The Sauna Session
Taking a sauna is a simple affair without many rules. It's simply a matter of getting in the sauna and enjoying the sensation.
That said, there are a few established procedures that are wise to follow - especially in a public sauna. Respecting your fellow bathers is always important, and there are basic things you must observe to get the most out of your sauna experience.
If you are using a public sauna you must abide by their regulations. Some prohibit the use of bathing suits while others require them. If bathing suits are not allowed and you don't feel comfortable being nude, you can wrap a towel around yourself. In any case, you should bring a towel into the sauna to sit on.
You can't control the temperature of a public sauna, but if you are using a private sauna and are not used to the experience, you should start with a lower heat to see how it feels. Some sauna aficionados will heat the sauna up to 100 degrees Celsius, but for the first couple of times you could set it around 70 or 80. That's still plenty hot!
Take a shower before entering the sauna but don't use soap or shampoo. The perfumes used in soap will evaporate in the sauna and will be unpleasant for other bathers.
On entering the sauna you can sit on the upper or lower benches. The upper benches are hotter, so you may wish to move from upper to lower if you find it too hot. After a short time (5 or 10 minutes) pour some water on the rocks to create a cloud of steam. This has the effect of raising the temperature and will cause you to sweat even more.
Don't stay too long in the sauna especially if you are new to it. 10 or 15 minutes is good for one session - you can go back for more. After each session take a cold shower or quick swim and relax for a while before going back in.
Relaxation is central to sauna taking. Saunas can clear your mind, refresh the body, and leave you feeling rejuvenated. With this in mind, don't use the sauna to talk about business or controversial subjects. It's a place to get away from the world so keep conversation light and friendly.
In Finland many people use leafy branches from birch trees to gently beat the skin. This produces a tingling sensation and is quite invigorating. Your local swimming pool isn't likely to have a supply of birch branches in the sauna but if you can take a sauna in the countryside you can try this old tradition.
Another Finnish tradition is rolling in the snow after a sauna. Those crazy Finns! (you might think) but this also can be very revitalizing after a sauna session. Whether you take a shower, a swim, or a roll in the snow the effect is the same - quickly cooling off after the hot sauna to feel refreshed and relaxed.
The cycle of sauna and cooling off can be repeated as many times as you like. Most sauna sessions last about 30 minutes to 1 hour with about 2 or 3 cycles of heating up and cooling off, but if you have the time and the inclination you can continue it for hours.
Saunas are a time-proven method of bathing and are safe for just about everybody. The general rule, though, is that if you feel uncomfortable at any time, leave the sauna right away. Taking a sauna is not a contest, and there can be dangers if you stay in too long.
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