Question 1: The sauna is a unique space with its own set of traditions. What are the fundamental rules or etiquette every visitor should be aware of, irrespective of their experience?
Vladimir: In the sauna, more than anywhere else, one must be attuned and intuitive, especially considering the context of time, place, and circumstances. Just as one doesn't enter a foreign monastery with their own set of rules, the same applies when visiting a new sauna: take a moment to observe, read the establishment's guidelines if provided, or even ask for behavior advice at the entrance. For instance, some saunas require guests to be fully nude in common areas, while others might have a strict dress code, such as shorts that reach below the knee.
A widely accepted convention in many saunas is the observance of silence in the steam room, though there are exceptions.
One shouldn't hastily pour a random amount of water onto the sauna stones [Editor's note: These stones, typically part of the sauna heater, are commonly used in both saunas and banyas]. It's wiser to trust the personnel. But if you're allowed to pour water yourself, start with a small amount. There's nothing worse than being in the steam room when someone new barges in and hurls several ladles or a basin of water onto the heater—scalding everyone inside. Often, the perpetrator leaves hastily, escaping the immediate consequences of their actions.
Above all, respect the space and those around you. Refrain from wearing perfume before entering the sauna. Shower before stepping into the steam room, especially if you've perspired on the way. Pour only clean water onto the stones, avoiding foreign objects. Ensure no leaves or pine needles touch the hot stones.
For one's personal well-being, wear non-slip slippers in the sauna. Utilize an appropriate head covering in the steam room. And always carry a set of clean clothes in your sauna bag—perfect for a refreshing change after a steamy session.
Question 2: We’ve touched on the rules. Now, let's delve into the heart of the sauna: the steam room. What should both novices and experts know about the steam?
Vladimir: The jet of steam that escapes from the sauna stones can truly elevate the experience. However, to avoid accidentally scalding oneself or burning another, one must understand the construction of the heater and the trajectory of the steam's exit, ensuring that no one stands in its direct path. It's also important not to inadvertently direct the steam towards any branches or "veniks" (traditional bundles of leaves used in saunas) when using hot [Editor’s note: superheated] stones.
Building a rapport with a specific heater and steam room is crucial. It’s about creating a harmonious relationship. Start with reconnaissance, practice, and testing; then, you move on to understanding how much water to add, when to add it, and where to pour it. You also need to comprehend how the heater's convection is adjusted, how to maintain the temperature of the heated stones, and how to ventilate the steam room. There are countless nuances that influence the overall condition in the steam room. It's about mastering all these aspects to create the most optimal and enjoyable sauna experience.
Question 3: What sequence of actions should one follow to get the maximum pleasure and benefits?
Vladimir: It's essential to listen to yourself and your body. Do no harm. It's better, as the saying goes, to be under-steamed than over-steamed.
It's optimal to visit the sauna an hour or two after consuming a light meal. It's sensible to start the process with a gentle warm-up, initiating the sweating process. Following this, a warm or even moderately hot shower with a loofah to wash off the initial sweat is appropriate. Subsequent sessions in the steam room can progressively increase in terms of heat and venik (bunch of leaves used in saunas) intensity. I recommend combining steam sessions with contrasting procedures that suit your physical condition, warm-up intensity, and degree of acclimatization. If after using the veniks your skin doesn't already feel squeaky clean, a soap procedure might be apt. Ideally, allow yourself the luxury of not having to rush post-sauna, but instead, take the time to lie down and savor the moment and sensation.
Self-steaming, in my opinion, can never match the experience provided by competent sauna masters, be they male or female.
You can attain the maximum sensations and benefits by entrusting yourself to knowledgeable experts who are passionate about the art of the sauna.
Question 4: It's no secret that proper hydration and nutrition play a vital role during a sauna visit. What are your personal recommendations in this regard?
Vladimir: It's essential to maintain a proper hydration routine. In fact, it's more important to drink before and after the sauna than to try quenching your thirst during the session. However, a moderate replenishment of the fluids lost in the process won't hurt either.
I advocate for warm, pure water and natural beverages: herbal teas, kvass, berry drinks, and lemonades with minimal sugar content. If the sauna stimulates your appetite, rather than turning the sauna into a dining venue, limit your intake to a small amount of vegetables, berries, fruits, or dried fruits. After the sauna, you can indulge in something tasty and healthy, as long as it's not right before bedtime.
I am against consuming alcohol and overeating before, during, and even after the sauna.
Question 5: A question from those who only visit the sauna in winter. Do we go to the sauna in the summer?
Vladimir: Absolutely. It's a wonderful time for the sauna, especially if you're fortunate enough to have one near water. Summer contrasts are easier for beginners, and everyone finds the outdoor heat and sultriness much more bearable after sauna procedures.
Question 6: What would you advise those who are just beginning their acquaintance with the sauna? What important points should be taken into account?
Vladimir: Do not confuse steam with heat. The term "steaming" comes from the word "STEAM." And steam can vary. The best indicator of a sauna's comfort level is a steamy broom. If the broom dries out, it means there's not enough humidity, the temperature is too high, and our mucous membranes experience similar drying out. If the broom turns into a wet rag, then on the contrary, the steam is too damp, most likely the stones are not heated to the temperatures required for producing light steam.
I would recommend trying, if you haven't before, steaming at moderate temperatures of 45-55°C, where thermal sensations change specifically due to dosing steam and managing its movement with those same brooms.
I wish for you to find your sauna, and even better — your guides into the world of the sauna. To feel that very light steam. To live the genuine play of steamy and broom touches. To soar above mundane worries, having once known sauna zen and heard the gentle silence of a suddenly quieted mind. After such an experience, there's no going back. The sauna will become an integral and sought-after part of your life.
Question 7: What are your tips for those who have been visiting the sauna for a long time and regularly? Are there any little-known tricks or recommendations?
Vladimir: Explore the sauna in all its manifestations. Don't even treat my advice as dogma; experiment, test, listen to your body, and make your own experienced conclusions.
Try saunas and steaming sessions in different cities and towns. The sauna is especially great for travelers. There's nothing better than going to the sauna after a trip; it removes all the fatigue like magic.
Keep a sauna journal. In the morning after a sauna day, write down everything you experienced during your previous sauna session. If you try to do it later, it will get blurred, slip away, and be forgotten, just like a vivid dream you've just seen. This will help clarify the wonder that happened the night before, find words for those sensations and states you experienced. What was particularly memorable, impressive, what was superfluous, inappropriate. In the future, reading such entries is like a time machine that takes you back to seemingly forgotten sensations, emotions, and experiences in all their details. This helps me analyze and refine my sauna practice.
Go under the broom only with someone who elicits sympathy and response. Trust is a very important part of the process.
If you want to dive deeper into the art of the sauna, find yourself a teacher, a mentor. This way, results and progress in the steaming technique will come much faster, although the path of studying and understanding the sauna is interesting in its depth and boundlessness.
I'll share a sauna trick of the Chuvash people, told to me by Uncle Slava Spiridonov. In their tradition, when they finish tea drinking after the sauna, to stop sweating, they take a few grains of salt on their tongue. After that, they put on clean clothes and go out into the street to head home.