Finland has a population of 5.5 million and there are an estimated three million saunas in the country. This gives an indication of the love or rather, obsession for sauna among Finns.
They say Finns find the solution for intractable problems at a sauna session. "You shed all inhibition and differences in a sauna and it's easier to make a deal when you are equals," says a sauna enthusiast. The story often heard is that of a deal struck at a sauna between leaders of Finland and Russia after the World War II.
For Finnish people sauna is not a luxury experience, it's a necessity – a place to relax with friends and family. Finnish people, who may be a bit reserved in general, tend to open up in their birthday suit in a sauna.
Many hotels have private saunas in rooms. During my recent stay at Lapland Hotels Bulevardi, Helsinki, I was surprised to find a decent-sized sauna... to enjoy all by myself. However, the joy of doing it together with friends at a common sauna is different.
A newly emerging trend in the Finnish sauna scene is the Sauna Yoga, which is performed while sitting on a sauna bench in a mild, comfortable temperature of 50 deg C.
A sequence of simple, yoga-based poses, combined with the mild heat and the quietness of the sauna, pampers the body and calms the mind to give a thoroughly relaxing experience, says expert Tiina Vainio.
A Sauna Yoga session can last between 30 and 45 minutes. The sequence consists of six poses. The moves strengthen the middle and lower body muscles, increases the flexibility of the spine and hips and stretches the gluteal and upper body muscles. In addition, Sauna Yoga increases metabolism, reduces stress and facilitates the onset of sleep, she claims.
The system is developed by Saunayoga International, which also offers two other fitness systems named Sauna Pilates and Applied Sauna Yoga. The three systems are practised under the guidance of a fully trained instructor. It is suitable for everyone and requires no previous yoga training experience.
Some of the postures help to relieve tensions in the neck and shoulder region and remove excessive strain on the spine and surrounding musculature, while others work to strengthen the trunk and leg muscles. The gentle heat of the sauna effectively melts away the strains and the beneficial effects can be felt immediately after a single session, says Saunayoga International.
While yoga is a form of exercise, Pilates is a technique. Therefore, the way you use your body is what makes it Pilates, not just the poses. Sauna Pilates is based on the main Pilates training principles and practised seated at a temperature of approximately 50 deg C. Some poses rely on using a small towel.
Sauna Pilates is particularly effective in servicing the spine and the neck and shoulder muscles, as well as strengthening the muscles of the torso.
Applied Sauna Yoga:
Applied Sauna Yoga is a system developed specifically for individuals with a physical disability or whose mobility is otherwise restricted. It is suitable for wheelchair users or for people suffering from conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia or other chronic pain, and for people going through physical rehabilitation.
The supported seating position of Applied Sauna Yoga helps one maintain control of the poses, for example, when bending forward or rotating the body. The position of the legs can be supported with a large towel wrapped around the thighs. The Sauna Yoga poses are specifically directed at the neck and shoulder region and the thoracic spinal muscles, which can become strained if using a wheelchair, offering a good counterweight to pushing.