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.
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.
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.
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.
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.