Friday, March 20, 2009

Americans and the real Finnish Sauna

The warning sign above is not a joke. In many places in the United States there is no clear understanding how the Finnish Sauna works. The only way to get the room hot is to pour water on the heater's rocks. Isn't that what the lady is doing below?

I experienced the preconception personally when I used to frequent the Marlboro tennis club in Massachusetts. And the irony was that heater in club's sauna went bust, although it was built to stand the water pouring. I heard people saying that it was because of a crazy foreigner. He just could not read the sign.

Anyway the heating room was constructed totally wrong. The heater was installed too high: My head got the heat and toes were freezing. Secondly the real purpose of sauna escaped the other club members. They thought it was a reading room and place to dry sweaty sporting clothing. Somewhat disgusting, or what?

Can a Finn survive abroad without a sauna? Not for an extended period of time. When I was constructing a sauna to the end of my garage in Acton, Mass. my neighbor stopped by asking what was going on. When told he he winked saying: "Yeah, fun and games...".

Oh well, you cannot win it all!

This just in, October 13, 2009: 

 Tim Kopra has been denied the pleasures of a Finnish sauna bath

Tim Kopra in the space shuttle

When Astronaut Tim Kopra, born from Finnish ancestry, participated the recent space shuttle flight, there has been an initiative in Finland on foot donating a real Finnish sauna to him.

According to Finnish Broadcasting company (YLE), NASA has now informed Finpro, the Finnish Export association, that according to NASA rules, the astronauts cannot accept such a large-scale donations .

Tim Kopra, is a NASA civil servant, even though he is an astronaut. USA has strict rules. According to NASA,  such a large-scale donation as a sauna to an astronaut would have been considered as a bribe, said Director Antti-Jussi Heilala (Finpro) to YLE.

The idea began when the President of Finland, Ms.Tarja Halonen phoned the space shuttle, and asked Kopra if he is longing for a Finnish sauna. Tim said that he thinking in the future constructing a sauna in his house.

Update, December 9, 2009: 

Here is another reason why the sauna has got a bad reputation in North America:


K. Martin said...

The sauna and the first sauna heaters were invented in Finland over 2000 years ago, when the Finns discovered the many health benefits of saunas. It was so much a part of their culture that Finnish emigrants took the sauna tradition with them wherever they went in the world, introducing it to other countries and cultures. Since that time it has become extremely popular all over the globe, while remaining an integral part of life in Finland itself.

The sauna experience is revered and honored in Finland, to the point that it is viewed as a spiritual, almost sacred practice. It provides a number of health benefits, including:

• Relief of muscle soreness

• Clearing of respiratory system

• Easing of discomfort from arthritis

• Cleansing of body toxins

• Improved circulation

• Relaxation and stress relief

So how does a sauna generate the heat and moisture necessary to make it such an enjoyable experience? Let’s take a look.

The First Sauna Heaters

The key to any sauna is the heater, which has evolved tremendously since the first saunas were built into embankments in the ground. Written records dating back to 1112 describe the first saunas as using stones for heaters, with the stones first being heated using a wood fire in a stone stove. This method continued to be used as the Fins progressed to above-ground saunas built with large logs.

The wood fire method of heating a sauna was a slow, smoky process. It took up to 12 hours to bring the room up to the proper temperature and smoke from the wood fire remained in the sauna itself, turning the inside black with soot. The smoke was eventually vented through a small air hole located in one of the walls so that bathers could at last enter the sauna and begin soaking up the benefits.

Improvements to the Sauna Heater

read more

kcp said...

Ha! I didn't even know that the sauna was a Finnish invention - Learn something new everyday :)

Harri Rautiainen said...

There is still debate about the origins of the sauna. It is also known in various parts of Russia.

The Turkish sauna is a steam bath, and as such a different concept than the Finnish one.

thanks for your interest, kcp