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How to Take a Traditional Sauna Bath

There is no one right way to take a sauna bath. But that won’t prevent me from offering recommended procedures to the novice or uninitiated sauna users. Here are some guidelines for taking a traditional sauna. Saunas heated with infrared fixtures can’t produce steam, but all of the non-heater-related recommendations will work for these saunas, too. Before taking your first sauna, however, check with your physician to make sure the intense heat won’t be a health risk.

STEP 1. Reserve enough time at least an hour, preferably two. Unless your sauna has a heater that’s constantly on, you’ll need about 30 minutes to heat up the rocks.

STEP 2, Undress and take a showerto remove anybody oils, lotions, hair products, makeup, deodorants, and other contaminants you don’t want in the sauna.

STEP 3. Enter the sauna, placing a towel on the bench before sitting or reclining. A traditional sauna is taken in the nude. But feel free to wrap a towel around yourself or don a bathing suit.

STEP k. Sit back for a few minutes and let the heat permeate your body and open the pores in your skin. The air may feel stiflingly dry at first. If that’s the case, you can adjust the air moisture by ladling water onto the stones of the heater. The steam will make the room feel hotter, but not so dry. (Caution: Do not put water on infrared sauna heaters!) If this is your first time in a sauna, start with the temperature at about 176°F (80°C) and increase the temperature as you desire. (Note: Infrared-heated saunas operate at lower temperatures.) If you want a hotter experience, move to the upper bench, where

the heat rises. For a cooler experience, move to the lower bench or let some of the heat out the door.

STEP 5 After 10to 20 minutes, or if you start to feel too hot, leave the sauna and cool off by taking a shower, jumping in a pool, swimming in a lake, rolling in the snow, or just lounging. Check with your doctor before trying some of the extreme methods of cooling down to make sure your body can handle the shock. Whatever method you choose, be sure to have a cool drink to replenish fluids, but avoid alcohol, which can dehydrate you even more and impair your judgment.

k In a traditional sauna, bunches offender birch branches, or vihta, are used to gently swat the body and promote circulation.

STEP 6, After cooling off, return to the sauna.

After you warm up again, use a vihta to promote circulation. The vihta, a whisk made of supple young birch twigs tied together, is used to gently or robustly swat the body from head to foot. Traditionally, the birch twigs are harvested in the spring, and some vihta devotees freeze them for use year-round. They are easily “revived” by soaking them in warm water. The smell of birch leaves is so synonymous with saunas that some companies make birch-scented soaps and shampoos.

If you don’t have access to a real vihta, you can opt for a wooden whisk, available from sauna dealers. Many people think the whisk provides a more pleasant experience than brushing or scrubbing. In either case, make sure that your skin is sufficiently supple and moist before you start swatting yourself senseless.

STEP 7 Cool off again.

STEP 8, Repeat the sauna sessions as often as you’d like, although two innings are sufficient for most people. However, it’s comforting to warm up in the sauna one last time before taking a shower.

STEP 9. Shower, dry off, put on a robe, get

a nonalcoholic drink, and recline with your eyes closed until you feel cooled down. If you don’t allow enough time to cool off before dressing, you may continue to sweat in your clothes. Also, a sauna can dry out your skin, so you might want to apply a moisturizing lotion before getting dressed.

These steps make up just one set of guidelines. Enjoying a sauna is a personal thing, and you will develop your own regimen that’s right for you. If you listen to your body and start slowly, you’ll be reaping the benefits of a sweat bath in no time.

Adjacent to a bathroom shower is the ideal location for a sauna. This allows bathers to easily rinse off after a sauna session. Plus, it eliminates the need to don a robe for the trek from the sauna to the shower.

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