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Sauna /badstue

Sweating is human: Sauna and divine

The history of human sweat goes back to the beginning of our existence. Anthropologists suggest that this unique feature of our skin membrane is the single most important factor in our evolution and developing humans to become the top of the food chain. This unique property that human skin possesses, the skin being the largest organ in the body and its ability to sweat changed the static history of our planet forever.


Humans have loved sweating from their skin since early recorded history by producing devices with controlled heat to induce sweat for spiritual, medical and social reasons. Evidence suggests that humans evolved and established opportunities to do so on all continents; they built various systems to intentionally encourage profuse sweating.


Collectively, humans are bound together across time and space by our desire to maximize the function of sweat, find community with a higher power, and optimize our health. While heat-controlled devices designed for sweating have varied from culture to culture and naturally evolved over thousands of years, they have remained fundamentally the same in purpose.



Sweat has shaped humanity.

The human body is an amazing machine, honed over millions of years of evolution. Many believe that humans' status as alpha primates is due to being an upright species with a larger brain size, but there is a key element of human evolution that is often overlooked: the skin membrane. A small variation in the human genetic make-up, which mostly causes bare skin, this separates us from our closest relative, the chimpanzee.


Human skin sweating after using an infrared sauna. Professor Nina Jablonski, at Pennsylvania State University, studies the development of skin; Nina suggests that the human sweat glands are uniquely responsible for making humans the superior hunter. The unique property of sweat enabled the first human hunters to cool their bodies while chasing their prey. Four-legged creatures cool their bodies through panting, and as the animals begin to gallop, their internal organs slam against the diaphragm. This means that four-legged animals cannot cool their bodies through panting while running. Eventually, the hunted prey will overheat and die, while its human predator, able to regulate internal heat through sweat, will achieve victory and eventually trap its prey.


The complex network of human sweat glands and mostly naked and hairless skin membrane sends human evolution to the next level. As humans spread out from the motherland of Africa to occupy the vast continents, they began to develop technologies to enhance the natural sweat that occurs in the body, creating optimal health, purification and spiritual community.


Sauna: Facts

Sauna is a modern term used to describe a heating system intended to create profuse sweating. Sauna is the only word in the English dictionary with roots in the Finnish language. 'Sauna' (pronounced: saw-na) means bathhouse in Finnish. Many languages have borrowed the Finnish word Sauna to describe the activity. Finland has by no means been the only country to use heat therapy, the country has a tradition that has been a hallmark of their culture as far back as 7000 BC.


The everyday use of the term sauna in English does not refer specifically to the sauna tradition used in Finland, rather the general activity intended to heat the body and produce intense sweat.


First heat source: The first Sauna

As people developed the ability to make fire as needed, the first "Sauna" were built. Fire not only allowed our ancestors to cook their food, but it also brought with it the ability to heat the body on purpose. The first saunas built in Africa were developed to get rid of infectious diseases. Although they were simple in construction, their operation was effective.


Leaders of tribal medicine dug holes in the ground about the size of a grave, to fit the human body comfortably. A fire was built inside the hole, when the fire turned into hot coals, poles were placed across the opening of the area to create a bed-like construction. Patients suffering from infectious disease were placed on the bed of poles raised three feet above the hot coals and kept there until profuse sweating occurred. 


Far from the exclusive saunas found in the spas of developed countries today, the design of the first heat therapy developed in East Africa had the same goal. It is clear that humans have used the specific technology at their disposal to create heat sources with the motivation to trigger profuse sweat, to cure disease and optimize health.


The Roman and Greek bathing culture

An artist's depiction of an ancient Greek bathhouse, Roman and Greek bathhouses paved the way for modern spas today. Heat therapy was a tradition in the communities in the form of hot springs and steam rooms. The bathhouse provided an opportunity to cleanse the body through intense sweat, thereby opening up the pores to detoxify the body of pollutants and improve health conditions.


Cleansing the body was the original intention behind these bathhouses.

