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Sauna bath – a part of the culture in Umeå

Stepping into a sauna is cleansing for both body and soul. It offers an opportunity for calm – however there are various unwritten rules that are good to know for the uninitiated. Sauna expert Ulla Kiivuori of Umeå in the north of Sweden, is happy to help us get to grips with sauna etiquette.

Every Saturday, people come to Lake Nydalasjön in Umeå for a sauna. Members of the Finnish Club take turns to light the wood-fired sauna, after which it’s simply time to relax and appreciate. According to Kiivuori, a sauna is truly salubrious for the soul.
“It's like drinking a delicious smoothie – a power of good for body and soul. And a cleansing procedure,” she says.

Ulla Kiivuori

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Kiivuori has been a regular sauna goer ever since she was a little girl growing up in Helsinki. She now lives in Umeå and one requirement she had when moving here was that her new home should have a sauna.
“It's got a culture of its very own. Outside our sauna we have a thin sheet of pine setting out the sauna rules of the house.”
One important word to understand is löyly.
“When you throw water onto the hot stones in the sauna, steam is created, which is called löyly in Finnish. So, the first thing you do in the sauna is to create a bit of löyly, then go outside for a breath of air. You then go back inside and whip your body with birch twigs that cleanse the skin.

The twigs are first soaked in a bucket of water and heated over the stones. Whipping your body gets your blood circulation going. You start with the soles of your feet and work your way up to the top of your head. Then scrub your face with the twigs.
“Ask someone else to help you whip your back and explain how hard you want them to hit you.

After whipping yourself, you step out of the sauna and have a shower or a dip in the lake. Then repeat the process. You go out and cool down and have a drink and then go back into the sauna, for as long as you can stand it. It's important to stress that a sauna is about feeling different sensations. A sauna is a time for quiet contemplation which means eating and drinking is out. Nor is it a competition to see who can have the hottest sauna,” Kiivuori says.
“We usually have it at 80 degrees. Your pores open and you can feel all the dirt running off you.”

She hopes the Finnish Club can have a place where sauna enthusiasts can snow bathe this winter.
“That's a really fun thing to do. But it has to be soft snow.”

Photo: Shutterstock

Get the most out of your sauna experience

You can sit on a small towel, but otherwise you should be naked to feel the steam. Feel free to lie down or sit.Sauna before you eat. A full stomach makes a sauna less comfortable. Alcohol and saunas don't mix. Alcohol can impair your judgment and in the worst case, you could fall onto the hot stones.

Photo: Shutterstock

Sauna temperature

It's not about who can stay in the hottest sauna. We usually have it at about 80°C, so the pores open and you can feel how all of the dirt slowly flows off of the skin.

Photo: Shutterstock

Whip with birch twigs

To lightly whip the skin with birch twigs cleans the skin, says Ulla Kiivuori.The twigs are first washed in a bucket of water and then heated over the stones. Whipping the body causes blood circulation to start. You start under your feet and work up to your head. The twigs are then used on the face.Someone else may help whip your back - make sure to speak with each other to understand how hard you would like to be hit with the twigs.

Foto: Shutterstock

A few social rules

Men and women take saunas separately. Everyone should be able to feel relaxed. If more people come into the sauna, greet them and be respectful. If you want to pour more water onto the stones, ask the others first if this is OK.

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