People have often asked me what a proper sauna experience is. How hot should the steam room be? How humid? How many steam sessions should you have? Twenty-nine years of engaging in sauna rituals are yet to show me the one and only way to have a sauna.
Just the level of humidity varies massively in different types of sauna. In a Finnish-Estonian sauna, the hot stones are in the steam room and thus the room is dry (if moderately heated). Humidity persists for only seconds, depending on whether and how much water was thrown on the hot stones. In comparison, a Russian sauna is very humid since the stones that generate heat are hidden inside the chimney and the vapour comes entirely through an opening behind a trapdoor on the side of the chimney. And to get your body hot, lots of water need to be splashed on the stones through the chimney opening. However, the Turkish sauna is the most humid of them all where sauna goers basically are sat in a hot room saturated with vapour. At the same time, temperatures at the Turkish sauna are significantly lower than those in Finnish-Estonian saunas. It is quite natural since 75–100 degrees of heat in a dry sauna – considered by many to be the best kind of sauna – would in a Turkish sauna be comparable to hovering over a boiling tea kettle, risking to get burned instead of enjoyment. When measuring heat in a sauna, it should be taken into account that commercially available sauna thermometers serve mostly a decorative purpose and are not particularly precise. The results of measurement are also very much dependent on the height of the thermometer location..
Nevertheless, based on physiological aspects some tips can be shared to help everyone find out which sauna procedures would suit them best. If there were a golden rule about sauna, it would be: in order for a sauna experience to be one of enjoyment and beneficial to health, you should proceed from and observe your well-being. This is the only reliable yardstick to dispense a “dose” to get steamed, slap the skin with birch twigs or bathe (to cool yourself after steaming in a shower, water or snow). Even if someone were to want, for whatever reason, to test their limits of tolerance, they should proceed moderately and with respect to their body. If you stick to this rule, you are guaranteed a pleasant and healthy sauna experience.
Human geographer by education. Married, father of four children. Devoted to sauna thanks to some happy flukes, road and sauna fellows as well as some great sauna enthusiasts.