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Posts Tagged ‘Sauna’

01.03.11 – Dave’s up for adventure and one of the things on our list of things to do on his Finland visit was to “take” sauna and jump in the freezing water. We headed out to meet my English friend Dave (special shout out of thanks to English Dave for taking us to his sauna club) at the usual place, the Laiska Karhu bar (Lazy Bear).

We didn’t waste any time so we immediately headed out to the sauna club. The sun was just above the distant treeline as we made our way. It was another beautiful day in Helsinki. We passed the “swimming hole” on the way in, you can see it in the first picture above, so American Dave could get a glimpse of what was about to come.

The time was right to hit the sauna, it was around 1630, so there were only two other women in the sauna. Light conversation is always nice in the sauna so we told the women a little about our story, American Dave was visiting and this was his first real sauna experience. Finns love sharing about sauna and seeing someone from the outside enjoy it for the first time.

It wasn’t long before we had to head out to the water and American Dave handled it like a champ. No dilly dallying, just keep walking and climb down the ladder into the water. He did much better than me on my first time, no fowl language ;) We did the wash, rinse, repeat cycle, meaning we went from sauna to water and back to sauna, so you really get the full effect.

After about 30 minutes we were ready for the next, to head back to the Laiska Karhu for a post-sauna beer. The Finns have an expression, “beer never tastes better than after sauna.” Although the beer and conversation in the bar couldn’t have been better, the walk back to the bar was my favorite. The sun was now low on the horizon and the snow and ice was starting to turn shades of pink and blue. My favorite time of the day. There’s an almost euphoric feeling after sauna and the three of us were all “high on life” and stopping every once in a while to take in the beautiful evening. It couldn’t have been better!

Well, seeing I’m not a true Finn, I’m not sure if I’m “licensed” to do this but I’m planning on getting a Sauna Diploma for American Dave. In my eyes, he passed with flying colors.

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10.12.10 – I went “native” this evening by visiting a good friend Dave to throw some water on the hot stones (kiuas) and take an invigorating dip in the subzero Baltic. Just a typical Friday night in Finland. Yes, I did it, now where’s my badge?

Dave and I belong to a Finnish study group, a group of 3 or 4 friends from our Finnish class meet and try to decipher what we know about Suomen kieli (the Finnish language). We also try to share what we know about Finland. Dave has mentioned in the past he belongs to a sauna club located on the waterfront. I asked Dave this morning if we could choose a day when we could go and he responded “What are you doing tonight?”

Sauna is many things in Finland and it’s not something you can easily describe to outsiders, but one thing you should know, sauna is a substantial part of the Finnish culture. Wikipedia provides a great first glance to understanding Finnish Sauna so check it out. One thing you probably won’t be able to read about and is best to experience is the relaxing sensation which borders on euphoric. I’m lucky to be a sauna veteran but this would be the first time to take a dip in what I like to call, a Finnish swimming hole.

After a brisk walk which often had us trudging through knee-deep snow, we entered the men’s changing room and quickly changed into what my English friend calls a “bathing costume”, a bathing suit to us Yanks. Wearing clothes in a sauna is not typical but in this particular one it was customary. The sauna was typical in the sense that it has wood benches surrounding the kiuas, the special stove topped with heated rocks the size of large potatoes used to heat the sauna. We joined a couple other people and sat down to “settle in.” No one was speaking but every once in a while someone would throw some water on the stones to make löyly, the sauna steam. It’s a very calming and relaxing feeling and the sound of the löyly made me think something was telling me “sshhh”… quiet, and then the warm wave of the steam which makes you breath in slowly and deeply. Soon you really feel at peace.

The heat can become a bit too much, so we stepped out for the second step, a dip in the water. I was surprised how… I can’t say warm but I wasn’t cold either… it was to be walking around wet in nothing but a bathing costume when it was -5°C outside. We walked a short distance out to the water where a hole in the ice, slightly bigger then the sauna itself, was awaiting. My plan was to watch Dave go first and then I would try the plunge but in my head I was jumping from “Wow, it’s not that bad walking out here” to “Holy mackerel, there’s the subzero water I should jump into!” It was best not to think about it and luckily there were two ladders leading into the water so… in you go. Yes, it’s cold, very cold, but bearable. I was in up to my neck, I exclaimed loud enough for Dave to hear two words that don’t go together, Holy and a four letter word that begins with “F”, turned around and raced out. Dave’s been doing it awhile so he stayed in slightly longer but luckily it wasn’t long before we were back in the sauna with the kiuas wishing us “sshhh.”

