Building up a sweat in the sauna can be daunting for beginners.
In fact, some people are intimidated by the intense heat, the dimly lit atmosphere, and the often naked people you might find inside your traditional Finnish saunas.
But, the experience of sauna bathing doesn’t have to intimidate you because there is a great range of tips for beginners that can help you prepare for your first trip to the sauna.
In this article, we will look at everything from what to wear and what proper sauna protocol entails so that you can enter your sauna session with a relaxed state of mind.
There are a few key guidelines that you need to be aware of in order to make your first experience in the sauna as comfortable as possible.
After all, the purpose of entering a sauna is to unwind, detox, and de-stress, not to worry whether you are behaving appropriately. Saunas allow your heart rate to go up and your blood vessels to dilate, which increases blood flow and produces feelings of relaxation. So, the entire experience acts as a retreat for both body and mind.
In a traditional Finnish sauna, fresh birch twigs are used to slap the body as a means of improving circulation and this has become common practice elsewhere in the world. But whether you commit to traditional Finnish saunas or you’re just heading to the local gym, let’s look at some of the most important sauna tips for beginners that will help you appropriately prepare for your first sauna session. RELATED: How to use Sauna
According to research, the average person loses about a pint of sweat shortly after entering a sauna. Because of this, people are urged to drink plenty of water or electrolytes before commencing their sauna sessions.
Ideally, you should start taking liquids, preferably water or electrolytes, about three hours prior to entering the sauna. This will prevent dehydration from occurring and allow you to enjoy the full benefits of the sauna. It is also wise to take some water inside the sauna so that you can hydrate while you experience the sauna. It is quite common for some people to drink cider or beer in a sauna, especially in Finland. But, it is not recommended to be drinking during sauna sessions. This is because alcohol contributes to dehydration and can, therefore, worsen the dehydrative effects of the sauna.
In Finland, it is not uncommon for people to enter the sauna naked. In fact, it is assumed as part of the traditional Finnish sauna experience. So, it is no surprise then that many people prefer to enjoy the sauna experience without any clothes on.
But, there are many people who will not feel comfortable entering a sauna naked. And some public saunas require people to wear clothing. If this is the case, you need to be mindful of what you are going to wear. For saunas, less is more. You want something breathable and comfortable with limited sleeves and buttons (remember, you will sweat…a lot).
Some people opt for a bathing suit but the material may not be as kind on your skin as cotton. If you are unsure, you can also just wrap a cotton towel around you. Just remember to wear something that will be comfortable when you are sweating heavingly.
People often wonder whether it is better to sauna on a full or an empty stomach. The answer is neither.
To fully enjoy the benefits of a sauna, it is best to go in when you are not too hungry or too full. If you absolutely have to eat, you need to wait for a little over an hour before you can enter the sauna. It is also not ideal to have a large meal too soon before entering a sauna. The reason for this is that your body needs to devote resources to digestion after eating and not to the stress of heat.
Similarly, if you restrict your calorie intake, you won’t have enough resources to properly equip your body to deal with the heat. So, if you book a trip to the sauna, ensure that you do it at a time of day when you are neither hungry nor starving. A good time of day is probably just before lunch or dinner.
We recommend that you take a shower right before entering the sauna. This will ensure that there is no dust or dirt and that the heat can easily move through and over your body.
In the Finnish tradition, many people enjoy rolling in the snow or entering an ice-cold lake or shower right after using the sauna as well. This leads to the increased revitalization of body and mind and overall physical and mental cleansing.
But, this may be too much for some people and, really, all you want to do afterward is ensure that you have rinsed off the sweat and had time to re-adjust to temperature. So, if the idea of an ice-cold shower sounds unappealing, you can opt for a normal lukewarm shower instead.
Some people recommend sitting in the hot sauna for 15 minutes, exiting and taking a cold shower, and then re-entering the warm sauna again. The switch between hot and cold teaches your body to adapt and has a myriad of health benefits.
Although this is the tradition in a Finnish sauna, this is not a must for a beneficial sauna experience. Do what feels right.
Saunas are air-tight to trap the heat inside. So, if you enter and exit, this should be done quickly.
Remember, once the door is open, the heat will start escaping. And this holds true for all saunas, whether they use wet heat or a woodburning stove to create steam.
So, when you arrive enter quickly, close the door behind you and do the same when you leave.
It is common practice for people to enter a sauna with a towel and sandals. This is for hygienic purposes. The sandals will protect your feet from any germs that are on the floor and the towel is commonly placed on the benches where you will sit.
In general, whether you are nude or not, it is not acceptable to simply sit on a sauna bench when sauna bathing. Most people require you to sit on your own towel. After all, isn’t it more hygienic that way anyway?
The dry heat in saunas can and will affect your hair. If your hair is prone to frizz, the sauna will contribute to this.
Some people opt to wear a sauna hat or cap. You can also put a hair mask in and leave it in for the duration of the time you are inside. Others recommend placing a wet towel over your head to protect your hair from the heat.
The bottom line is, you probably won’t exit the sauna with silky smooth locks, so you better be prepared for what your hair will look like after sauna bathing.
Hair grooming and similar activities, such as tweezing or shaving, are also not allowed in a sauna. Leave that for the shower afterward.
One of the most important tips for sauna beginners is that you start low and slow and work your way up.
It may be relaxing and calming in the sauna but you should avoid sitting there for too long on your first go. For beginners, a minimum of 5 minutes is recommended. This can be supplemented with short breaks in between.
In general, it is not recommended to stay in a sauna for longer than 20 minutes. Despite its calming effects, saunas do put our bodies through stress and it is important to not overdo it.
People with high blood pressure, heart problems, or cardiovascular disease should consult their physicians before entering a sauna or avoid saunas all together.
Saunas are also not appropriate for newborn babies. Also, if you have any open wounds, you should avoid saunas as they can cause infection.
In addition, it is important to remember that you should leave the sauna at any point if you start feeling unwell. Look out for symptoms of dizziness or nausea. And also, if you get tired, it is better to leave as it is never recommended to fall asleep in a sauna.
Saunas are a place to relax, so if you are going with a partner, you may need to keep it down. This is a place where people come to recharge their batteries and enjoy peace and quiet.
Sometimes, people are allowed to whisper to one another, but in general, no loud noises or rowdy conversations are allowed. The purpose of going into a sauna is to relax, breathe and reset. So sometimes it is best to go alone.
Most saunas have a variety of seating options available at different levels. In this regard, it is important to note that heat rises. So the highest seats are also the hottest seats. For beginners, we recommend choosing a lower seat where the heat may be more manageable.
As you progress through your sauna journey, you can play around with the seating options to see which seats are more appropriate for you and what you want to get out of your sauna session.
Either way, you will be sweating heavily.
You don’t have to be Finnish to enjoy the benefits that saunas offer.
Whether you want to do a sauna the traditional Finland way or just need a space to chill out for a while, you are sure to enjoy a myriad of health benefits.
But, there are some important dos and don’ts to remember in order to ensure that you can get the most from your sauna experience.
Most of these real rules for beginners are there to ensure that everyone is respectful of one another in the sauna and that you can enjoy every moment to the fullest.
These first-time sauna tips will also ensure that you leave the sauna feeling revitalized and refreshed and not frustrated or ill.
Saunas are an amazing way to cleanse your body and mind. It is an age-old tradition that has helped many Finns to detoxify body and mind.
The hot temperatures and the process of sweating do wonders for removing toxins for your body and the relaxing atmosphere will put your mind at ease.
It is no wonder then that they have become so popular, not only in Finland but across the globe.