Exploring Helsinki’s Unifying And Healing Sauna Culture

An immersive experience of the sauna as a timeless tradition of tranquility and togetherness. 

This is an excerpt from Lifestyle Asia’s December 2023/January 2024 Issue.

The prospect of a successful visit to the Nordic countries often hinges on the vagaries of weather. It’s akin to chasing the perfect scene in a movie, trying to catch the golden moment when the sun and the elements align to craft an unforgettable experience. Even when you plan your trip well, you are never assured that you’ll get what you came for. The summer can be too cold, or spring might be a bit too wet for your liking. But sometimes, you do get lucky. 

Swimming in the cold sea after the sauna

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A GLORIOUS NORDIC SUMMER 

During a trip to Finland in June, however, the locals greeted our group of journalists with an abundance of smiles and cheerful temperament: “You’ve chosen the best time to be here!” Some even jestingly suggested that we may have brought the sunshine along with us to Helsinki. As the country is renowned for its long, cold winters, I was quite chuffed that the trip coincided with the Nordic summer in all its glory. 

Lonna Sauna is set against the lush backdrop of Lonna Island’s flora

The Finnish capital came alive, transforming into a paradise under the summer sun. Seagulls reigned the skies, gliding above the picturesque docks as tourists flocked to the shores and marinas, eager to embark on adventurous journeys to the nearby islands. While I took in this atmosphere, something else beckoned—a treasured Finnish tradition embraced the world over—the iconic sauna. 

To sit within its confines, allowing the comforting warmth to usher away the day’s strains, is a practice deeply cherished. While the appeal intensifies during the wintertime, the merits of a summertime sauna are not to be overlooked. Imagine stepping out of it, a glistening sheen of sweat on your skin, and plunging into the chilly embrace of the sea—a rush of exhilaration, a renewal of the spirit. 

But there exists a hurdle, a cultural divide that raises eyebrows, particularly those from conservative backgrounds, from venturing into this time-honored Finnish tradition. The stumbling block? Nudity. 

Lonna Island

The practice normally requires participants to shed all inhibition, to embrace complete nudity, and often, saunas in Finland are mixed-gender, setting the stage for shared relaxation in the company of the opposite sex. For many of us, the concept is foreign–almost taboo. Our cultural norms dictate modesty, and exposing oneself to non-intimate acquaintances can be unsettling. But in Finland, it’s a wholly different world–a place where strangers, friends, and families, regardless of age, come together in the sauna. The concept of shared nudity is as natural as the summer’s breeze. After all, it’s just bodies.

Lonna Sauna

THE SOCIAL HEARTH 

Rooted in history and deeply ingrained in Finnish culture, the sauna is more than a simple room; it’s an emblem of tranquility, togetherness, and purity. 

Lonna Sauna interior

The Finnish sauna’s journey through history is one intertwined with myths, legends, and communal customs. While its concept might be pervasive to some today, its origins trace back over a thousand years. As early as the eighth century, the ancestors of the Finns had already unearthed the healing potential of hot stones and steam within the confines of these wooden cabins. 

Lonna Sauna’s terrace is great for relaxation

As archeological evidence suggests, these early saunas were integral to daily life, serving as places for cleansing, healing, and even child birth. The sauna was the sanctuary where Finns sought refuge from the harsh realities of life, not just for their bodies, but for their spirits as well. 

The bond between Finns and their saunas was so profound that almost every home or apartment complex has one.

Read more by purchasing a copy of the Lifestyle Asia December 2023/January 2024 magazine via SariSari.shopping or select newsstands in National Bookstore and Fully Booked. Subscribe to the E-Magazine via Readly, Magzter, and Press Reader.

Photos courtesy of Helsinki Partners and Carol RH Malasig.

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