Introduction to the Sauna
History and Use
The origins of the sauna have been lost in the mists of time (so to speak), but it is safe to say its history goes back at least 1000 years. We know that the nomadic peoples of Finland had a primitive type of sauna that was made by building a fire inside a tentlike structure. When the heat had built up and the fire had gone out, the people would enter the sauna to bathe. This was very similar to the American Indian sweat lodge.
This type of sauna evolved into a smoke sauna -- a small building with a stone fireplace inside. There was a small hole in the roof where the smoke could escape but the fire had to die down before the building could be entered. This type of sauna was commonly used up until the 1920s when it started to be replaced by modern saunas as we know them today. The smoke sauna, however, has enjoyed a recent revival in Finland. Many people consider them to be the finest type of sauna.
By the 1930s, a new type of sauna stove was introduced. This sauna stove allowed the rocks to be heated without being placed directly over the flames of the fire. This meant that the fire could burn while the sauna was being used. The earliest stoves of this type used wood as a fuel but later models used electricity.
Types of Saunas
Saunas can be built in many shapes and styles. They can be separate buildings or they can be installed in a house or apartment. Traditional saunas are wooden structures and are as beautiful as they are functional.
The worldwide popularity of saunas has spurred innovative new designs. One of the most unusual of these is the portable sauna -- folding saunas that can be used almost anywhere. They are just big enough for one person to sit in. There is a hole for your head and slits for your hands if you wish to read or talk on the phone while you are sitting in this sauna.
Another unusual design is the barrel sauna. This is a small cabin constructed using barrel making techniques and can hold six to eight people. Barrel saunas can be installed either inside or outside the house and can be heated with a wood or electric stove.
Infrared saunas have been used since the 1960s. The heating source in infrared saunas is an infrared heater. Unlike traditional heaters that heat the air of the sauna, infrared heaters heat objects and people but not the air. Infrared is a type of light and proponents of infrared saunas say that they have superior health benefits to traditional saunas.
Almost every type of sauna is made of wood. The walls, ceilings, and floors and benches are all made from a wood such as cedar or hemlock. The only non-wood materials are the stove and the rocks that are heated on the stove.
The sauna provides a dry heat -- usually between 70°C and 100°C. From time to time water can be thrown on the rocks on the stove. This creates a cloud of steam which has the effect of immediately raising the temperature.
The sauna can be heated with an electric or wood stove. Wood stoves are traditional in the countryside, but most urban saunas use an electric heater.
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