.
Never wear jewellery while sitting in the sauna since the metal parts will heat and may burn your skin. Also, don’t bring your iPhone, BlackBerry, or even a book inside. The heat and high humidity may fry the electronics and wet the pages of the book.
Plus, smartphones are forbidden in infrared saunas because the light and heat make a mess with their hardware. Most saunas have an external sound system, and you can enjoy listening to music while sweating and relaxing. However, why wouldn’t you try to enjoy the silence for a change?
The use of skin lotions, creams, and oils is not recommended before using a sauna. These products can clog your pores and inhibit proper sweating. Wearing products on your face can also be irritating to the eyes as many skincare products will run if exposed to hot temperatures. Wait until after your sauna session to apply your favourite products after showering.
TAKE A COLD SHOWER AFTER YOUR SAUNA
In winter, roll in the snow like the Finns do in between sauna sessions. The sensation of cold after the heat of a sauna is fantastically stimulating. A cold shower will invigorate your skin, rinse off sweat and close your pores.
ENJOY WITH A FRIEND
A traditional Finnish sauna is a very social experience. Most of our saunas are built for more than one to reflect this tradition. Work out with a friend or a loved one then hit the sauna together for some talk, music, or just companionship. Combining your social life with your health routine brings significant benefits to your overall health.
START SLOW AND GRADUALLY INCREASE SAUNA USE
The effectiveness of a sauna kicks in after about fifteen minutes into a session. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to aim for fifteen minutes straight away!
Start off slowly, and gauge your body’s reactions and adjustment to the heat and steam. Begin with five minutes and then gradually increase with each session. This allows your body to adjust to the sudden temperature and environment change slowly. It is important that you are as comfortable as possible during your sauna sessions!
If the sauna has benches of varying heights and you are just starting out, opt for a lower bench. The lower benches have a cooler temperature than the rest of the sauna room. Once comfortable, then work your way up to the top for a more intense experience.
Start with taking a sauna a few times per week for three months. If you combine it with a good strength training workout, take your sauna after your training session. I prefer to take a sauna on my off-days from exercise. As you increase your duration, you might decrease your frequency.
Stick with it for three months, and you’ll see why the Finns and other Scandinavians love the sauna so much. Other than getting enough sleep, I don’t know of another activity that offers so many health benefits for sitting in place, not doing anything.
CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR
Always ask your doctor before your sauna if you have heart problems or any health condition for which heat is not advised.
TAKE TIME TO RELAX AFTER A SAUNA
Don’t plan to jump out and tackle a big project, go for a long run or do strenuous exercise. Take advantage of the feeling of complete relaxation. Return to your busy schedule slowly.
After a sauna bath, you should not be in a hurry to go anywhere. Even dressing can wait. Although you may have a heavenly feeling, you should keep your feet firmly on the ground. The Sauna Society, with its authoritative voice, therefore concludes its instructions to all bathers saying: Before and while in the sauna avoid anything alcoholic and overeating. A light snack and a refreshing drink are the perfect endings to an enjoyable sauna.
Enjoy the final quiet break and rest for at least the same amount of time as you have spent in the heat of the sauna cabin. First of all, wrap yourself up in dry towels or your bathrobe. This prevents catching a cold and allows you to experience the pleasant after-effect of the sauna.
In between each sauna round, a warm foot and a warm footbath is highly recommended for regulating your body temperature.
Very important: as pleasant and cosy a sauna can be, three rounds at the most in the cabin will be absolutely sufficient. Any more than this will not increase the effect of sauna bathing, and will only continue to place an unnecessary burden on your circulation.
Another form of heat therapy is the steam bath, and the same basic rules apply as for the sauna.
If you experience a headache, dizziness, or nausea while sitting inside the sauna, you will know that something is wrong. Take it seriously, and don’t hesitate to leave it right away. Basically, such high temperatures are not comfortable for everybody, especially for a more extended period.
Sweating as well as frequent hydrotherapy applications are excellent for deep cleansing the skin. This is about as clean as your skin can get. For this reason, it is not necessary to use shower gel after using a sauna or steam bath. Instead of this, pamper your skin with moisturizer.