But fear not, ye St. Olaf student looking to sweat. You too can partake in the ancient Finnish tradition of having your ailments, worries and bodily toxins purged by the billowing steam of the St. Olaf sauna. Nestled next to the women's locker room in the basement of Tostrud, St. Olaf's wet sauna is somewhat of a well-kept secret. Frequented mainly by athletes and faculty members, the St. Olaf sauna is a co-ed and clothing-required facility.
Sauna-goers often find themselves surprised at their ability to withstand and even enjoy temperatures upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is here we appreciate the Finnish innovations in humidity control. Very hot, wooden saunas have a low humidity in order to avoid scalding the skin. Temperatures in these rooms can often reach above water's boiling point, but still remain comfortable. Wet saunas like St. Olaf's do not reach quite the same level of heat.
A sauna neophyte is often astonished the first time a fellow sauna-goer splashes water on the stones on the sauna stove, or kiuas, as they are called in Finnish. Invisible but extremely hot clouds of steam rise and fill the room, instantly raising the temperature. Saunas are often quite cozy in size in order to increase the efficiency of the kiuas. In the St. Olaf sauna, one must take care not to over-saturate the stones, as the finicky heater will abruptly shut off and plunge you and your sauna-mates into a chilling dampness.
According to Finnish historian Osmo Joronen, Finnish tradition holds the sauna as a place in which to give birth and to heal the sick. It is also tradition that the first building a Finnish United Nations peacekeeping battalion erects is a sauna.
The sauna is meant as a place of relaxation and comfort, but mostly of corporeal cleansing. According to the website of the Finnish Sauna Society, a trip to the sauna gives a pleasant, relaxing and refreshing experience beneficial to both body and mind. It cleanses the pores of the skin, alleviates aches and pains and helps many people sleep more soundly.
The sauna is best enjoyed as a social activity. Many St. Olaf athletes take this to heart, often having team saunas after a particularly exhausting practice. In Finland, it is believed that in order to achieve the full health benefits of a sauna, one must follow with a tall glass of beer. In fact, many Finnish saunas mix beer with the water poured over the stones in order to create a pleasing, grainy scent of freshly baked bread. Other traditional scents used in the sauna include eucalyptus oil, although it should be noted that the St. Olaf sauna strictly prohibits the use of all oils, scents or other fragrances.
In the week before finals it seems difficult to find time to sleep, let alone sauna, but the health benefits and total body relaxation that a few minutes in extreme heat produce are hard to deny. Not only will the gentle steam clear your nasal passage, pores and throat; it cleanses the mind and soothes the muscles in a manner that is much needed during finals.