Trip Start May 09, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

My First Sauna:

It was actually my first day in Finland. I was drug from the city to Lake Saimma by the AIESECers to a summer retreat... I was taken to an island that had electricity and a working TV, but no flushing toilettes; only buckets under outhouses and no hot running water... hot water equals: collecting water from the lake and pouring it into a large vat that heats it till it's boiling. Then to get it down to the desired temperature you take water from the vat and mix it with more cold water from the lake.

So the sauna:
The sauna is a very sacred time for the Finns, it is used as a time of cleansing and total relaxation. There are no distractions, just a time to sit and let the heat absorb you. The sauna can also a place of bonding and gossiping, and it has been said that it is a common place for many large business deals to take place as well.

In Finnish tradition it is common to sauna in the nude, so when you go to the sauna you usually go in a group of women or a group of men. It is perfectly exceptional to go in your bathing suit or a towel if you feel more comfortable, and some saunas are coed, but for the most part they are separated.

When one enters the sauna you should be totally clean, usually this requires a shower of some sort. In a traditional sauna this is where the buckets of water come into play. Before you enter the sauna there is usually a small wooden room with a drain in the middle of the floor. There are benches to sit on, of course buckets of water, and a large ladle. After you get your bucket of water to the right temperature you scoop the water out using the large ladle and pour the water over the top of your head. You then soap up and repeat the process to rinse off. My first experience with a 'Finnish Shower' I did not use a ladle... I had a huge bucket of water dumped over my head by a couple of Finnish girls, proud to be giving me a proper bath!

The traditional wood sauna consists of all wood walls, ceiling, and floor, and is heated by a wood burning stove. On the stove sits a pile of piping hot rocks. Water is thrown on the rocks to create a steam and give the sauna a hotter feeling. As the water sizzles on the rocks and the steam rises your face starts to swell and your body begins to sweat. Inside the sauna it can reach temperatures of 80-90C (176-194F) and sometimes, even hotter. The sauna walls are lined with tiered benches, and of course as heat is known to rise the higher the bench the hotter the sauna experience.

There is no set time to how long you stay in the sauna. But once you hit boiling point you take a break and step out of the sauna until you are ready to go back in... If there is water near by, frozen over or not it is common to go for a nice little swim. There is reason behind it: it is a sort of shock theapy that helps your circulation. The heat of the sauna opens up all your capalaries as blood flows quickly around your body, and the instant cold makes them squeeze really tight pushing the toxins out of your system...
My first experience with with sauna we all ran down the dock from the sauna and pluncged into the lake. You could barely feel the cold at first, but the chill of the water awakens your whole body and invigorates your skin!

After our quick swim in the lake we heaed back to the sauna..rinse repeat!
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