Lovely Loyly, Sweaty Saunas are a Northland Family Tradition
If you're a transplant to northern Minnesota, you may have noticed the
strong Finnish heritage that thrives here. In the early 1900s, Duluth was home to one of the largest Finnish communities outside Finland.
But you don't have to be Finnish to enjoy one of their finest imports: the sauna. A true, traditional sauna experience is not a spa or a resort bonus, and it's certainly not something you do after a chlorinated swim at the Holiday Inn.
A sauna, up here, is a hot, sweaty bathing experience. It's a weekly deep pore cleansing you can't get in a shower. And, in the Finnish tradition, it's a family affair.
Kurt Johnson of Hermantown grew up in Eveleth, a short drive away from his Finnish Grandmother Korpi's farm. He fondly remembers the Saturday night saunas.
"There was a small, porcelain tub in it that I remember sitting in, so I must have started really young," Johnson said. "My folks didn't have a
sauna in town and my cousins didn't either, so we'd all get together
out at Grandma's on Saturdays and visit. The sauna was always
part of it."
Men and women usually bathe separately and, by tradition, swimsuits
are not worn. The main goal is to sweat profusely. The optimal temperature is somewhere between 167 degrees F and 210 degrees F and relatively dry, with 15 to 20 percent moisture. It's not a steam bath. Water is thrown on heated rocks - the Finns call the resulting steam loyly - after sweating
in dry heat.
People will heat up and cool down several times during a sauna session. A jump in the lake or a roll in the snow is encouraged. In the true Finnish sauna, a whisk of young birch twigs is beaten gently on the skin to stimulate the pores.
The sweat is heart-pumping, detoxifying and relaxing. Although it does come with warnings, (check with your physician to make sure you're healthy enough to take the heat) it can also have a long list of benefits.
According to the Finnish Sauna Society, a regular sauna regime strengthens the immune system, relieves asthma, induces good sleep, purges toxins from the body, reduces stress, lifts depression, increases white blood cells and burns calories. But for most sauna aficionados, the weekly ritual just feels good.
"When I take a sauna, my whole body feels better," Johnson said. "It's wonderfully relaxing and just a different kind of clean. When you dump that cold water on your head, it feels wonderful."
And the memories only add to the experience. "Taking turns in the sauna, running around the yard with my cousins, listening to the grown-ups talk in Finnish. ... I have a lot of good family memories," Johnson said. "The sauna brought us all together every week."