Episode 71

Sauna Culture with Joona Virtanen

Whether you are planning to move to Finland or you already live in Finland, one way to achieve mastering life in it, in any case, is to experience the Finnish sauna culture. Finland is famous for its sauna culture and Finns do love it for sure! Some might even say that sauna might be the secret to Finnish happiness. For this reason, we talk about this in our first episode for this year with Joona Virtanen. Joona is a student at the Turku School of Economics and at the same time, he runs his own Youtube account, where you can find various vlogs, video essays and challenges on various topics. In one of his videos, Joona tries sauna for 30-days in a row. It sounds amazing, right? Well, considering this video, Joona and Matt discuss in this Mastering Finland episode the sauna experience and share some facts on it.

As a native Finn, Joona has been exposed to this tradition for many years, since he was 1 year old. While getting older, he started pondering the role it plays in Finnish people’s lives. For him, the sauna is a way to connect to primitivism and nature:

"The idea of 30 days was to reconnect with nature and also be more thoughtful about the sauna itself. And I never had as much sauna as I did back then. And I also studied the literature behind it and I learnt a lot of great things about sauna, like all these health benefits that it has and the history behind it."

According to Joona, the idea of sauna arose around 2000 BC and was developed in northern Europe. We do not have detailed and clear information about it, however, various resources indicate that there have been many saunas around the world, e.g. in North and South America. He also points out that there has been a Finnish myth saying that when the first Finnish people landed in Finland, they were carrying along with them a sauna, a little bit different than the ones that we have in our minds nowadays, made of animal skin, in which a fire was burning under a pile of rocks, and with the purpose of to keep them warm. Later on, it took more or less a form of enjoyment, like nowadays.

Many sauna fans will arguably mention all the health benefits that sauna offers, like low blood circulation, better sleep, in general, all these relaxing aftereffects it can provide you with. However, Joona, who approaches the topic more sceptically, says that there hasn’t been that much scientific research about sauna and all the "facts" found on the internet are not scientifically proven actually. Nevertheless, we are surely aware of all the health benefits that the heat might deliver to our bodies, e.g. better blood circulation, detox through sweat, lower risk for neurodegenerative diseases.

Additionally, Matt and Joona talk about the different experiences one could have while experiencing the sauna, e.g. if it’s a wooden or electric sauna, and highlight that one has to try a good sauna, before being sure about not liking it as an experience whatsoever, as a few people might claim that sauna are just not for them. Joona explains that some might experience a feeling of lightheadedness that might occur when the sauna itself is bad, meaning that there is not enough oxygen coming into it.

Nakedness, a word that might trouble many people, especially foreigners when trying sauna. Joona clarifies that it is understandable, especially for non-Finns, however, natives are very understandable and will not laugh at you – as you might hear here and there– if you choose to wear a bathing suit or use a towel. As for the beginners, he explains that heat tolerance is something that builds on through experience, so do take breaks when you feel like it, or choose to sit on the lower benches of the sauna, where it doesn’t feel that hot.

Other than being a relaxing place, the sauna is also a social place, say Joona and Matt, as even business deals might be done there. Even Urho Kekkonen, the longest-serving president of Finland, who was born in a sauna, as Joona mentioned, was notorious for carrying out political negotiations in saunas. Undoubtedly, the whole Finnish sauna tradition is remarkable and thus UNESCO has added it to its’ Cultural Heritage List.

Lastly, Matt and Joona talk about Joona’s similar YouTube content, like the 30-day ice-swimming experience that changed his life.

If you would like to check Joona’s content for more or if you’d like to take a look at his interesting sauna challenge, check his YT and IG accounts:

YT: Joona Virtanen

IG: j0nu

And make sure to try this unique relaxing experience at least once in your life, whether you live in Finland or you plan to visit Finland at some point!