while kindering with spirits from the World Sauna Forum 2022
When visiting a country with more saunas than cars, 2.6 million saunas at last count, it is easy to experience multiple different saunas. You can throw a stick and hit a sauna in Finland. Pre Covid, I predicted and now we are seeing people coming from all over the world to Visit Finland, and experience authentic sauna for themselves.
If you dig sauna, and WE dig sauna, well I encourage you to start saving some coin and make a sauna trip happen for yourself. Here in Finland, we are surrounded by like minded enthusiasts in the world’s happiest country, 4 years running.
For Finns, sauna is ever present everywhere: Warm Love. For sauna aficionados visiting from other countries, traveling Finland brings another level of calm, as we are surrounded by millions of others who understand, live, and breathe the open secret of Sauna.
In Finland, sauna is simply sauna
There is no adjective or defining prefix needed. There is no “authentic”, “traditional”, “dry”, “wet”, “Nordic”, etc. In Finland, sauna is simply sauna. And for the record, any website, reseller or builder of sauna should never have to use such prefixes to categorize their line extensions. If someone is selling sauna, they are selling sauna. If they are selling steam rooms, they are selling steam rooms. If they are selling infrared, yep, you got it. They are selling infrared rooms. Infrared is NOT a sauna.
In Finland, as we settle onto the bench, we are familiar and free with fast friends who think much like we do. Where back home we constantly need to defend and define our love for sauna, authentic sauna (there I said it!), here, we can be like Finns. Sauna is sauna. A noun and a verb. A place and an action.
We don’t have to include the word “authentic” in front of the word sauna. For every sauna in Finland is an authentic Finnish sauna. Infrared therapy rooms have their place, but every Finn, all 5.5 million Finlanders understand that infrared is not a sauna. Nobody in Finland associates Infrared therapy with sauna (nor do they associate the health benefits of sauna to any other therapy beyond sauna).*
The concept of a sign above a sauna heater prohibiting water being thrown on the rocks absolutely, positively, categorically would never appear in Finland. All sauna stoves and heaters are built to hold rocks, and take water on the rocks. Löyly is as essential to the sauna experience as it is a spiritual connection to oneself, the soul of sauna, and the closest thing that Finns have to a unified religion.
Where my 2019 Finland trip brought me to 50 different saunas in 12 days, this trip is laid out with a bit more sanity, and with the sanctity of some sauna in the private domain.
Day 1 arrival Thursday – Private tent sauna
If there is a better way to ward off jet lag than sauna, we’d like to know about it. Beyond some thoughtful artistic treatments, Helsinki airport feels much like any other airport. Yet as we follow the clearly defined signs, the train icon and arrow clearly directing the most road warn traveler, we float our way effortlessly to the commuter line platform, and onto the train to city center. Yes, we are navigating ourselves through a country where “everything works.”
I have been given the keys to my Finnish friend’s apartment within a centuries old triplex along the Baltic shores on Kulosaari, a well to do island of stately mansions and embassies, where retired NHL hockey players and CEO’s call Helsinki their homes. Here friends have stoked the tent sauna (1) for my arrival.
The heat is very familiar. The fire box is packed full of birch and the sauna is climbing up to serving temperature. It’s sauna time, and time for a cold beer, pushing away jet lag and welcoming in relaxation with a couple of Finns.
Day 2 Friday – Löyly spa, Helsinki
Löyly, Helsinki. Their traditional smoke sauna (2) and a wood-burning sauna (3). I enjoyed an afternoon session with Anssi, the lead ambassador for the Finnish camp at Burning Man. We have several rounds together. On the bench, we untangle the wires about sauna activation at Burning Man where hundreds at a time line up for a good sauna round, through the night. Thinking about the revelers at Burning Man, all dusted and sanded up, If there’s a better way to get clean than sauna, we’d like to know about it.
Anssi and I discuss the shipping container sauna. This appears to be the best way for us to transport, activate, and cycle in and out as many folks on the bench as possible.
Day 3 Saturday – sauna hell and back
Petri’s mobile sauna (4) located on Mustikkamaan kalliot Island within Helsinki.
This is, by far, the most intense sauna session I have ever experienced.
I am invited to this special sauna by my friend Petri. Petri’s sauna claim to fame is as semi-final loser(?) to the Russian who died on the sauna bench in the finals, next to Sauna Timo at the 2010 World Sauna Championships. Any Finn will tell you that the only reason why the Russian outlasted Petri or Sauna Timo was the antiseptic ointment he had lathered all over his body, a cheat to mask the pain. The event is no longer, but I dare any US barrel sauna biohacker to hang with any of these guys. Good luck!
Sauna with Petri and his pals is an endurance contest
We “endured” multiple rounds with multiple themes to mask the löyly intensity. The hot room is about 95-100°c., but that’s not the issue. The issue for endurance is löyly, and a shit ton of it, administered by a löyly master who takes great pleasure in administering the pain.
Round 1: we all draw cards to define our spot on the bench. It’s well known amongst sauna pros that the hottest spot in a sauna isn’t next to the stove, but at the opposite corner. I pick an Ace, which means i’m across from the heater. What a break. We all file in, like a death march. The löylymaster enters last, yells something in Finnish and blasts the first round of water on the rocks, a good liter or two. 30 seconds later, two liters.
Round 2 is a special surprise: the löylymaster brings in a bucket full of packed snow. Where he got it in June is anybody’s guess, but we all settle on the bench and he yells some kind of announcement and tips over the bucket onto the sauna rocks. The steam starts in, pleasant enough. I can take this, I say to myself. One of the crazies next to me whispers “löyly from snow is especially sharp.” Thanks for that, man.