We eventually went into the water two other times. It’s kind of a wash, rinse, repeat cycle. Heat up, cool off, heat up, cool off. The first time was definitely the hardest because you don’t know what to expect. I think the most amazing part was being outside but not yet in the water. It feels so good to be out, surrounded in snow in the dark of night, so exposed but at the same time so comfortable.

The other times in the sauna there was actually a bit of conversation going on so we were able to talk to some Finns, who love to share the sauna experience and are always interested to hear what foreigners think of it. They told us the most popular conversation in the sauna amongst Finns is the weather. Maybe it’s because they are so happy to be out of the cold ;) and in another world, warm in the sauna.

Dave and I decided to “throw in the towel” so we changed and headed out for another popular thing to do after sauna, enjoy a cold pint at a nearby pub.

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30.11.10 – Sure, even the salt water Baltic Sea is starting to freeze right now but that doesn’t seem to stop Finns from one of their favorite pastimes, sauna. Pastime probably isn’t the right word because sauna means so much more to the Finnish people. Before my first trip to Finland, over 15 years ago, whenever I asked a Finnish person in the states what’s the most important thing to see in Finland, they all answered the same, “Sauna.”

Sauna is best when you can step outside and take a dip in a some nice cool water, preferably in one of the many lakes that dot the countryside. The quick jolt from “almost too hot” to “almost too cold” can be unbelievable stimulating and put your mind and body in a state of nirvana. That’s why most Finns have a summerhouse outside of the city, usually located along the side of a small lake. Visiting the summerhouse is usually on the weekend and more often in the summer because the möki maybe located a couple of hours from the city center, so it’s better to plan when you can stay overnight or even longer. This doesn’t stop some city dwellers from taking sauna and having a nice dip!

Both private and public sauna’s are all over Helsinki and available to almost everyone, but there are a few “hardcore” Finns who prefer the “whole enchilada.” Even though all the water outdoors is sure to turn to ice, they still want a dip while taking sauna. Every once in a great while you’ll see some water next to a building with a ladder and a “bubbler” a couple of feet out. The “bubbler” keeps the water from freezing so the sauna goers can come out of the sauna and do a quick lap and then right back into the sauna.

I haven’t seen anyone going in lately, although I pass by a spot pretty regularly, so I’ll keep my eyes open. Sauna, even though it sometimes is out in the open, is a private matter so I won’t take any pictures or stare. I probably will be looking out of the corner of my eyes with my jaw wide open. I’ve seen it on tv before and thought, oh it’s just mind of matter, I could probably do that, but now that I’ve been walking around in the -15ºC weather, there’s no way I would even think of trying! I could barely take the pictures you see above because my hands were freezing.

I don’t know how they do it but I would imagine it must be extremely invigorating.

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09.08.10 – During times of change, like now, I usually have the most vivid dreams. The type where you wake up, eyes wide, not wanting it to end or feeling like you need to write things down so you never forget the feeling. I guess it’s because your mind is bubbling over with all sorts of thoughts and ideas that the conscious mind doesn’t seem to have time to process.

I had one of “those” dreams this morning. I won’t go into the details because it’s not important, well to me it is but not necessarily something to share publicly. What I would like to share is the feeling I had after the dream. I realized after this particular dream it doesn’t matter to me whether they are good or bad. I didn’t feel I was afraid of this bad dream but I could accept it for what it is.

I guess it helped me understand my state of mind better than when I’m awake. Being new to Finland and going through a major life change like relocating, I feel my brain is being bombarded by new ideas and experiences. So many it’s hard to keep up with. While I’m awake, it’s much easier to weed out the unpleasant and focus on the fun. My dreams are just trying to keep things in balance ;)

I saw a beautiful documentary last night, Miesten Vuoro (Steam of Life), about Finnish men and sauna. Finnish men are traditionally tough and quiet but in sauna, it’s a place for them to open and up and share with their friends or to contemplate to themselves, without the pressure of feeling judged. Some of the men were moved to tears when they told their stories and it seemed to me that the sauna experience for them was almost like visiting a holy church or somewhere they could give their confession. Sauna seemed like a place where they could hit their “reset” button and start over. It didn’t matter what they were experiencing, happy or sad, melancholy or goofy, it was all good, a place to sweat out what they can’t sweat out elsewhere.

I felt the same way about my dreams when I woke up, a place for me to process thoughts I can’t elsewhere.

What do you think?

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