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Saunas have been part of life through many generations and many cultures.
From the ancient Estonians who believed saunas were inhibited by spirits, through Finnish saunas from the 5th and 8th century to the Navajo sweat lodges, people have been using sauna as a place to cleanse themselves – body and soul.
The Turkish culture has the Hammam, the Russians have the Banya, the Jews have the Shvitzbath, the Africans have their Sifutu and the Japanese the Mushi-Buro. Each culture with its traditions but all involving great heat and sweat. The Finnish pride themselves by saying that in a country of 6 million people, there are 2 million saunas.
In the United States for example, saunas are part of the set up of almost every gym. They are also popular beside swimming pools, in hotels and day spas.
There are basically two kinds of saunas; the steam and the dry sauna.
Wet sauna involves water being applied on the heater to produce steam. Many steam rooms use lava rocks that are heated to high temperatures, and water is poured on them. In the Finnish sauna the temperature is so high that it evaporates the water right away. In steam bath such as the Hammam, the humidity in the air reaches 100%. The temperature can reach up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. (the maximum allowable temperature in the US and Canada is 194⁰ F (90⁰ C).
Dry sauna, on the other hand, does not involve water. The heat is produced by a heating source, the heat is dry and the temperatures usually reaches 140-150 degrees. In old times a wood fire burning in a closed room and heating rocks was the means for achieving heat. The fire would be put out and the door opened to let the smoke out. The rocks and amber kept the room hot for a few hours.
Today, there are many options how to heat the room to high degrees without using harmful materials. They include electricity, gas, solar heating and infra red waves.
Why is sauna considered a good thing that lasts through many generations? Because it has beneficial effects on the body and mind.
The heat in the air raises the temperature of the core of the body, which is normally around 98.6⁰ F. The body tries to cool down by producing sweat. It pours out of the millions of pores, evaporating and cooling the skin.
The cardiovascular system starts to work faster to supply the cells with cooling opportunity. The dry heat of the sauna can increase the pulse rate by 30 percent, according to Harvard medical school study.
Unlike a steam sauna, where you become one with the surrounding – meaning you sweat as much as the room is moist, in dry sauna the affect of the sweat is less pronounced. Since the air around is so dry, sweat drys off almost immediately.
What does the access heat do to the body?
Circulation. Those small veins that do not get good blood flow during normal activity are woken up and supplied. People who suffer from poor circulation can benefit from getting the blood to the extremities, which are the first to suffer. It increases the red cell and plasma volume which are important to athletes’ recuperation. It soothes sore muscles and aches and pains that are associated with poor circulation.
Metabolism. When the body works so hard to cool itself down, the metabolic rate of the body increases. Which means it burns fat to supply the body with the energy for the increased activity.
The body of course loses accelerated amounts of water to produce the sweat so most of the weigh lose is attributed to the loss of water.
Pain and Flexibility. Joint stiffness can be alleviated with dry sauna with the increase of blood flow. This can enable the sufferers to move and exercise their joints. It can also relieve sore muscles. Sauna may reduce chronic pain more successfully than cognitive behavioral therapy alone or multidisciplinary treatment. Sauna has been proposed as treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis.
Detoxification. The sweating action opens all the pore of the body, releasing toxins that have accumulated. Since most of the toxins we absorb in our daily life are stored in the fat cells, burning those cells with higher metabolism releases the toxins and enables the body to flush them out through sweat, urine and bile. It is especially affective in releasing hard metals.
Relaxation. Saunas produce relaxation to many users. Saunas have been found to reduce the level of adrenalin and there is very little else to do but sit and sweat. The Swedes and other Nordic countries have turned sauna into a social events people can enjoy together. This forced relaxation is very important in today’s hectic modern world.