Saunas are the most enduring form of community cleansing and relaxation, and continue to be used worldwide for thousands of years. The simplicity of burning wood to heat stones and trigger a sweat made sauna bathing accessible to all cultures, since their most primitive origins. Sweating to stay healthy was instinctive, and it worked. That’s why it’s still around today. But you no longer have to burn wood in a pit to enjoy a sauna-like they did in ancient times. Sweating is still the same, but today you can plug an infrared sauna into a wall outlet and enjoy the evolution of saunas in the comfort of your own home or professional practice.
Saunas have a long and interesting history:
Indigenous Sweat Lodges
Native people from North America to Australia have used sweat lodges for thousands of years.
In North America, the sweat lodge produces the most intense heat of any cultural sauna. The super-heated huts are sometimes only 3 feet tall (1 meter) which gets extremely hot from stones that have been cooked in fires for hours. Drummers and singers help to distract participants from the often painful level of heat and create an atmosphere of meditation and prayer. It was and still is used as a regular practice of cleansing and health promotion.
In Australia aboriginal sweat lodges functioned as community centers, bringing people together to socialize. Users of the sweat lodges also believed that sweating and communing with family and friends helped to maintain their mental health and rid their bodies of disease.
In ancient medicine throughout Africa, the sick were treated by exposing them to intense localized heat all around the body to raise the core temperature and trigger a sweat. They dug holes big enough for a person to lay down inside and placed hot coals on the bottom. The sick person would lay on a platform above the coals until the heat made them sweat.
For thousands of years, the Turks have gathered in beautiful communal bathhouses. The walls, ceilings and floors are finished with intricate tiles, and circular fountains of hot water and steam are placed at the center of the room. These Hammams are still found commonly throughout the Arab world. The baths are not the only places to get clean. They are gathering places to meet friends and family to relax and socialize. Bathers move from cold to warm to hot rooms. The ancient rooms were heated by furnaces that sent hot air and smoke beneath the elaborately engineered floors of the bathing rooms.
The most common room we all know as a “sauna” was adopted long ago when people in Finland used these outdoor lodges to escape the winter cold. Some even moved into their saunas for the season. The saunas were dug into pits in the ground. Wood was burned for many hours a day to heat piles of rocks. Water thrown on the rocks instantly produced hot steam that stung the skin and sped up circulation.
Saunas are still extremely popular in Finland today. People no longer live in their saunas, and the heat-producing technology has evolved, but the love of saunas remains. Modern Finns visit saunas almost every day and most houses have one built-in. When the Finns came to North America in the 1900’s they found the winters required saunas and built so many that the idea spread across the continent. Many North Americans have built Finnish-style saunas in their basements or wood-fired saunas at their summer cottages. They are also installed in almost every public or commercial gym and swimming pool.
A modern-day Korean spa is not that different from the ancient ones attended hundreds of years ago. The spa is a very big part of Korean cultural life and contains many different treatments and types of saunas and hot baths. You may even find pools of live fish that will nibble the dead skin from patrons’ feet.
One type of Korean sauna is where they line the walls and surround the heater with Amethyst stones. The Amethyst is now known to emit a perfect infrared reflection which causes human skin to absorb heat very efficiently. This means you can sweat more without overheating yourself. It’s the opposite of the Finnish sauna which is designed to get so hot it will overheat your lungs.
Koreans still love to go to spas. Today’s Korean spas use a variety of technologies, including infrared sauna treatments. They are so popular that most stay open all night. People even sleep there on mats in communal areas that have heated floors.
The Japanese Onsen houses are some of the most elegantly designed communal baths in the world. They are commonly found across the Japanese archipelago, especially near natural hot springs. They have strict rules of etiquette such as intense public washing prior to entering the communal pools, and no bathing suits allowed!
One Japanese gift to the world of saunas is the ceramic tiled “healing room”. In ancient times sick people sat next to a south-facing window made of thin ceramic tiles called “paper porcelain” which concentrated heat from the sun, like a greenhouse. Porcelain reflects heat in the infrared spectrum similar to Amethyst and causes the skin to absorb heat so efficiently, the person would sweat quite easily while simply sitting still. This is the concept that infrared saunas are based on.
Onsen bathhouses remain popular in today’s Japan, where they provide lovely and peaceful places to relax. They often offer other amenities, such as beauty treatments and healthy food.
Infrared saunas are the evolution of ancient sauna therapy. Today you can put one on your bedroom floor and plug it into the wall like a tv set. No fires or outdoor cabins are required. Ceramic elements allow you to recreate the best of the Japanese “healing room” and the Amethyst saunas of Korea, right in your own home. They are even used by medical doctors attempting to sweat persistent chemicals and heavy metals out of their patients, to observe if their symptoms of chronic illness subside.
While many of the reasons for using saunas remain the same as they were hundreds of years ago, technology has progressed a lot. In today’s world, we can enjoy the convenience of owning our own sauna. An infrared sauna is perfect for a home, even a small condo, or a professional office. The ceramic heating elements provide a gentle heat that invites you to stay and relax longer. To find out more about how you could own your own infrared sauna, contact SaunaRay today!