Discovering the Origins of Sauna: A Fascinating Journey Through History

For centuries, people around the world have enjoyed the benefits of sauna. Whether it’s a Finnish sauna, Turkish hammam or Russian banya, each culture has its own version of the therapeutic practice that involves sitting in a room heated to high temperatures.

But where did this practice originate? Who were the pioneers who discovered the benefits of using heat to promote health and relaxation?

In this article, we will take you on a journey through history to explore the fascinating origins of sauna. From ancient cultures to modern-day wellness practices, we will uncover the cultural, social and health-related reasons why sauna has become a beloved tradition for so many people around the world.

So sit back, relax and get ready to embark on a journey through time to discover the origins of sauna.

The First Saunas: Ancient Times to the Middle Ages

The history of saunas dates back to ancient times, where they were used as a means of cleansing by various cultures such as the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. These early saunas were often heated by burning herbs or hot stones, and individuals would sit inside to sweat out toxins and purify their bodies. The concept of the sauna also spread to East Asia, where the use of a heated room for health and relaxation was developed into what we now know as the onsen or sento in Japan, and the jjimjilbang in Korea.

As the sauna evolved throughout history, it became more prevalent in northern Europe, particularly in Scandinavia. In these colder climates, the sauna was used as a way to warm up and escape the harsh winters. The Finnish people are known for their love of saunas and have been credited with developing the modern Finnish sauna, which typically uses a wood burning stove and rocks to heat the room.

During the Middle Ages, the church began to view saunas as a threat to religious values and deemed them immoral. As a result, the use of saunas was discouraged and only practiced by those who opposed the church’s teachings. Despite the church’s disapproval, the sauna persisted and eventually gained popularity again in the 19th and 20th centuries, becoming a beloved tradition and cultural ritual in many countries around the world.

  • Fun Fact: In Finland, there are roughly two million saunas for a population of 5.5 million people, making it the most sauna-loving country in the world.

The Sauna Renaissance: A Revival in Northern Europe

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in sauna culture in Northern Europe. Countries like Finland, Sweden, and Norway have been leading the way in this renewed appreciation for this ancient tradition.

One reason for this popularity is the health benefits associated with regular sauna use. Studies have shown that saunas can reduce stress, improve cardiovascular health, and even help with skin conditions. As people become more health-conscious, the sauna has become a natural choice for those looking to improve their overall wellbeing.

Another factor driving the sauna renaissance is a rediscovery of cultural heritage. For centuries, saunas were an integral part of everyday life for people in Northern Europe. But as modernization swept across the region, this tradition began to fade. Now, people are returning to their roots and embracing the sauna as a symbol of their cultural identity.

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But the sauna renaissance is not just a nostalgic trend. It is also a reflection of changing attitudes towards wellness and self-care. As people seek to disconnect from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with their bodies and minds, the sauna offers a perfect escape. It is a place to slow down, unwind, and recharge – a sanctuary in an increasingly fast-paced world.

The sauna renaissance shows no signs of slowing down. As more and more people discover the restorative power of this ancient tradition, it is sure to continue to play a significant role in Northern European culture for years to come.

Sauna Culture around the World: From Nordic Countries to Japan

Sauna culture is widely popular around the world, with different countries putting their unique spin on this therapeutic practice. Let’s take a journey through some of the most notable traditions.

Nordic Countries

When most people think of sauna, they think of Nordic countries such as Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Sauna is deeply ingrained in their culture, and it’s common for families to have a private sauna in their home. In Finland, there are more saunas than cars!

It’s customary to sauna in the nude, as it’s seen as a way to cleanse the body and purify the soul. In Nordic cultures, the sauna is not just a place to sweat, it’s a place to relax and socialize with friends and family. It’s common to take breaks in between sauna sessions to cool off and grab a beer.


Russia is another country with a strong sauna culture. The Russian banya is similar to a Finnish sauna, but with more focus on steam and relaxation. In a banya, bathers will typically be flogged with birch twigs, which is said to improve circulation and detoxify the body.


In Japan, the sauna is known as a sentō or onsen and is typically part of a larger bathhouse complex. Japanese saunas are usually heated with electric or gas-fired stoves and can often be found outdoors, with stunning views of nature. Japanese saunas are usually clothing-optional, but swimsuits are sometimes required depending on the establishment.

