A number of years ago, well before Cherub, husband and I went to visit an old university friend. In Finland. In January.
We had a lovely time, and found the locals great fun although the majority of them did ask what on earth we were doing visiting in January. There was loads to see and do, and fascinating cultural differences to observe.
The one thing that lasted, for me, was a love of saunas.
I was introduced to the ‘proper’ way (in their opinion) to have a sauna. Now, this was a public sauna, in a swimming pool leisure complex, and the sauna itself was inside the single sex changing rooms. It was hard enough to overcome my Victorian prejudices to strip off with just women around, so I was very glad it wasn’t mixed sex as many of them apparently are.
Anyway, this is not about the nudity, it’s about the preparation. There are whole shops dedicated to sauna products in Helsinki, you can have hand carved olive wood ladles to splash water on the coals, oils to pour over yourself, birch branches to beat yourself with (I kid you not. It apparently stimulates the circulation, like body brushing.)
So, I showered first. Then dried my face, knees, elbows and heels; before slathering on thick moisturiser. And adding conditioner to my hair.
Then, into the sauna. Lie down, so your head doesn’t overheat before your body is all sweaty (Yes, heat rises. We all know that. And then wonder why we feel groggy in a sauna?!)
Wait until you start to feel too hot.
Then wait a bit more.
Until you are feeling a bit uncomfortable.
Until, no, you really REALLY are too hot and just have to get out of there. “Excuse me, excuse me….” Hurtle out of the sauna.
Now, this is the important bit.
Are you paying attention?
While you are still feeling overheated and panting from the heat, plunge yourself into cold water. Preferably through a hole in the ice, but there aren’t many of them in public swimming pools – even in Helsinki. So a plunge bucket pulled over you, a plunge pool, or a COLD shower will work.
And by cold, I mean really REALLY cold. Not a bit chilly, or a shower that is tepid of the sort you get while waiting for it to warm up. COLD.
But you have to get into it while your body is still feeling super-heated from the sauna. If you stand there waiting for the shower to cool down? You’ve lost it. It’ll feel cold and horrid, just like you imagine a cold shower would be.
BUT, if you get in while you are over-heated, then you can feel your core temperature drop and it feels AMAZING. Once it starts to actually FEEL cold, then you get out and head back into the sauna.
And those moisturisers and conditioners do their fab things to your skin and hair. (Just like the Romans, really.)
All this talk of saunas is to explain how much I really love, enjoy, appreciate and want to share the joy of saunas done ‘properly.’
A couple of weeks ago, my dear husband booked a surprise weekend away for us. I guess that was a New Thing – Cherub was with Grandparents for the weekend. On his own. And husband and I went off to a spa hotel.
Oooh. Happy me.
They had a sauna.
Even happier me.
They had a steam room.
Hang on a minute, this is my year of trying New Things….
Into the steam room I went. Smell of eucalyptus, tiled seats and walls, steam swirling as the door opened then closed. Breathe deep. Relax. Listen to gentle music.