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Until you've tried the Finnish sauna in a winter storm. (The gym bros have nothing on my family.)

finnish sauna in winter

My friend frequently regales me with tales from the men’s locker room at the gym. I’ve written about it before.


The latest saga was about how the guys come out of the steam sauna in the locker room, nude, dripping wet, and proud.


“Gross,” is all I can say. “Are they proud that they survived the heat of the sauna?”


“I guess.”


“Pathetic. They haven’t lived until they tried the Finnish sauna from Christmas,” I replied, to which he agreed.


At Christmas, the family gathered at private lodge we’d rented in Minnesota, the last people squeaking in just as a few days of significant winter weather, complete with lots of snow and high winds, set in. It was delightful, everyone in the huge lodge, winds howling, extremely cold temperatures, cozy with fireplaces and lots of Christmas treats and a sloped driveway that had become an incredible sledding luge that sent kids and adults down the hill like a rocket.


But my sister and her son really wanted to make use of the sauna. It was some distance from the lodge, a cute whimsical building set in waist-deep snow.


I wasn’t as enthusiastic. I’m not a sauna person, anyway, but the extreme cold and snow was only adding to that lack of enthusiasm. It would be a long walk to and from, in the cold.

Nevertheless, my sister and her son began tramping out a path to the sauna and so it looked as if there was no way around it.


night time winter in minnesota

The first night, it was around -15 or -20, and the thought of bundling up in all the winter gear to get out there, and then, in the dark and very tiny entrance area, stripping down to your skivvies in the cold, didn’t sound fantastic.


But that’s what we all did.


Five of us.


In the tiny little Dr. Seuss-like Finnish sauna.


sauna interior

The water pump didn’t work, so we would use a bowl and periodically dump snow on the rocks. There was a bottle of eucalyptus oil that we’d sprinkle on the rocks as well.


sauna interior with stove and rocks

My nephew got the fire going earlier, and after stoking it a bit, that sauna was roaring hot and full of steam. We crowded in, adjusting our seat from the upper level to the lower level when it got really hot.


And it got really hot.


Which is why we decided it was a good idea to all run out into the cold, douse ourselves with snow while the winter storm blew, and then run back in.


Health benefits.


Seemed like something to try.


How tough were we.


Improved circulation.


Mitochondrial benefits.


What a story to tell later.


You know, all the reasons you come up with as you’re huddled together in the dark and heat of a tiny wooden building.


When it’s that cold and windy and that much snow, it doesn’t take you long to shed the heat and sweat you’d had only moments earlier. Just one splash in the snow and we were laughing and screaming to get back in, tripping barefoot over branches, falling into pine trees and log piles, careening into wooden entryway, the last person hollering for the rest of us to please move faster because they couldn’t feel their toes.


We did that about four or five times the first night.


And the second night.


And the third.


And the fourth.


Suffice it to say that we got all the health benefits we could out of that sauna during our Christmas stay. I don’t regret doing it, though it was far less convenient than the electric steam sauna in the gym locker room.


We also did a painting class, with the sauna as our focus. I did a watercolor first, to familiarize myself with the scene.



Then the family members who wanted to participate sat around the long wooden bench table that looked out the window towards the sauna, and we painted it together, me leading and having them mix paint, step-by-step, for an hour.


paintings against a window

I loved the results. Each one was so different even though we all painted the same subject with the same paints.


winter woods scene outside window

But for sure, no naked dude in a gym locker room is going to have anything more impressive to say about the sauna than what we did at Christmas. So I wish they’d just put some shorts on.

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