From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
A sauna, the wet version also called steam bath, is a small room or house designed as a place to experience dry or wet/dry heat sessions, or an establishment with one or more of these and auxiliary facilities, or the act of using a sauna. Taking a sauna is usually a social affair in which the participants disrobe and sit or recline in temperatures of over 40 °C or 100 °F. This induces relaxation and promotes sweating. In some styles of sauna water is periodically trickled over hot stones to generate a rush of steam. Sometimes fragrant branches and leaves are lightly slapped on the skin, to promote better circulation and provide additional stimulation. It is believed by some that heavy sweating helps to remove 'toxins' from the body.
The Finnish sauna (70-120 degrees Celsius) is the most widely known, but many cultures have close equivalents, such as the North American First Nations sweat lodge, the Turkish hammam, Roman theremae, Maya temescal and Russian bania or banya. Public bathhouses that often contained a steam room were common in the 1700's, 1800's and early 1900's and were inexpensive places to go to wash when private facilities were not generally available. Most North American college/university physical education complexes and many public sports centers include sauna facilities. They may also be present in a public swimming pool. This may be a separate area where swimming wear is taken off or a smaller facility in the swimming pool area where one should keep the swimming wear on.
Under many circumstances, temperatures approaching and exceeding 100 degrees Celsius would be completely intolerable. Saunas overcome this problem by controlling the humidity. The hottest Finnish and Swedish saunas have very low humidity levels, which allows temperatures that could boil water to be tolerated and even enjoyed for short periods of time. Other types of sauna, such as the hammam where the humidity approaches 100%, will be set to a much lower temperature of around 40 degrees to compensate. The "wet heat" would cause scalding if the temperature was set much higher. Finer control over the temperature experienced can be achieved by choosing a higher level bench for those wishing a hotter experience or a lower level bench for a more moderate temperature. Good manners requires that the door to a sauna is not kept open long enough to cool the sauna for those that are already in it. A draft, even if at 100°, may still be unwelcome.
The sauna can be so soothing that heat prostration or the even more serious hyperthermia (heat stroke) can result. A sometimes customary practice of taking a cool shower or plunge afterwards always results in a great increase in blood pressure, so extreme moderation is advised for those with a history of stroke or hypertension (high blood pressure). In Finland sauna is thought as a healing refreshment and has been used to cure people from all diseases through the times.
Alcoholic drinks are usually not used in the sauna, as the effects of heat and alcohol are cumulative, although in the Finnish sauna culture a beer afterwards is thought to be refreshing and relaxing. Some also throw pure grain alcohol on the heated stones, to induce extreme intoxication through inhalation.
Social and mixed gender nudity with adults and children is quite common in the conventional sauna, with a strict prohibition of any form of sexual activity.
Some adult-only saunas have different rules; the term "sauna" is also used for a bath-house, sometimes with facilities like a standard sauna, but where people go to find sexual partners and have sex on the premises. Some such saunas rent small rooms for this purpose.