How to best describe the löyly with these sadomasochists? Let’s try a million needles all over every inch of your body. The needles pierce my back first, then move over to my knees. I try to copy the sitting posture of the 9 other masochists. And there are rules to this. Elbows can’t bend more than 45 degrees. You can’t use your arms as shields over your body. You simply have to sit until you can’t take it anymore. The first to leave the hot room is marked as 10, then 9, then 8… and down it goes, until the last one stumbles out, red as lobster, and makes their way into the cold Baltic Sea for sizzling relief.
For the record, I was 10 out of 10 every round. I think. The rest of the rounds were a blur.
It’s been said that the best part of repeatedly banging your head against a wall is how good it feels when you stop.
I get that now.
Day 4 Sunday – Kussijärvi smoke saunas
Met up with the Finnmark posse and JP, at Kussijärvi park. Very popular with locals. Hiking, swimming and multiple smoke saunas by the shores of the small, deep, cold lake. I was able to enjoy two different smoke saunas (5) (6), and one electric sauna (7) to close down our session, adjacent to the showers.
Day 5 Monday – Kauppi, Tampere
Kaupinojan Sauna (8), “Kauppi”, is very much arguably could be the best public sauna in Tampere. Large, wood fired stove, stoked religiously and regularly by the single staff member greeting guests behind the glass. With room for 30 bathers comfortably, upon entering the hot room, the sauna bather can choose left or right, and settle themselves along two sets of symmetric benches, with three different levels of seating. The hot bench is very hot. Depending upon mood and tolerance, the sauna bather can easily regulate their own heat and waves of löyly by choosing where they are most comfortable.
This is one of my favorite public saunas in Finland. The cement floor is hot as hell on bare feet. I tough it out, yet sandals are free to use by asking the attendant. The steps down to the cold plunge into Lake Porrassalmi is the closest that the Finns may have to a religious procession. Everybody does it. And everybody chooses where to settle themselves after their swim on the patio. The view across the lake is miles and miles. Some sit alone, quietly. Others casually absorbed in friendly conversation. As with most public saunas, there is simple gas grill on sight, free to use. Many grill up their own makkara sausages for a salty replenishment between or after their sauna rounds.
Later that evening, checking into the Lapland Hotels, Tampere Finland Arena, I’m giddy with joy to find a sauna in my hotel room (9). Is there a better way to acclimate to your hotel room, than a couple rounds before bed?
Day 6 Tuesday – World Sauna Forum
World Sauna Forum. Lapland Hotels, Tampere Finland Arena, Rooftop. Men’s . Rooftop men’s sauna (10) and co ed sauna (11). Heaven can be described in infinite ways by infinite numbers of people. But for fellow sauna enthusiasts, after the daylong World Sauna Forum conference floors below, it’s as if we have climbed to the rooftop of sauna heaven. When it comes to sauna, Lapland hotels does not mess around. Most of the hotel rooms have a private sauna in them. The rooftop has an outdoor bar, patio, and multiple saunas for guests. It was June, and the evening did not want to turn into night.
Day 7 Wednesday – Finnish Sauna Village
An impromptu stop over at the Finnish Sauna Village. In crazy sauna coincidence, while driving from Tampere to Jyväskylä, mother nature was calling (after morning coffee) and I turned down a side road, as if the car was driving me back to the smoke sauna village.
A spiritual place, where volunteers have relocated rural farm and cottage smoke saunas to this one place. Let’s hear from a couple volunteers, reluctant to be on camera, and with limited English:
Highlight: a visit with Dr. Jari Laukkanen at his hospital, Sairaala Nova, Jyväskylä, Finland. A few gracious minutes to talk Sauna Research between surgeries. The person responsible for more sauna sales than anyone in the world is not a sauna salesman, but a cardiologist.
Day 8 Thursday
“Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” This is what is in store for Sompasauna, Helsinki’s free sauna available to all, 24/7. Three hot rooms and one piano. 100% volunteer maintained and operated. A great afternoon and locale to record this Sauna Talk episode with Yana.
Sompasauna #1 (12) – a 20 person hot room, heated by Iki.
Sompasauna middle sauna (13) – the hottest of the three saunas. Be on watch for the Asian staff member who will barge in, pack the heater with pallet wood and mercilessly pour copious amounts of water on the rocks, creating burning hot löyly that will force just about everybody out of the hot room, racing for the steps to the Baltic and cold water immersion. I stared her down, and she stared me down, but I beat back everybody else, and welcomed a new crop of sauna bathers to the bench. She is a wicked woman with good intentions (don’t boggart that bench).
Sompasauna #3 (14) – smaller hot room, elevated bench, Estonian heater encapsulated with rock. I stuffed the firebox with pallet wood and felt that the door may fall off. Hashtag: thin metal.
Day 9 Friday
Leaving Finland with a heavy heart, and lump in my throat. Back home, while reflecting upon my third trip to Finland in three years while getting rid of airplane juice, in my backyard, South Minneapolis, MN USA. I was ruminating on how significant really good sauna heat is. Sauna universality. The heat in my backyard sauna is on par with the best heat in Finland. This gives me great comfort. Great heat and great sauna allows us to experience lots of sauna when we travel. The energy of sauna transfers. “When you feel good heat, it’s all over.”™
Are you ready for your own Finland Sauna Tour?
*Exception: Harvia’s CEO.
Editor’s Note: I’d like to thank Carita, Vilma and all the warm folks from Sauna From Finland for inviting me to Finland for this year’s World Sauna Forum. Next up, I’ll be sharing more about this recent event in Tampere, Finland, The sauna Capital of the world!