Monday, 29 July 2013

The Expectation of Saunas

I’ve been a member of a swanky country club for over fifteen years. I bought a membership when they cost less than a weekly wage. Back then I swam whale-like up and down their 25m lap pool, my pregnant belly an egg-shaped keel beneath me. I mostly likely swam breast stroke so I could enjoy the sunlight filtering through the willow trees beyond the ceiling to pool windows. I swam in the vain hope I was preparing the necessary muscles for my impending labour. It didn’t work by the way, 29 and a 1/2 hours after the first tightenings, my first born daughter got tugged out with those nasty salad server like utensils they call: forceps.

I swam on, yet like all gym memberships, my attendance versus fee payment is so out of proportion they really should be paying me to attend. Somehow I persuaded the management to let me pay monthly, by credit card, so I could earn airpoints. I’m always in arrears. And I always feel guilt tripped into sporadic over attendance when I have to fork out a large lump sum for a swim or a pilates class.

So on Saturday afternoon, I took the waters. I was by myself so I also took my time. I zipped up and down the pool, propelling myself through the salty water in my courtesy size 7-9 flippers, flutter-board in my outstretched hands. Over a period of 35 whole minutes, my heart rate gently accelerated to a less than sitting-at-the-computer-pace. I enjoyed the zen scenery, craning my neck from side to side. I do nana swimming currently. Hate getting my hair wet. And my ears. I just work on my thighs.

A pleasant native patch between the gym building and the pool now balances the exotics over stream opposite. In summer, Gunnera leaves the size of small dinghies hover against the glass. There was only one other fellow swimmer. A women running up and down in a crouched position doing some odd under water duck arm type motion. It’s often empty this three lane pool. Empty of humans and lost Band-Aids.

Nowadays I take a sauna after my swim. It’s a small cedar lined compartment that could fit 15 pigmies, shoulder to shoulder at a push, in the privacy of the ladies changing area. Like the pool, when you get to the sauna, you want it for your very own. 

Alas, the duck swimmer had staked her claim with her complimentary white fluffy towel. She’d also placed her gym bag and day shoes (yes real shoes) on the bench beside her towel. The benches where towel clad or tog clad woman (like myself) sit. DS was taking up half the sauna. I took the adjacent bench, beside the hot coals.

DS entered, dripping from the shower. She tutted. She was nude. I did not want to see her older-end-of-middle aged body. I lay down and shut my eyes. 

Zips opened and closed. Material rubbed on material. DS sighed. Shoes were buckled. I took a peek. She was dressed in trousers, socks and rubber soled Ecco shoes and nothing else. 

I shut my eyes again. The sauna has been too hot lately. One day I wondered why my skin felt on fire then checked the thermometer. 100 degrees. Celsius. Boiling point! I was starting to feel that way again. Scalding. I checked the thermometer: 90 degrees. It was as hot and dry as a desert in that small wooden box. DS’s togs steamed by the coals.

I stepped passed her and cooled myself under the shower, refilling the sauna bucket at the same time.

On returning I ladled water over the rocks. Steam Hissed. So did she, “are you trying to make it hotter?” She scowled at me pulling on her second layer of merino.  

"No, I think they’ve set it too hot actually,” I said. And thought it an odd comment coming from a woman who’d confused a place designed, to bring about a mild perspiration while semi-naked, for a changing shed. 

‘Water makes it hotter you know.” She barked.

‘I’m just trying to get a bit of moisture in here,” I replied feebly. I always add water.

She picked up her bag and left. She forgot her togs. I didn’t mention them. She could have been leaving them to catch on fire? I drizzled the cool water over my thighs which looked like a dappled pony’s flank in pink. I also poured it over my head and thought about a childhood story of a new born motherless lamb that was left beside a bar heater to dry. I wondered at what temperature flesh cooked?

But I was alone. I relaxed. My fifteen minutes was almost up. Whether I’d done myself any good or not was beside the point. I sipped the last drips of my water bottle. Then lay on my back and pulled my knees up to my chest. I breathed into my belly while my lower back enjoyed the stretch.

By the time I’d had my shower and was drying my freshly washed hair, while the GHD’s heated, DS returned. She stormed through the calm of the cream panelled dressing room and grabbed her togs out of the sauna. I’m sure she tutted again. It was MY intrusion on her bathing ritual which had made her forget them after all. 

She hadn’t spoiled my experience though I suspect I’d spoiled hers. I’d taken the waters. Alone. I’d exercised. And I’d saved oodles in water heating.  

NB. After a quick (internet) check I discovered: 

“A sauna session can be a social affair in which the participants disrobe and sit or recline in temperatures typically between 70 °C (158 °F) and 100 °C (212 °F). This induces relaxation and promotes sweating.”

Or: “the correct sauna temperature is between 140?F- 190?F (60?C- 90?C)”.

And: “The maximum allowed sauna temperature in Canada and the United States is 194°F (90°C).[2] Some European countries allow much higher temperatures, which can be unsafe.”

So in conclusion: go nude, sit on a towel, drink water, check the temp or if in doubt take a Finnish friend.


  1. This is exactly the reason people choose to install saunas in their homes. Sauna bathing preferences can vary widely (from the water on the stones to the level of dress, or rather undress, preferred), though it sounds like your "friend" is highly unaware of what is acceptable and unacceptable in a sauna.

    As a side note, and to give you a bit of ammo if you ever encounter your "friend" again...when you sprinkle water on the sauna rocks (which btw is a Finnish tradition known as loyly) it actually gets COOLER in the sauna. Though the temperature is lower, it does feel hotter because the water you've just added to your sauna heater's hot rocks is going to turn into vapor and then condense on your skin. If you think about it for a moment you will realize that your body (eg 98 degrees F) is one of the coolest things in the sauna, and that condensing water vapor is exothermic, which means it gives up heat - lots of it - and that's where the sensation of heat during loyly is derived.

    1. Thank you for your very informative reply, AHHS!

  2. The country club must certainly have some suggestion box somewhere in the lobby, right? I think you should take that opportunity to voice the need for a bigger sauna room, if not another one. I know what you mean that you want the sauna for yourself alone. It's truly kind of icky to think of other people's sweat mixing with the steam. >.< Lucy@iHealth Saunas


Featured post

In Conversation with Lauren Child - Part 2

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...