Soaking in the Finnish Sauna

Meet Henna, the Finnish Fellow on our SLE Brown Campus this spring, as she explores the traditions and practices of the Finnish sauna with us:

Naked men are sitting on a wooden bench in a small, dimly lit room. From time to time, one of the men pours water over the heated stones of the stove. Sweat is dripping down on the men’s chests as waves of hot steam rise upwards.Occasionally a man leaves to shower briefly and drink some cold beer just to come back in again.

Each man seems, for an unknown reason, to be enjoying himself.

You probably guessed what is going on here – the men are bathing in a sauna. But why on earth would anyone subject themselves to this seemingly uncomfortable experience? What is wrong with Finns?


The traditional Finnish sauna is a form of bath that has been performed in Finland for thousands of years. One reason for why saunas became so popular was their versatility, as people could live, cook, wash themselves, or even give birth in a sauna. Indeed, the sauna was often the first thing Finns built as they moved from one place to another.

Today, there are more than three million saunas in Finland – on average, one per household. Sauna is an essential part of Finnish daily life, and most people bath in a sauna at least once a week.

It is a great way to relax and catch up with family and friends, or even get closer with one’s colleagues. When others dance in parties, Finns go to a sauna. When others hold important business negotiations around a big table, Finns do that in a sauna.

In Finland, there are even saunas inside Helsinki Ice Hall so that people can watch ice hockey while bathing in a sauna.

If you visit Finland, you will most likely be invited to sauna at some point of your trip. Your hosts will not be offended if you refuse, but most Finns do believe that it is impossible to fully grasp Finnish culture without bathing in a sauna.

Here are brief instructions, in case you feel unsure about how saunominen actually works:

  1. Take off your clothes and shower briefly.
  2. Place a bench cover or a towel on the sauna bench.
  3. Adjust the temperature and humidity by throwing water on the rocks.
  4. Relax and enjoy!
  5. When you start to feel uncomfortable, take a shower.
  6. Step out to the terrace or porch to cool off and drink something.
  7. Repeat the sweating and cooling process as many times as you wish— Finnish tradition is to plunge into a cold lake or roll in the snow during the cooling down process!
  8. End the sauna experience with a shower.
  9. Remember to drink lots of fluids and rest for a while afterwards!

Henna Herranen is a Finnish freshman at Brown University, planning to concentrate in psychology. In addition to new cultures and languages, she is passionate about horses, baking, and poetry.



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