The origin of the sauna is lost in the mists of time, but its history goes back over 1,000 years. The nomadic peoples of Finland had a primitive type of sauna around the first millennium that was made by building a fire inside a tent-like structure. When the heat had built up and the fire was out, 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 with a hole in the roof for the smoke to escape. The smoke sauna was commonly used until the 1920s, when it started to be replaced by the modern form of sauna. The smoke sauna, however, has enjoyed a recent revival in Finland. Many people consider it to be the finest type of sauna.
The modern introduced a new type of stove which allowed the rocks to be heated without being placed directly over the fire flames. This allowed the fire to 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 use separate wooden structures.
The worldwide popularity of saunas has spurred innovative new designs. One of the most unusual is the portable sauna; a folding sauna that can be used almost anywhere. The folding sauna is just big enough for 1 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 enjoying this sauna.
Another unusual design is the barrel sauna. This is a small cabin constructed using barrel-making techniques, which holds 6 to 8 people. Barrel saunas can be installed either inside or outside the home.
Infrared saunas have been used since the 1960s. The heating source here is an infrared heater. Unlike traditional heaters that heat the air in the sauna, infrared heaters heat objects and people, but not the air. Since infrared offers deeper tissue penetration, its proponents believe infrared saunas have superior health benefits.
Almost every type of sauna is made of wood. The walls, ceilings, 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 creates a dry heat–usually between 150 degrees and 200 degrees F. From time to time, water can be thrown on the rocks. 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.
Whatever the type or construction, you owe it to yourself to treat yourself to a sauna. It may just become your favorite mode of relaxation.