Is there something missing from your sauna experience? The sauna can capture lots of physical and psychological benefits. But if you were not born or raised in a country where saunas reign, you, like me, may stumble to understand what most second graders from those regions know. As a sauna enthusiast living in upstate New York, I've made an attempt to sort out a few of these basics in this brief overview as I continue with my learning process. Before we begin, let me acknowledge a couple of realities. The sauna is an individual experience, so ultimately, you are the expert on preferences. Also, I realize that full control of all elements can probably only be gained if you have your own sauna; but for discussion, let us focus on the optimum, and you can adjust for actual conditions. 

First, let me submit that a prime purpose of the sauna is a psychological experience. Many will describe it as meditation. It is a time to slow down, clear the mind, and relax. In addition to the heat, the sauna accomplishes this through its isolated, peaceful, controlled environment. The interior of the sauna is natural and simple, a visual calm. Movements are limited, and bathers speak softly about positive, neutral topics. The dominant smell (and taste as your tongue also takes on the sensation) should be a sweet, deep, wood type. The experience lasts more than a few fleeting minutes, the hustle-bustle of life is put on hold, you are in another world. The key here is a conscious effort to relax yourself and to help others do the same. The sauna is designed for it. Think monk and monastery!

Now let's look at the heat that actuates the perspiration process that brings on that cleansed and rejuvenated feeling. The term "sauna bath" capturers this effect nicely. It took me some time to realize that it is not just about the heat, it is also about the cooling down period. We've all seen the images of the plunge into icy water after the sauna. You need not be so extreme, but you may consider a cooler place to relax after you have engaged sufficient heating. The outdoors may serve well in some geographic areas, and many sauna designs include a room or some form of lounging area for this cooling down activity. With a few cycles of heating up, then cooling down, an lasting effect similar to a workout session is created. This repetition is important and usually results in a head-to-toe feeling of melted butter!

Jon Harbison