Traditional sauna relaxes the body and the mind

The Finnish sauna has been used for thousands of years as a place to care for the body and the mind. We can still learn from the ancient folk traditions and the different treatments and enjoy them.

The use of supplementary treatments alongside official medicine has increased considerably. The essential values of folk medicine, naturalness, comprehensiveness, gentleness and care have begun to interest ever more people.

“Organic values, respect for locality and the use of natural health products are being favoured in Western countries more than before,” says wellness tourism entrepreneur and traditional sauna hostess Maaria Alén.

Ms Alén has established an enterprise providing traditional treatments in Lahti. The idea is to take the customers to the sauna where they are offered various treatment packages. The overall principle is respect for traditions, with focus on relaxation and quietude.

“For individual people, I give treatments in my wood-heated home sauna in Lahti. I entertain groups, for example, in the saunas of tourist enterprises or in the customer’s own facilities. There are over 3,2 million saunas in Finland, but few of them offer genuine content services. “My know-how includes different traditional cures and sauna programmes based on our folk tradition.”

According to Ms Alén, the curing skills based on old folklore live on quite actively in Finland.

“Instead of curses set by malevolent people or supernatural sources, pathogens are nowadays sought from the burden caused by a busy lifestyle,” she points out.

In Western countries, people suffering from hurry and stress now seek help particularly from mindfulness guides which extol a conscious and approving presence and listening to one’s body. This kind of approach has already been known in Asian meditation for thousands of years, but in Western countries these methods became widely known in the 1990s, when the American Jon Kabat Zinn spoke of stress control associated with awareness skills. According to Ms Alén, the sauna and the forest have been doing the same for ages.

Finnish folk tradition is based on the curing and harmonising power of nature, which essentially involves stopping, quietude and listening. For many, the sauna, the forest and the end of a pier have been places for relaxation and quiet. Maaria Alén specialises in sauna treatments and traditional cures based on folk tradition. The sauna has traditionally been at the centre of Finnish folk medicine. The old folk believed in the curing force of the sauna, and the various forms of Finnish folk medicine, such as cupping, massage, limb repair, whisking and the use of different medicinal plants were directly connected with it.

There are many kinds of treatment whisks

Ms Alén bathes customers in a way that could be called a kind of combination of massage and phytotherapy or herbalism. Ms Alén whisks. It has long been a forgotten form of treatment in Finland.

“In curative bathing, several different kinds of whisks are used to move and direct the heat and apply it on the skin in a manner suitable to each treatment situation. The whisk is, of course, also used for the mechanical treatment of muscles. The birch so familiar in Finland is only one of many plants from which a curative whisk can be made. Whisks made of trees are used fresh. Depending on the species of tree, they can also be dried. Herbal whisks are always used fresh.”

Whisking in the sauna has been proven to improve blood circulation. Because the pores open in the sauna, the bundles made of leaves and twigs effectively combine massage and aromatherapy. Different species of plants have different active ingredients, such as tanning agents, saponins, disinfectants and aromatic oils. Birch treats and cleanses the skin. The saponins of birch together with water act as soap. In cosmetics, birch has traditionally been used in hair care. Birch leaves strengthen the scalp, prevent hair loss and make the hair soft and glossy. Pine and juniper open the respiratory tract.

According to Ms Alén, whisking in the sauna is effective thermal massage which can be used to treat physical ailments.

“Whisking can boost muscular recovery, improve the mobility of joints, accelerate the metabolism and surface blood circulation and boost lymph circulation.”

Also the mind relaxes

The whisking techniques and force used by Ms Alén are based on discussion with the customer. “Some are treated with a light hand, others quite strongly. In these cases the whisks used may also vary. The principle is the same as in massage: you progress from a light surface touch to a deeper one. The heat brings its own particularities and efficiency to the treatment. The whisker must constantly follow the formation of the heat and its effect on the customer. One can say that the heat is the most important colleague, not the whisks.

The general health effects of sauna-bathing are naturally also combined with the effects of whisking. These include the deep cleansing of the body, positive effects on the heart, blood pressure, the respiratory tract and the quality of sleep.

“Rhythmic whisking movements created with different sauna whisks relax the muscles and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Thanks to the heat and the whisking, the customer’s body warms up and relaxes. An able whisker also consciously aims at creating surroundings in which the secretion of pleasure hormones can pick up, relieving stress.”

According to Ms Alén, sauna and bathing can renew and purify us physically, psychically and mentally.

“One customer said it was consoling in these hectic, scheduled modern times to be able to experience the sempiternal peace and leisureliness present in a traditional sauna.”

Ari Turunen



Vellamo’s traditional cures include Finnish folk medicine in different forms: cupping, massage,
limb repair and various sauna treatments, such as whisking and group bathing.

“In curative bathing, several different kinds of whisks are used to move and direct the heat and apply it on the skin in a manner suitable to each treatment situation.”

“Rhythmic whisking movements created with different sauna whisks relax the muscles and activate the parasympathetic nervous system.”

FinRelax-programme, Visit Finland