Finnish blogger Aapo Markkanen, a London-based mobile industry analyst and sauna enthusiast joins in with our World in London challenge, to talk about the joys of having a Finnish sauna in London.
In the old days, the sauna linked both ends of life in a rather profound manner, functioning both as a birthing room to bring new people into this world as well as a tranquil retreat for the elderly who sensed they didn’t have much time left here. Modernity understandably phased out that side of the sauna culture, but for many of us Finns it still adds something reflective to the concept.
Today there are more saunas than households in Finland. While most are private, serving homes or summer cabins, there are also a plenty of public ones, operating normally as part of pools and various ice-swimming venues. Some are lavish and expensive, some others entirely improvised and ascetic. A sauna doesn’t basically require anything more than a stove (“kiuas”), water and enough of physical structure to contain the vapor heat (“lÃ¶yly”) that results when these two meet, so with some extra skill and dedication one can be even built out of, say, snow and ice.
London’s most (yet not exactly its only) authentic sauna is more of an underground thing, found in the basement of the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe, but its purpose is very much the same: to relax and cleanse you, physically and mentally.
It’s available as communal sessions (at separate times for men and women) and on private booking, and what essentially sets it apart from gym saunas, for example, is that the kiuas is there for creating proper lÃ¶yly rather than that frustrating bone-dry heat you experience elsewhere. The other main difference is that most of us enjoy our sauna fully naked, simply because it’s better that way.
The etiquette is simple. Take a shower. Enter the sauna, and stay in there until you feel like going out. Take another shower, ideally cold, and then a break in the dressing room. Rehydrate yourself. Close your eyes and relax, or converse with others. Avoid topics touching on money and status. Don’t complain about the lÃ¶yly, unless your complaint is about the lack of it. Repeat as many times as you like and the opening hours permit.
Do you have any other tips for enjoying Finnish culture in London? Let us know in the comments below…