What comes to mind when you think of sauna? For most of us the word is associated with a complete relaxation for the body and mind, a blissful state of doing something for our own wellbeing. Most people don’t know neither the art nor the science behind sweating, but they intuitively know it feels good to them.
And it does and has been for thousands of years throughout the world and all cultures, from Indian, to Native Indian, Egyptian, Mayan, Turkish, Russian, English and even Eskimo*. Some say Indian sweat lodges go back tens of thousands of years, but historical records trace back to 2000 years ago and lead to the Nordic culture attributing the invention of saunas to the Finns.
“The sauna is Finland’s medication . . . and a poor person’s apothecary.”
Native American Indians sweat lodges, where a place where with the help of Medicine Men and Women, they could repair the damage done to their spirits, their minds and their bodies. And so, here at the Art of Sauna, we continue long held tradition developed thousands of years ago through intuition and confirmed by modern day science, of perspiring the toxins, the stressors, the tumors, the emotions in order to achieve wellbeing and balance.
“Although the baths were used largely for cleansing and pleasure, physicians did prescribe the various forms of available heat for hygiene and in illness.”
– Sidney Lich on Ancient Roman saunas**
Mikkel Aaland, a universally recognized authority on sweat bathing cultures around the world compares saunas to an artificial fever so if there are any viruses or bacteria that are sensitive to fluctuations in temperature they are expelled. Besides physiological benefits, Aaland describes other benefits of sweating together:
“You’re naked, you don’t have your uniform on. You don’t have your protectiveness around you anymore. You’re all the same as the person next to you. You can’t tell if that person’s a general or a businessman. You are all brought back to this basic human level and this is one of the reasons, I think, there’s a resurgence of popularity . . . You’re engaged in this activity together and we know that when humans do a common activity, they bond.”
– Mikkel Aaland in an interview hosted by Phil Cousineau of the New Dimensions Radio
While at Art of Sauna you get to wear a white cotton robe and have an option to buy a wool hat that prevents your head from overheating. No matter who you are outside of the sauna, inside of it, you are a human being wearing the same white robe and the same silly wool hat, seeking resolution from daily stressors and aches, a healing perhaps. You are the same as anyone else around you, differences dropped, all sense of race, color and religion, set aside, united by smiles in a worry free moment induced by stillness, heat and an overall good feel.
Saunas are not just a perfect antidote to our modern, stressful lifestyles but also sedentary lifestyles, which enable us to sweat through movement causing inflammation, aka internal stress.
Stress, whether physical, survival, emotional or existential has always been part of humanity. Utilizing as many destressing techniques as possible will allow not only to heal but to find answers we are looking for, provided we are completely turned off. The only way to find answers available to all of us is to disconnect from the outside world that is in constant, stressed out, fight or flight mode and stimulating parasympathetic nervous system, the one that indicates we are safe. According to Larry Wilson, M.D., one of the benefits of sauna therapy is that you are able to easily shift into parasympathetic dominance***.
In my hometown Chicago, I see how that transition from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance is often obstructed by unwillingness to disconnect from cell phones. Many poor quality gym saunas are filled with people wearing synthetic gym clothes including shoes, hooked up to ITunes, Youtube videos or browsing through FB files while sweating in the sauna. This is not the way we should be doing it. Try leving all worries and latest news behind the doors.