With approximately one sauna for every three people in the country, sauna bathing has become a national pastime in Finland. The practice began thousands of years ago as a method of bodily cleansing and relaxation, and most Finns still take a weekly sauna bath. As masters of the technique, the Finnish Sauna Society and heat therapy enthusiasts provide detailed recommendations on how to get the most out of your sauna experience.
Drink 8 to 16 ounces of water before going inside the sauna room, holistic physician Lawrence Wilson recommends in "Sauna Therapy." During the sauna bath, the body produces a therapeutic sweat that eliminates heavy metals and toxic chemicals, Wilson says. Sauna enthusiasts say that the body can lose about a pint of water during a 20-minute sauna session.
Heat the sauna to a temperature between 176 and 194 degrees Fahrenheit. While the sauna warms, take a shower with soap to remove dust and perfume from your body, the Finnish Sauna Society says.
Enter the sauna room wearing a towel and take a towel to sit on. Drink water inside the sauna to stay hydrated. Take water to pour onto the sauna rocks. The humidity inside a traditional dry sauna reaches about 10 percent. Wetting the rocks will create steam that temporarily makes the room more humid and raises the temperature.
Leave the sauna after 20 minutes. Cool off by taking a shower or by sitting in room temperature. Allow at least 15 minutes to cool down. Avoid extreme temperature changes when showering and cooling the body, the Finnish Sauna Society says.
Enter the sauna for a second 20-minute session. After the second round, cool down and take another soap shower. Dry off with a towel or by sitting in room temperature. You also can lie down with your eyes closed, or you may want to drink water to replenish your fluid levels and have a salty snack, the Finnish Sauna Society says. Allow enough time for your body to cool before getting dressed.
Use a sauna the first thing in the morning or the last thing at night, says holistic physician Lawrence Wilson in "Sauna Therapy." The sauna treatment will be more effective at those times because you are likely to feel most relaxed. The more one relaxes, Wilson says, the more you will sweat. Wilson also suggests using a sauna twice weekly. Begin with a maximum of one session daily for no more than 30 minutes, he says. If you are recovering from illness, begin with one sauna session a week and work up to daily use, Wilson says.
Don't drink alcohol while inside the sauna, says the Finnish Sauna Society. Don't heat the sauna to temperatures greater than 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave the sauna immediately if you feel faint, stop sweating or if your heart starts to race, Wilson says. People with heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma or skin disease should keep the temperature under 194 degrees Fahrenheit and avoid rapid changes from hot to cold and vice versa, the Finnish Sauna Society says. Pregnant women can safely go to the sauna under the same conditions, but should lower the temperature to 158 degrees Fahrenheit, they say. Wilson says pregnant women should avoid saunas.