steam sauna picture

steam sauna picture

steam sauna picture

A session in a refreshing sauna works wonders for your body and mind. The use of sauna and other forms of traditional heat therapy have withstood the test of time and have gained immense popularity in recent years. To understand the benefits of a sauna, you need to first understand its evolution and history. Though evidence shows that saunas were used by the Finns about 2000 years ago, authentic records show us that the sauna has been in daily use in some regions for at least the last thousand years.

The oldest known saunas were mostly small pits dug into a soft area of earth and mainly used as shelter during harsh winters. Stones were heated up in a hearth and once they were hot, water was thrown over them to produce steam and extra heat. Increasing ambient temperature provoked people to take off their cloths to feel the sensation of steamer on their body. A Finnish word in origin, saunas were more considered as a winter dwelling. Later it was also used as a means to bathe. However, more advanced sauna structures came into being around the start of the 19th century in Finland. Up to this point saunas were always situated in a separate structure outside the home. More advanced sauna rooms had a roof supported by beams and logs, with a hinged door and a wall constructed of wooden logs. Some people still favor the traditional feel of ground built saunas and prefer them to other type of saunas.

The most standard type of sauna is a rectangular lumber hut that contains an open rock stove and raised platform. Originally known as “savusauna” (smoke sauna) by many Finns, these saunas contain many rocks in the stove, and when heated up produce intense quantities of smoke, which escapes through a vent in the ceiling or through the door. The smoke thus produced will blacken the room with soot and leaves a pleasing aroma in the sauna. Till the advent of more modern saunas, smoke saunas were the only known method in practice, and had many intrinsical disadvantages like excessive heating times, high maintenance requirements and the constant potential of catching fire.

In late 1800′s, another method of sauna was discovered where the stones were covered with a conical metal top attached to a chimney to get rid of the smoke produced. The sauna’s temperature was controlled by a small door, which could be either opened or closed for ventilation. By the turn of the century the chimney equipped stove sauna became very popular due to its many benefits and advantages. Almost every house in the countryside had a sauna reinforced inside, while many urban centers started constructing community saunas. By the late 1920′s almost all people became aware of the concept and thus there was a boom in sauna usage and construction right through to the years of the Second World War.

In the intervening period another type of sauna was discovered. This sauna had a chimney, but the fire was isolated from sauna stones that were held in a metal casing above the fire. Many cast iron elements were inserted between the stones and the fire to convey heat. The sauna session and the intensity of the fire regulated the temperature of the stones and the room. Users were made to wait for more than 30 minutes and the fire had to be attended continuously to maintain the production of heat and steam. Later, much more commodious gas and electric stoves came into use in most parts of Finland. These types of sauna heaters are still used in many of the sauna houses of Finland. Their origin has also curtailed the use of precious wood from the forest.

One of the basic principles of a traditional sauna utilizing a wood burning, gas or electric stove are the bursts of steam produced when throwing water on the sauna stones. As time continues to expand sauna technology with advancements such as the infrared sauna, there are some “traditionalists” that believe that the harsh, steamy environment of a traditional sauna is the very essence of sauna itself.

By Elise Finn

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