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Bre Graham is a writer and editor. She has been published in Harper’s Bazaar, Refinery 29, The Guardian, The Observer, Dazed, Riposte, Stylist and more, where she writes about food, travel and culture. She lives and works in London and is writing her first book. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @breaudreygraham
My job takes me to some extraordinary places. Like this time last year, when I was sitting by a river in Finland, past the Arctic Circle, cheeks flushed and blushed pink drinking a cold beer after just having stepped out from a life-altering sauna.
I went to Finland twice for work last year, as I was writing about the food and the wellness culture there. Saunas I learnt, are an intrinsic part of life in the country. Most families have a private sauna in their home; it’s where traditionally woman gave birth and where people’s bodies were washed once people passed away. I loved hearing the way the locals spoke about the importance of something so seemingly simple with such reverence. After all, it’s just a very warm small wooden room.
“You can’t use your phone in a sauna! You can’t check emails, it’s just you and you can practice your mental wellbeing.”
Up to this point, I had been to a few saunas in my life – small fancy ones in day-spas and hotels on my travels. I mostly saw them as a good way to sweat out a hangover. But learning about them in Finland and talking to Tiina Vainio, the Wellness Manager from the Allas Sea Pools in Helsinki (home to a stunning public sauna), who said ‘‘Nordic wellness is all about nature, it’s about slowing down and enjoying the silence. Saunas are a type of meditation for Finnish people. Now, more than ever I think it’s important. It’s somewhere you can properly switch off. You can’t use your phone in a sauna! You can’t check emails, it’s just you and you can practice your mental wellbeing.” When she said this something clicked, and I knew why I loved the experience of sitting in a sauna. They are a total mind and body experience – you sweat, you’re hot, all your brain thinks at first is ‘it is really really warm in here’ and by the time you get used to it, you’re so relaxed.
I resign myself to just being alone with my body and chilling out.
Sauna’s make you turn off your thoughts, turn down the voice in your head and sink into the sensation of sweating. There are so many physical benefits to saunas, no matter if they’re the traditional wooden slatted saunas found in Finland or infrared ones found in new spas like Glow Bar London. From increased circulation and ease in joint pain to the post-sauna skin radiance, feeling free from your thoughts while in there is just an added benefit for me, even though it’s the one that gets me there in the first place. Since coming home from Finland, I seek out saunas wherever I go. Knowing that while I’m there I won’t be bothered by emails, sirens on the street or looming deadlines, I resign myself to just being alone with my body and chilling out.
So try it, take yourself to a sauna, switch off and feel how your body reacts to the heat. Breathe deep, inhale the steam and feel your muscles move slower. Step out and have a cold shower, feel every inch of skin on your body react and get yourself a big glass of water. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be back in a few days wanting to do it all over again, with your phone pinging away to itself alone in its locker, while you listen to the silence of the steam on the stones.