Gradually this developed into a social meeting place, where political decisions, business deals and social gatherings took place.


Governments and private contractors built bathhouses accessible to all social classes. These meccas for hot springs were found throughout the Roman and Greek empires. From the smallest towns to the largest metropolises. 


Bathhouses were a cornerstone of society and shaped one of the most powerful civilizations ever known. The examination of sauna history would not be complete without appropriating to it the Roman and Greek traditions.


Turkish hammam

A tour of a Turkish hammam is another structure with similar benefits to the modern sauna. The Turkish hammam was a bathhouse created inside magnificent buildings and became a safe haven for spiritual and social community. Their popularity grew under the Ottoman Empire to encompass the entire Islamic world. These communal bathhouses were divided by gender. Inside Haman, the great freedom of nudity was celebrated.


Participants of the Turkish hamam entered heated rooms to initiate deep states of relaxation. After the sessions in these rooms, the participants moved into a room with warmer, drier temperatures and finally cleansed their bodies with cold water. Like modern spas, massages, hair removal and other treatments were available to cleanse, relax and treat the body.


Bathhouses in the Ottoman Empire were an integral part of the social community for women. The Turkish Turkish hammam served as a mainstay of society, and during their height of popularity, it was grounds for divorce if a husband refused his wife to participate in the bathhouse ritual.


The tradition of spiritual and physical cleansing of the Turkish hammam spread to Europe and was established in the Victorian era. The Victorian Turkish bathhouses incorporated pools into their buildings so that after intense heat therapy they could plunge into cold springs.


Turkish Hamans have been honored and featured in masterful oil paintings by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres that can be found in the Louvre, Paris today. Bathhouses are still widespread in Morocco, Turkey and other countries in the Middle East, but are not the same arena in society that they once were under the Ottoman Empire.


Native American sweat lodges

A Native American sweat lodge was used to rid the body of infections and diseases. This deeply ceremonial, spiritual tradition has permeated the culture of Native Americans, including South, Central and North America for thousands of years. The Maoris of New Zealand and the Aborigines of Australia also celebrate a rich tradition of sweat lodges. The traditions of sweat lodge practice vary from region to region, and each offers unique rituals. They all celebrate the offering of sweat in rituals of prayer and communion with the Spirit.


Sweat lodges are unlike any other previously mentioned construction. Sweat huts are held together with clay, stones and grass. The particular construction depends on the natural environment in which it is built.


The sweat hut is dark inside and hot stones are imported into the center of the dome hut. Water is then spilled over the rocks, creating steam to heat the well-insulated unit.


When all participants swear inside the hut, the elder in the community leads the ceremony through song and prayer. The darkness, heat, prayer and music create an environment to reveal the distinction between the physical and the spiritual. The expectation is that through physical cleansing a deep spiritual experience takes place.



The Finnish Sauna

To explore the history of saunas, one must look at the great Finnish tradition of sauna use which is believed to date back to 7000 BC. For residents of Finland, a sauna is not a luxury, rather a necessity. There is an average of one sauna per household (there are 3 million saunas in Finland serving a population of 5 million). Most dry heat saunas found in developed countries are today based on the modern structure of the Finnish sauna construction.


Before the modern medical system, almost all Finnish babies were born in the sauna. A sauna is even located in the Finnish Parliament House. From birth to important political decisions, saunas are the canvas on which Finnish history is painted.


The sauna is heated with hot stones, wood stoves, hot embers and electricity. Usually the structures are made of wood, as trees are in great abundance in the Baltic states. The Savusauna, or smoke sauna, takes place inside an unventilated room. A fire is lit and when the flames burn out, smoke is released from the room and individuals can enter to enjoy the warmth that comes out. Finnish sauna enthusiasts consider this version of the sauna to be the most effective.


Sauna is the cornerstone of Finnish culture. The country's reverence for its health benefits, tradition and community support have made Finland one of the world's leaders in sauna therapy.

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