Regardless of the country or cultural tradition, the sauna is a place to unwind and rejuvenate. Each unique approach to sauna culture offers its own benefits to the mind and body.

The Health Benefits of Sauna: Evidence Based Research

Sauna has been used for centuries for its various health benefits. New research has begun to uncover some of the scientific reasons why sauna is so beneficial for our bodies.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

  • Sauna has been shown to improve circulation and lower blood pressure.
  • Regular sauna use has been linked with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.

Pain Relief

Mental Health

  • Regular sauna use has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • The heat and relaxation of sauna can also help with stress management.

Disease Prevention

  • Sauna use has been linked with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
  • Regular sauna use can also improve immune system function and help prevent illness.

Overall, research supports the many health benefits of sauna use. However, as with any health regimen, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine if sauna is right for you.

Sauna Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts


  • Shower before entering the sauna to keep it clean and hygienic.
  • Wear a towel or swimsuit to sit on and avoid contact with bare skin on the benches.
  • Respect others’ privacy and personal space in the sauna.
  • Stay quiet and avoid loud conversations or disruptive behavior.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Respect the sauna’s temperature and avoid staying in for too long.
  • Refrain from using scented lotions, perfumes, or oils that might disturb others.
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  • Enter the sauna if you are sick or contagious.
  • Bring food or drinks inside the sauna.
  • Use a mobile phone, tablet, or other electronic devices in the sauna.
  • Use the sauna as a place to socialize or network.
  • Engage in inappropriate behavior, such as sexual activity or harassment.
  • Stay in the sauna for too long, which can cause dizziness, dehydration, or health problems.
  • Critique or comment on others’ appearance or behavior in the sauna.

Building the Perfect Sauna: From Planning to Execution

Building a sauna is a project that requires careful planning and execution. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Determine the location: Consider the size of the space you have available and the proximity to the electrical and plumbing systems.
  • Choose the type of sauna: Do you want a traditional wood-burning sauna or an electric sauna? Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
  • Select the materials: Wood is the preferred material for a sauna. Cedar and spruce are the most commonly used woods. Choose materials that are heat-resistant and moisture-resistant.
  • Design the interior: Plan the layout for the benches, backrests, and lighting. Consider adding features such as a changing room or a relaxation area.
  • Installation: Make sure that the electrical and plumbing systems are installed correctly. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing the heater and ventilation system.
  • Maintain the sauna: Regular maintenance is essential to keep your sauna in good condition. Clean the sauna regularly and check the wood and electrical systems for any signs of wear and tear.
Summary of Key Considerations for Building a Sauna
Step Description
Determine the location Consider the size of the space and proximity to electrical and plumbing systems.
Choose the type of sauna Decide between a wood-burning or electric sauna.
Select the materials Choose heat-resistant and moisture-resistant materials.
Design the interior Plan the layout for benches, backrests, and lighting.
Installation Install the electrical and plumbing systems, heater, and ventilation system according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Maintain the sauna Regularly clean the sauna and check for signs of wear and tear.

Sauna Accessories: From Essential to Luxury

Sauna bathing has been a part of many cultures for thousands of years. It’s not just about sitting in a room full of steam and sweating; it’s a holistic experience that involves preparing the body and enhancing the atmosphere. A variety of accessories can be used to make the sauna experience more enjoyable and beneficial.

Essential Accessories:

  • Towels – essential for sitting on and wiping away sweat
  • Bucket – used for water to pour on the hot rocks
  • Ladle – used to pour the water onto the rocks
  • Birch branches – used for whisking the skin to improve blood circulation and exfoliation
  • Thermometer – essential to monitor the temperature and avoid overheating

Comfort Accessories:

  • Headrest – provides comfort for the neck and head
  • Backrest – provides comfort for the back
  • Aromatherapy oils – adds a pleasant fragrance and enhances the benefits of the sauna
  • Sauna pillow – provides extra comfort and relaxation
  • Bathrobe – essential for after the sauna

Luxury Accessories:

  • Finnish sauna hats – made of wool, protect the head from overheating and improve blood circulation
  • Lighting – enhances the atmosphere and promotes relaxation
  • Chromotherapy – using colored lights to promote healing and relaxation
  • Entertainment – TV or music systems for added relaxation
  • Drink holders – for holding beverages during the sauna

The right accessories can enhance the comfort, relaxation, and overall benefits of the sauna experience. So, whether you’re a sauna enthusiast or a first-timer, make sure to incorporate some of these accessories into your next sauna session.

