Follow the right directions for using a sauna and you will improve your heart, skin, overall health and mental well-being.
Everyone reacts differently to the environment in a sauna so there are no universal directions for using a sauna but there are guidelines to help you find what works best for you.
The best directions for using a sauna come from the accumulated wisdom over time. Sauna use, in one form or another in many different cultures, has been documented for at least 2000 years. There must be real benefits to inspire such loyalty and longevity. If you have any doubts ask a sauna enthusiast. They will likely put a sauna very near the top of their “can not live without” list.
To get the most out of your sauna the right routine is important. A general outline can be summed up as Preparating-perspirating-“löyly”-“vihta”-rinsing-cooling-repeating-relaxing.
Directions for using a sauna differ somewhat depending on the type of sauna involved. The main difference is between Infrared and traditional saunas. Traditional saunas use rocks that are heated with wood burning, electric or gas heaters. The rocks can be used to produce steam or “löyly”. Infrared saunas are powered by Infrared emitters and don’t have heated rocks. They are “dry” saunas.
The following directions for using a sauna are for a traditional sauna. Adjustments for an Infrared sauna are identified at the end.
Let’s start with precautions and general sauna behavior
Avoid alcohol and drugs. Consult your doctor if you are on medication or in questionable health.
Leave the sauna anytime you feel light-headed, dizzy or ill.
Rest at least 15 minutes after strenuous exercise before using a sauna.
Begin slowly to see how you react to the sauna environment. Err on the side of caution when starting out. Don’t go more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time to start and keep the temperature low (160°-170°F or 70°-80°C).
the sauna should be like a warm, comfortable, protective womb. Avoid swearing, loud noises, and negative conversation.
Directions for using a sauna: Preparation
Be sure to set aside enough time. This should be a relaxing experience, rushing defeats the purpose.
While the sauna is heating up (typically 30-60 minutes) you should get some materials together including:
-a change of clothes
–towels to sit on and wipe off with
–refreshments for afterwards
–water for “löyly” (steam) and rinsing off
–”vihta” (a birch whisk) if you want one.
A light meal is OK but don’t eat a heavy meal before taking a sauna. It will preoccupy a lot of your blood for digestion. You want to circulate as much blood as possible.
Don’t drink excess water (a glass or less is fine) before entering the sauna. It will reduce the effectiveness of the detoxification process.
Use the bathroom. You don’t want to be diverted later on.
Remove jewelry, piercings (metal gets hot) and as much clothing as you feel comfortable without. Any clothing worn should be light and loose fitting.
Rinse off with a shower.
Directions for using a sauna: You gotta love the heat
Enter the sauna slowly and start on the lower bench. Lying down is preferable to sitting. Work your way up to the upper benches as you get accustomed to the heat.
The temperature range is usually 155°-195°F (70°-90° C). Some experienced sauna users can take it right up to the boiling point of water. The goal is to sweat freely but not feel faint or ill.
The heat stage can last for any length of time you are comfortable with. Most often it is upwards of 20 minutes and unless you are a very seasoned sauna user less than 40 minutes.
Whenever you move in the sauna you should get up slowly to avoid feeling light-headed. Blood pressure is typically lowered in a sauna due to the expanded blood vessels.
Only after you have warmed up and started sweating feely should you put water on the rocks to create the löyly. American preference seems to be for a dry sauna. That’s fine and many prefer it that way. In my opinion if you haven’t tried it “wet” you are missing the boat. It is important to get löyly and not just steam (there is a difference). To produce löyly the rocks need to be quite hot. There should be a popping sound and loud hiss when you pour the water on, not just a quiet bubbling. This vaporizes the water creating an almost invisible envelope of heat. If it’s foggy and steamy looking the rocks are not hot enough. The water should be warm when poured on the rocks. Cold water vaporizes too slowly and cools the rocks.
Directions for using a sauna: The first cool down
You are hot, your blood is circulating and your pores are open. It’s time to cool off. This does several things. It cleans off your skin, constricts blood vessels increasing blood pressure and gives you a burst of energy.
Cooling off can take several forms. There is the famous plunge in an ice-cold lake, pond or tub (climbing in is much safer than diving in). You can also rinse off by pouring a bucket of water over yourself or with a shower. Many people have a shower near or even in their sauna to rinse off.
No need to towel off at this point.
This is where you decide if you have had enough or if you are ready for another round of heating and cooling.
If you are going to do another round of heat then by all means head back in. If you are finishing up it is time to clean off.
Directions for using a sauna: Final cool down
The ideal situation is to shower or rinse off with soap and cool water. This will clean your skin, close your pores and slow the sweating.
Cooling off slowly is now the name of the game instead of the Polar Bear routine.
Air drying works better than toweling off since you will continue to sweat for some time still.
Reclining for 10 or 15 minutes is the preferred method to finish up and get ready to face the real world once again. This is why it is so nice to have a changing/relaxing area adjacent to your sauna.
It’s time to replenish your fluids. You loose about 1 quart of water each hour in a sauna. Water is fine but many people prefer juice or one of the power drinks since you loose vitamins and minerals along with the water.
After you wash down the sauna and leave the door open to dry you are done.
Directions for using a sauna: Variations
“Vihta” or a whisk is a bundle of green Birch branches used to stimulate circulation and loosen dead skin cells. The idea is to gently swat your skin producing a tingling feeling, not pain. Some people like to use this during the heating/sweating stage of a sauna. A similar result can be achieved by rubbing yourself down with a loofah, sponge or washcloth.
Aromatherapy and fragrances are popular among some groups. By adding oils or plants to the water before turning it to steam a very pleasant, and some argue healthy, aroma can be produced. Favorites oils include Sage, Birch, Apple, Spearmint and Peppermint.There is a growing awareness of the health benefits of certain fragrances. The use of these fragrances to improve your health and well-being is known as aromatherapy. For more information about aromatherapy check out aromatherapy-made-easy.com A touch of Beer has even been known to find it’s way into the water on occasion but I doubt this fits in the healthy category.
Some people will “smoke” the room by closing the damper and opening the wood stove briefly to let a little smoke escape. After airing out the sauna a mild smoky aroma is left behind.
How many Heating/Cooling cycles should you go through? Whatever works for you is the right answer. 3 rounds is a fairly common routine. If you do use 3 rounds look at round 1 as the preliminary cleaning and warm up cycle. During the 2nd round, pour on the heat. Then during the 3rd round as you head toward the final cool down, use less heat .
Directions for using a sauna: Infrared saunas
The directions for using a sauna are somewhat different if you are using an Infrared sauna. Here are some adjustments to make.
Infrared saunas are “dry”. There are no rocks to produce löyly.
The heat comes from the waves produced by the emitters. It is more important in an Infrared sauna to be directly exposed to the emitters in order to absorb the waves.
Since it is you and not the sauna itself that heats up, air temperatures are much cooler than in a traditional sauna. Preliminary warm up time is also much shorter.
Directions for using a sauna change depending on the type of sauna you have and your own personal preferences. The nutshell version is repeated cycles of sweat producing heat followed by a quick cool down. It is hard to go wrong so use the guidelines above to experiment and find the routine that works best for you. It’s all good.