Sauna - what is it all about,
and are there really health benefits?
A sauna is a dry-heat sweat bath and forms an integral part of alternative health therapies as well as most hydrotherapies in the world today. Most heath clubs and gyms have sauna facilities. The main difference between a Turkish bath and a sauna is the fact that a Turkish bath relies on hot, wet steam - whereas a sauna relies on drier heat.
The heat inside a sauna is normally kept at a steady temperature with a relative humidity of between 15 - 30 percent. The Finns normally keep the humidity in their saunas a bit higher at about 40 percent.
We have included this page in our website, since we do believe that it can be beneficial to a person's health if used properly, and include some essential oils which could be used to make the sauna experience an even better one.
It must however be noted from the start that some believers in hydrotherapies prefer the use of Turkish or steam baths instead of saunas, as they believe that saunas could be too drying and could cause the skin to age, especially if all the instructions on having a sauna are not strictly adhered to.
With this in mind, we would like to recommend some essential oils for your sauna, before we carry on with the article about the health benefits of a sauna as such.
Most people associate the smell of Eucalyptus with a sauna, but in Finland, the birthplace of saunas, the smell of Birch is associated with them, as Birch logs are traditionally used to fire the saunas.
You will read later, the main purpose of having a sauna should be to help with the elimination of wastes, your choice of oil to use should reinforce this use.
The following oils can be used on their own in the sauna, with the most popular being Eucalyptus, Pine and Peppermint - but Tea Tree, Lemon, Lavender, Niaouli, Clary Sage, Cypress, Birch, Rosemary, Lime, Grapefruit and Bergamot are also great.
Should you wish to combine oils, you could look at the following combinations:
- Combination 1
- Combination 2
Pure undiluted essential oil must never be placed on the super-heated rocks of the sauna - the dilution to use is to add 4 drops of pure essential oil to 1 liter of water, and then to use this fragranced water when dousing the rocks in the sauna.
It is generally accepted that sauna baths originated in Finland, although "sweat therapy" or "sweat baths" are part of many cultural or folk medicines.
The logic behind the health benefits of having a sauna, is that sitting in a heated sauna would simulate an artificial "fever" and in so doing stimulate the immune response of the body to be activated, which in turn would speed up the production of white blood cells - some studies have shown a remarkable increase during "artificial fevers".
It furthermore is supposed to help the production of interferon in the body. Interferon is an anti-viral protein that has powerful cancer fighting properties.
In European hydrotherapy a sauna is normally used before a body massage, to prepare the muscles by "loosening" them and making them more supple for the massage.
This order is reversed in America, as well as in the Indian Ayurvedic system, where the massage is normally followed by a sweat bath to assist with eliminating toxins that might have been dislodged during the massage session.
Since a sauna also speeds up the chemical processes in the body, it is also a favorite way to help clear the body of accumulated toxins. Not only does it speed up the body processes, but also perks up the working of the skin, which as the largest organ is important for waste removal, and in so doing stimulates the process to sweat, and helps remove waste products. It is with this same logic that body-wraps are used.
During a 15 minute session in a sauna, the average person can lose between 0.5 - 1.5 liters of water, and it is therefore essential that people drink water before and after a sauna to prevent dehydration.
People that feel a cold or flu starting, have reported that they can ward off the manifestation of the actual symptoms by taking sauna baths. This may however not be a good idea for all people since a hot sauna may place strain on the heart.
Taking a sauna will increase your heart rate and although it is claimed by some that it only increases the heart rate, and not your blood pressure, we would advise people that have elevated blood pressure not to have a sauna before checking the advisability with their medical practitioner.
During a sauna the capillaries dilate, increasing the flow of blood to the skin and it is this increased capillary volume which some alternative practitioners believe helps to keep blood pressure "normal" during a sauna. It must however be stressed that people with high blood pressure should not take a sauna without the permission of their licensed medical practitioner.
The temperature during a sauna increases the skin temperature by about 10 degrees Celsius and the body temperature by about 3 degrees Celsius - the "artificial fever", which many alternative practitioners believe helps to kill off unwanted bacteria and viruses, plus gets the body to move its immune system into a higher gear.
While having a sweat session, your body will also require more oxygen, and an increase of up to 20 percent is reported, and with this greater demand on the lungs more wastes can be expelled by them.
Should the air be too dry in a sauna - as in most American saunas - the mucus membranes of the lungs may become dry and damaged, and for this reason it is best to ensure that some form of humidity is maintained.
Some of the positive effects of a sauna are also attributed to the fact that splashing water on super heated rocks causes a lot of negative ions to be formed in the air. In Europe and the Soviet Union, research has been done that indicates that negative ions are conducive to promoting health and assist in remedying various health problems.
Unfortunately, some of the electric saunas in America do not heat the rocks enough, and the reverse is achieved with more positive ions being formed - which is exactly the opposite effect you want to achieve.
Another interesting fact about a sauna is that the heat helps the body to get rid of lactic acid which is formed during exercise, and for this reason it may be a good idea to have a sauna after a particularly heavy training session. But remember to first wait awhile after exercising and to have a cool shower before entering the sauna.
After having their sweat bath the Finnish people normally have a heart stopping plunge into ice cold water, and although proponents of this practice swear by the positive effects it is supposed to have on your health, we would caution people to not follow this technique unless they have very strong constitutions.
In some spas in the world, people are treated to a cold hosing-down after a sauna, and although this is less of a shock than a plunge into ice cold water and very invigorating, it should not be practiced by people that are prone to asthma attacks. People suffering from asthma should also not sauna without first consulting their medical practitioner.
Some notes on sauna safety
People normally have a cool shower after a session in the sauna, and this should be followed by a resting period of about 20 - 30 minutes before entering the sauna again.
No food should be eaten before a sauna or during a session, but enough water must be taken in to replace the water lost through the induced sweating.
Saunas are also not indicated for pregnant women, children or elderly people, or for people suffering from pneumonia, any other respiratory diseases,
Should you have an open wound, or feel feverish, do not sauna.
If you have any health concerns, first consult your licensed medical practitioner before using a sauna.