Traditional vs. Infrared Sauna: Which One is Right for You?

What are Traditional and Infrared Saunas?

Traditional saunas have been around for thousands of years and use heated rocks to create heat in the air, which then heats up the people and objects in the sauna. Typically, traditional saunas are made of wood and have a heater that produces steam or dry heat.

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On the other hand, infrared saunas use infrared heaters to emit light that is absorbed by the body to heat it up directly. They are usually made of materials like ceramic or carbon and are often used in smaller spaces that require less maintenance than traditional saunas.

What are the Benefits of Each?

Traditional Saunas:

  • Helps to improve cardiovascular health and circulation
  • Provides stress relief and relaxation
  • Helps to detoxify the body

Infrared Saunas:

  • Assists with weight loss and burning calories
  • May help with pain relief and joint stiffness
  • Can be more efficient and cost-effective than traditional saunas

Which One is Right for You?

The decision between traditional and infrared saunas ultimately comes down to personal preference and health goals. Traditional saunas provide a more classic spa experience with benefits like stress relief and detoxification. Infrared saunas are a more modern option that may help with weight loss and pain relief. Consider the benefits and choose the option that aligns with your needs and preferences.

Integrating Sauna into Your Lifestyle: Tips and Tricks

When it comes to sauna, it’s not just a matter of stepping into a hot room and sweating it out. Integrating sauna into your lifestyle can offer numerous benefits, from promoting relaxation and reducing stress to improving cardiovascular health and boosting the immune system. Here are a few tips and tricks for making sauna a regular part of your routine:

  • Start slowly: If you’re new to sauna, start with short sessions of no more than 10-15 minutes at a time.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water before and after your sauna sessions. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can dehydrate you.
  • Cool down properly: After your sauna session, cool down gradually by stepping into a cool shower or dipping into a pool or lake. Avoid rapidly cooling down with ice water or cold showers.
  • Experiment with essential oils: Adding a few drops of essential oil to the hot sauna rocks can enhance relaxation and promote respiratory health. Try lavender, eucalyptus, or peppermint.
  • Make it a social activity: Sauna can be even more enjoyable when shared with friends or family. Consider hosting a sauna party or joining a local sauna club.

Remember, sauna is not just a luxury, it can be a valuable tool for improving your health and well-being. By integrating sauna into your lifestyle, you can experience the benefits for years to come!

Sauna and Sustainability: Eco-Friendly Options

The traditional sauna experience involves high temperatures, water, and wood burning. While there is something alluring and primal about this ancient method, it can also be wasteful and harmful to the environment. Fortunately, there are several eco-friendly sauna options that promote sustainability and conservation.

Electric Saunas

Electric saunas are an environmentally friendly alternative to wood-burning. Rather than relying on burning wood to generate heat, these saunas utilize electricity to power the heating elements. This method not only reduces carbon emissions but also reduces the potential for fires associated with wood-burning sauna stoves.

Infrared Saunas

Infrared saunas use infrared panels to generate heat, which is absorbed directly by the body. This type of sauna is significantly more efficient than traditional saunas, using less energy to heat a smaller space. Additionally, because infrared saunas do not require water, they eliminate the need for plumbing and water waste.

Sauna Insulation

Proper insulation in a sauna can help to reduce energy waste and heat loss. By insulating the walls and ceiling, the sauna can retain heat more efficiently, reducing the amount of time and energy required to heat the space. This, in turn, reduces the amount of energy required to maintain the heat during the sauna session.

Benefits of Eco-Friendly Sauna Options
Reduced carbon emissions: Electric and infrared saunas produce far fewer carbon emissions than traditional wood-burning saunas.
Energy efficiency: Eco-friendly saunas require less energy to heat and maintain the space, resulting in lower energy costs and reduced environmental impact.
No water waste: Infrared saunas do not require water, eliminating the need for plumbing and reducing water waste.

Ultimately, choosing an eco-friendly sauna can not only benefit the environment but also offer a more efficient and enjoyable sauna experience. By exploring these sustainable options, we can continue to enjoy the sauna tradition while also working towards a more sustainable future.

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Sauna Journal

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