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Löyly and Vihta: health benefits
Sauna Book Section, English and Finnish
How to build a sauna tips
Log houses


Löyly and Vihta.

Almost as important as air is löyly ( lea r n+w+lw) - throwing water on the hot rocks. Try that in an infrared sauna! This has a lot to do with the beneficial effects of a real sauna, and has solid scientific basis in its negative ion effects. So what is behind the Finns' famous stamina? We know that one of the effects of a negative charge, or electron, is neutralizing free radicles just like antioxidants, which become free radicles themselves after giving up an electron. The writer has come to the conclusion that throwing water on the rocks does the very same thing. As water evaporates, it gathers electrons the molecules in the liquid state are sharing, or from the hot rocks. The steam then gives up the electron on contact. Furthermore, there has been an ongoing debate among scientists who know that the atmosphere contains free electrons and negatively charged ions capable of quenching free radicals through the skin as well as through the lungs. They state that the quenching process proceeds at electronic speeds, near light. Basically a free radical is always hunting an electron to balance itself out; consequently it steals one from a healthy cell's double electric ion-water layer surrounding the cell. The theft of this ion is automatically adjusted for in a series of steps that take place from the atmosphere inward to the deficient cell at near instantaneous speeds. Indoor air is normally devoid of these ions, but not the Finnish sauna. If this is true, then there is a limited need for consumption of additional large organic antioxidant molecules, especially if you own a sauna.

Drink lots of water to help rid your body of free radicles and get lots of negative ions, and you will enjoy greater health and youth. Unfortunately, infrared saunas, steam baths and hot tubs do not deliver these benefits, so the choice is clear - it has to be a Finnish Sauna! Hundreds of tests in many countries have confirmed the need for negative ions in indoor air. Fewer colds, faster healing times - and many more benefits have been attributed to fresh, negative ion rich air (outdoor air). When you combine this benefit with the elimination of toxins, such as mercury, you have a powerful health-machine. A German visitor once asked if the sauna can detoxify heavy metals from the body, as he was considering building a sauna in Germany. Of course the answer is "yes."

Negative ions in the sauna were first researched by Professor Niilo Teeri at University of California, Berkeley. His results were conclusive, the ionic indoor ratio of about 4:3 in favor of positive, was reversed when water was thrown on the hot stones of the sauna. Since this was identified as the variable that was unique to saunas, it is the source of the observed beneficial effects of relaxation and well-being. This cannot be achieved by simply raising humidity, you must throw the water on the rocks. His methodology took into consideration all parameters inside the sauna.

Despite the water and "steam," it isn't correct to call the sauna a "steam bath" where steam is piped into a humid, dripping room. In a sauna, it is merely increased humidity, which is not normally visible in a hot sauna. It is not like you see in the movies where John Wayne is in a "sauna" in North to Alaska with pipes puffing steam and everyone dressed to the hilt. Or some others who say they have a sauna, but use lava rocks to produce more steam. That steam does not do the same thing. Löyly is totally different, it stimulates the skin to produce sweat under relatively low humidity and high negative ions. Under the lower humidity, the pores open wider and release their dirt when struck by a vihta. Commercial saunas should therefore not prohibit the throwing of water on rocks. The excuse is the elements will burn out. But some Europeans such as Swiss (exclusive skiing lodge in the Rockies) actually supplied a bucket and ladel for the expressed purpose of throwing water on the rocks. A good sauna heater with lots of rocks can take it - the elements will not burn out - but a system of collecting runoff is a must.

To Finns that are sometimes born in a sauna, the practice of prohibiting children also is baffling. And of course one does not wear clothes or towels in a private sauna. If you insist, fine, but you are missing the point. World travellers who find themselves in the situation of being invited to a sauna in Finland may suddenly be faced with a decision.


One of the best parts of a sauna session is the vasta or vihta. The vihta is a whisk made of a bunch of early summer birch twigs. It is used to pamper the skin by gently or briskly swatting the body from head to foot. It may sound strange and many non-Finns make jokes about it, but the practise is very healthy. It helps the dirt to come out of the open pores and stimulates circulation.

Photo of Vihta on the head

The supple, soaked vihtas just feel great. You don't actually wear it on your head of course. But you might look good with it. From childhood, the writer's earliest memories from Finland are those sauna moments of vihta, löyly, washing, soap in the eyes, swim in the lake in summer, and the trip to the house all wrapped up in towels in the middle of winter. The vihta can be stored in the frozen or dried state and revived by soaking in warm water, so you can enjoy it any time of year. And there is nothing like the smell of birch leaves in a sauna, and the bather too comes out smelling so natural. There are birch scented sauna soaps and shampoos too, which the writer personally enjoys.




