The Origins of The Sauna Culture Around The World

Cultures on every continent unanimously recognize the healing quality of hot steam. Whether they call it a spa, sauna, sweat lodge, or bathhouse, several countries have made steaming water part of their core culture, hygienic routine, and medicinal backbone. 

Today we are going to answer some questions about the origins of saunas and why they are essential to many countries. Now you maybe asking yourself who invented saunas? How are saunas used today vs. years ago? 

Lets answer your questions and help you understand the origin of saunas. 

Saunas in Finland and Baltic countries

Saunas have been a deep, spiritual experience for cultures since around 2000 BC in Finland and Baltic countries. They were initially built-in underground pits dug into hill slopes heated using wood firepits covered with stones. Water was thrown on the rocks to create steam and raise the temperature of the space. It is very exciting to see how modern day saunas differ so much from saunas many years ago.

The Swedish Batsu

The Swedish sauna, known as “bastu,” holds great significance in Swedish culture. Unlike its Finnish counterpart, the bastu has unique traditions that have been passed down through generations. Introduced as public bathhouses in Sweden, bastus were initially used for cleansing the body and creating a tranquil space for individuals to unwind and rejuvenate after a hard day’s work. This reflects the Swedish emphasis on relaxation, self-care, and well-being. The bastu serves as a place for physical and mental rejuvenation, promoting overall health and vitality for those who partake in its time-honored rituals

Saunas in Korea

Korea also recognized heat as a core cultural and spiritual experience. Korean Buddhist monks began operating heat bathing clinics in the 15th century to treat sickness and enhance health in their villages. Their traditional, dome-shaped sauna called the Hanjeungmak is still used today. They also had another experience in South Korea, known as “Jjimjilbang,” offers a comprehensive recreational experience beyond just saunas. In addition to hot tubs, steam rooms, and saunas, Jjimjilbangs provide amenities such as napping areas, entertainment rooms, and food courts. Unlike Finnish saunas with intense heat, Korean saunas maintain a temperature range of 122 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, ensuring a longer and more soothing experience for visitors

Saunas in Russia

The Russian sauna, or “Banya,” holds significant cultural importance as a place where sauna-goers partake in unique customs and rituals aimed at enhancing well-being and social bonds. Banya attendees engage in traditions such as lightly striking each other with bundled branches to improve circulation, using felt hats for protection against heat, and taking cold plunges after sweating. These practices not only promote physical health but also serve as social activities, fostering camaraderie and a sense of community among participants. The banya experience is a cherished tradition in Russian culture, embodying a holistic approach to wellness that combines physical rejuvenation with social interaction

Bathhouses in Turkey

In Turkey, bathhouses became popular thousands of years ago because the Turks prioritized hot water sanitation. Daily bathing rituals in cold or tepid water were customary, but people paid a visit to local bathhouses in preparation for special occasions. People soaked in hot pools and laid in steam rooms, alternating between massages and scrubbing to remove all their bodies’ dirt and dead skin. They also had an experience called Hammams, these offer a unique experience that start in warm rooms and gradually move to hotter ones. This had an emphasis on communal bathing that fostered a nurturing atmosphere. 

Japanese Baths

Japanese baths, or onsen, combine naturally occurring sulfur, magnesium, mineral hot springs, and pumice with fresh air to create a medicinal environment for whatever-ails-you. Japanese baths are often used as a stress-relieving getaway where patrons can receive beauty treatments and often an anti-inflammatory diet before returning to everyday life.

Though every culture has its own spin on the sauna, there is no doubt that steam-opening the pores and shedding off a few layers of skin makes frequent sauna users feel cleaner, healthier, more relaxed, and more capable of overcoming fear, stress, environment, and disease. Adapted to modern needs but never leaving their roots, these cultures prove that saunas are as healthful and chic now as they were thousands of years ago.

The Timeless appeal of saunas

The origin of saunas is something to admire, the fact that even today we get to experience a journey similar to those in the past with new applications of saunas heaters and other unique ways to receive the benefits of heat exposure!

More Than Just a Sweat

Saunas aren’t just about getting sweaty. They offer a chance to relax deeply, clear your mind, and feel peaceful. The steam helps you meditate and let go of stress. The spiritual journey you can open yourself up to when embracing all the benefits of saunas is a connection from past to present. 

Tradition Meets Modern Comfort

Today, saunas come in different types, like traditional wood-fired ones or newer infrared and steam versions. They all have their own benefits and really show the adaption of saunas in 2024, from a hole in a hill to beautiful custom saunas that many people take advantage of today. 

A Place for Connection

Saunas used to be social spots where people gathered to chat and share stories. Even now, they’re a place to escape from screens and spend time with others. The age of technology is here, as we discover more about the appeal of saunas it is important to take a break from screens and really embrace recovery and all the other mental and spiritual benefits of saunas. 

Time to Address FAQs on the Origin of a Sauna

Why Are Saunas Popular Now?

Saunas began to rise in popularity during the 16th century in Nordic countries, where they have been in existence for thousands of years. According to UNESCO of the 5.5 million inhabitants in Finland there are 3.3 million saunas! The sauna trend did not start to boom until the 20th century where sauna popularity spread like wild fire throughout Europe and North America.

Where is the oldest Sauna?

The oldest recorded sauna is in Finland and can be traced back to around 2000 B.C. Refer to the top of the article for more information on how that sauna was constructed. 

Are There ancient traditions of saunas?

In ancient times, saunas played a crucial role in various spiritual and cultural practices. Different civilizations incorporated saunas into their traditions to symbolize purity and transition. For example, the Finnish people utilized saunas as an essential component in rituals like ceremonial bathing for brides, aiding in childbirth, and preparing the deceased for burial. Saunas were revered for their believed therapeutic benefits, earning them the nickname “the poor man’s pharmacy” because they were seen as a cost-effective and efficient method to address a range of physical ailments.

Is there a birth place of Saunas?

Saunas have been important for a long time in different cultures, especially in Finland where they started. They’re used for special rituals like weddings and funerals, as well as for relaxing and feeling clean. So, saunas are still a big deal today because they’re part of our history and culture.

Are there any changes to saunas now?

In the 21st century, saunas have evolved significantly with advancements in design and technology. Traditional saunas now use high-quality softwoods like cedar or Nordic spruce, offering better heat retention and moisture absorption. Steam saunas, powered by generators such as the Mr. Steam MS-E Series, have made heating easier without the need for stones or boiling water. Infrared saunas have gained popularity for their ability to penetrate tissues deeply, offering benefits like improved muscle recovery and skin health. Modern saunas feature digital control panels for precise temperature and humidity adjustments, along with energy-efficient heating elements for faster warm-up times and reduced energy consumption. Prefabricated saunas have made sauna bathing more accessible, allowing people to enjoy these benefits at home.