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  • 18 February, 2014

    Talking Sauna with a European

    A couple weeks ago, I was carpooling to a concert with a friend and choir-mate, and as we were discussing health and fitness, we naturally moved to discussing sauna and steam. She is from Germany and moved to the United States 15 years ago, so she has had time to experience the sauna cultures of her native Germany and throughout Europe, and she has also enjoyed sauna in the United States. The sauna conversation began when she mentioned she and her husband had joined a well-respected and established athletic club known for its racquet sports, pools, and wet area.

    What She Found In America

    Commercial Sauna with Narrow Benches What surprised her about the sauna in the club was the sauna was not built for long term comfort, as the bench was too narrow and most of the patrons did not use a towel while using the sauna, and the facilities she had used always restricted water use. I explained that the manufacturer of the sauna who installed that package focused on maximizing seating capacity, as many Americans were accustomed to sitting in the sauna and "fitting” the sauna into their schedule, so lying in a sauna was usually reserved for home saunas, though more commercial saunas are pushing for a more relaxing experience with nicer upgrades like valance lighting, bench skirts, and wider benches. As for water use, I explained that we recommend water be used, but some clubs still are concerned with people abusing water, as they have not been educated on how much to use and when to use it.

    What She Was Used To

    European Sauna

    To my friend, Karin, a sauna was meant to be an experience in itself, and it may take the better part of the afternoon; it was not crammed in 10-15 minutes between the end of the workout and the shower on the way to work. Once a week, she would arrive at the spa, change into a robe, take a towel, and would go sauna. To protect the wood and to promote cleanliness, the towel was to be laid out on the bench and the bather would lie down. After 10-15 minutes, she would move from the top bench to the lower and sit for a couple minutes to prepare to leave the room. Upon exiting, she would rinse, drink room temperature water, perhaps flavored with mint or lemon, and cool down. 10-20 minutes later, she would re-enter the sauna and repeat her process of top bench to low bench and exit. In the 2nd cool down, she would rinse and enjoy a massage to help relieve tension. After the massage, she would sip more water, eat some healthy snacks, and when ready, she would enter the sauna for a third inning. In the 3rd inning, she may spend most of her time on the lower bench, and at the end, she would take a longer shower to finish her cleansing, then she would sit in the lounge in her robe and drink water and eat more healthy food until she was ready to leave. By the time her session ended two to three hours may have passed.

    In America, I think we would do well to find time to sauna like the Europeans. Yes, the 15 minute sauna has its place, especially if the choice is 15 minutes or nothing, and a 2-3 hour sauna experience may not be welcome at your health club, but it is something you can enjoy with sauna in your home. Whether enjoyed by yourself, with your family, or with friends, the health and social benefits that come from this extended self-care range from better protection against colds, improved skin health, more time to be open and honest with loved ones, and an overall improvement in mental and physical health through relaxation and the release of stress.

    Whether your schedule allows for 15 minutes of sauna after your workout or if you want to try to start a weekly sauna tradition of a sauna evening, contact your local Helo dealer to learn which sauna is best for your needs.