While working in Fort Nelson, a north-eastern British Columbia oil and gas area, I often went to the local public sauna at the rec center. I smuggled in a vasta made of birch bows I cut out on my road engineering job. It just so happened that the sauna was full of youthful tree planters, both male and female. (probably the same girls who were flashing our truck drivers) I pulled out my vasta from under the towel. "Vasta" said one of the men to my surprise, "my neighbours are Finns." Everyone asked what a vasta is. I went through my ritual of dipping the leaves in water and turning them over the rocks as the water dripped onto the hot rocks. The birch aroma of the forest filled the sauna. It was wonderful, and everyone was surprised by how it happened by steaming the vasta on the rocks. Then I used the vasta, or vihta in the usual way, which looks like you are hitting yourself with a switch. Everyone thinks it is a sort of punishment, something to be endured and in so doing you purify yourself. No. It is a pleasure, that rids you of the week's dirt and stimulates the skin, which has to be experienced. You can do it as hard as you want within reason and, because of the many soft leaves, it can't hurt. It looked like everyone there wanted to try it. Of course it is not polite to hog the vasta, so I gave it to a girl next to me from Quebec who was full of questions. "What did you say this was?" She asked with her French-Canadian accent. Soon, everyone was swatting themselves and each other, having a great time. A few weeks later, I met them there again. They had made a sauna in the forest where they are camped, and lots of vastas.


Does elevating the body temperature do anything? What you are doing in fact, is creating an artificial, short term fever, the benefits of which have been understood for centuries. We now know that bacteria and even cancer cells cannot tolerate elevated body temperatures. They die, which is why you should allow a fever do it's healing as your body was designed. Further, studies show that sweat is an efficient way to eliminate toxins, including heavy metals such as mercury. In moderation, this kind of heat is therefore very healthy; it helps to rid the body of lingering bacteria and viruses and raises the white blood cell count.

The adequate air circulation mentioned previously is important because you want to take advantage of the increased circulation's ability to oxygenate the cells, thus promoting health. To get really technical, there is a theoretical ideal temperature and humidity range. The temperature should be between 71 - 100 deg. C, and absolute humidity: 40-45 to 65-70 g per kg of air. Older people who have medical conditions should avoid high temperatures. By throwing water on the rocks there is a sharp three or four-fold increase in humidity, which gives the sensation of increased temperature for short periods.

Excessive heat can be hazardous to your health (heat endurance contest in Finland resulted in death) and alcohol is not recommended - well, perhaps a cold beer or two afterwards. The story goes that a couple of Finns were having a contest to see who can stay submerged in the lake the longest. The fellow who lost, after an hour conceded that the other fellow had won. Similarly, what is the point of winning if you die of heat stroke? The Finns have a long history of correct use of the sauna, but in this case, the organizers of the event did not adhere to the true spirit of the sauna and someone payed the price. Löyly produces negative ions to relax and rejuvinate the body and evaporation from the skin helps to control skin temperature - neither of which are possible in a hot tub. Sauna heaters heat the air by convection, thus driving the fresh air circulating system.

Even though most Finns know better and are careful, every summer scores drown in the ubiquitous Finnish lakes from drinking too much - no, not the lake water: beer. So, no problem, the Finns have the answer - non or low alcohol content drinks. Here are some free recipes you can try:  simakotikalja | International drinks

Judging from the incredibly common mistake in most western saunas, the following subject must be cleared up here and now. Don't make sauna benches by nailing boards from the top. You'll be replacing them soon, not to mention burning your posterior. Here is how you do it. Screw them in from the bottom. Alternatively, you could obtain one or two thick planks from the sawmill for the wider top and the narrower one below that for a step.



More about sauna customs

Special Book Section (lots of books):
How To Build a Log House
Be your own General Contractor

Finnish Log house sites:
Artichouse
Karonen's Sawmill

Sauna Videos:

Saunas and Spas (1990)


Sauna Books:


Some Like It Hot: The Sauna, Its Lore & Stories by Nikki Rajala

The Sauna Is by Bernhard Hillila


Spas and Hot Tubs Saunas and Home Gyms by Thomas Dale Cowan, Tom Cowan, Jack Maguire


Sauna: Hottest Way to Good Health (Natural Health Guide) by Giselle Roeder - I give her top marks for the research job she has done on the physiological effects of sauna. It's not big book and it's not about building a sauna but the information in it is worthy of mentioning. I think you would enjoy reading it, and having it around for others to read.


The Finnish sauna : peace of mind, body, and soul : a modern guide to sauna usage, planning, and building for full sauna enjoyment by John O. Virtanen (Sauna Embassador to the US)
Out of print. If you have one for sale let me know.


Hot Tubs, Saunas & Steam Baths : A Guide to Planning and Designing your Home Health Spa (Paperback) by Alan Sanderfoot - A book that gives information on other types of baths, but a sauna is included.


Sauna Construction Books/Sources:

The Art of Sauna Building by Bert Jalasjaa


Sauna Construction:

How to build a sauna Let's build a sauna



Seven Brothers in a Sauna - by Alexis Kivi    Short story from the novel.



LINKS

Majava Sauna
Springs Sauna Co.
Sauna and Bath Supplies
Finn - Tastic Sauna & Gift
Saunasite, lots of information
Homecraft, Langley BC Canada
Great Saunas of Ontario Canada
Suomen Sauna Seura/Finnish Sauna Society
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International Movie Database
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