Sound Smart with Sauna Terminology

Posted September 15th, 2013 by admin and filed in Saunas

With sauna use rapidly spreading into the Western culture, many people aren’t aware of the terminology and customs associated with saunas. In this article you’ll find some commonly used sauna terms, along with their meanings.

The first and most obvious term is “sauna” itself. A sauna is a small enclosure lined with a porous material, almost always wood. It uses a heater with a compartment of stones upon which you can sprinkle water. A sauna should not be confused with a steam room (which boasts similar health benefits but is a completely different enclosure).

A genuine Scandinavian style sauna should also not be confused with the cheaply made infrared enclosures from China that have recently flooded the American market under the same name. These are not saunas at all, but rather boxes with what amounts to space heaters embedded in the wall.

Our second term is “löyly”, which is the Finnish term for the tradition of sprinkling water on the hot sauna rocks. This creates what many people refer to as a “wet sauna”, even though the humidity still stays relatively low thanks to the porous wood walls and very high temperature.

The third term is “cold plunge”. In a traditional sauna bathing experience, sauna sessions are often followed by sessions of rapid cooling that are referred to as cold plunges. These include an icy body of water (some people even cut holes in the ice of frozen lakes) or even a snow bank in which the sauna bather can throw themselves. This cold plunge isn’t for everyone, and in the American culture many people prefer to use a cold, or even just a cool shower to help regulate their elevated body temperature and close their pores. Frequently, bathers alternate between the sauna and their chosen cold plunge several times during the same session, making their sauna bath into an hours long event.

The fourth and final term is the Finnish word “vihta”, or if you’re one of our Russian expat friends “venik”. A venik is a bundle twigs, very often birch that sauna bathers use to gently whip themselves. This sloughs off dead skin cells and helps increase circulation. Though a common European tradition, many sauna bathers in modern Western culture will often use a loofah sponge for a similar purpose.

We know that our European friends have many more sauna specific terms, so feel free to tell us your favorites.