Let’s talk about how to experience the greatest pleasure in the sauna. We are thinking and feeling creatures placed in bodies of animals. These bodies have their own physiology and we need to live with that peacefully and with a smile.
We live in the temperate or perhaps even northern climate zone where outside, our bodies mostly cool down or even freeze. Consequently, we cover our skin – which is physiologically adapted to be in direct contact with our environment – with clothes and in this way we impede the breathing of the skin and especially skin secretion. Some materials that have to be released through sweat or dandruff remain in the hypodermis or attached to the skin surface. Nature gave us a sweating body and sweating has a meaning. It relieves kidney work as well as regulates body temperature when we are working hard. The skin is waterproof from the outside and quite permeable from the inside. Sweating is a very healthy and natural body state, which was already known to ancient Romans. The truth is that nowadays we are suppressing it and thus we are carrying toxic residuals with us. The removal of those is necessary and naturally happens through intense physical labour, showering and scratching
If we ever go to the sauna when we are cold, which happens anyways sooner or later, naturally our hypodermic capillaries begin to expand. The sweat comes out and moisturizes the top layer of the skin (horny epithelium) which begins to swell. This expansion and swelling irritates the endings of the nerves and naturally we want to rub and scratch the skin to remove the dirt. This desire is a very natural one and we usually are willing to meet it. The best way to do this is by intensive rubbing and scratching of the wet skin, which is stimulated by the itchiness of the skin once it has warmed up. Meeting this need is what has formed sauna traditions around the world. We prepare the sauna in order to get warm, but later we bath in the way that is best to clean our skin.
In the Lithuanian sauna we perform deep skin cleansing through whisking. There are two necessary actions in the traditional sauna – to sweat and to be whisked. We have already discussed the what and how of heating up the sauna and we have also discussed whisks. Let’s now discuss the action of self-whisking, specifically self-whisking instead of whisking the other person, because you can only do it well to another person, once you know how to do it to yourself. When you learn to whisk yourself well, then you will have more courage to whisk another.
First of all, direct the sauna steam upwards. In other words, pour some water little by little on the hot stones until you have created a ‘steam pillow’ above your head, you will clearly feel it once you lift up your arm. Then raise the whisk as high as possible and shake it gently so that it would heat up and then press it to your foot. In order to make it easier, cross your legs. Continue doing so for as long as your foot gets warm. Repeat this with the other foot. This is very pleasant, because feet are often cold. If you want to, you can press the ankle joint with a hot whisk. This is a whisk compress.
Then you can repeat the same procedure with your knees. First gently slap your raised leg with a whisk, aiming from the foot up ‘towards the heart’. Encourage the flow of fluids by stroking. Whisk the thigs interchangeably with the same hand. Hold the whisk in a way that its leaves would be facing down. Pay more attention to the hip joints. If your joints are painful, I recommend using a nettle whisk. If you are afraid that the nettles will burn your skin (although if you are well warmed up, this won’t happen) sprinkle the whisk with hot water.
Next, whisk your arms starting by your palms and ending with your shoulders and shoulder blades. Usually this is not difficult, because hand washing and rubbing are common actions. In order to save your energy, lower the arm that is being whisked onto your lap with the palm up.
After this, gently slap your chest and belly with the whisk. If your digestion is not in order, or you feel cramps, I recommend you to prepare a nicely smelling herbal whisk and at this stage to massage and rub your belly. Suitable herbs include wormwood, tansy, St. John’s wort and mint. Natural fragrances are very volatile and will easily penetrate though the pores of your skin and do their job. If you do not want a herbal whisk, then use a soft and well soaked birch whisk. In summer it is best to use fresh whisks especially for rubbings and compresses.
After this, we are going to whisk our sides. Whisk your left and right sides with your opposite hands. The movement or the slap of the whisk has to feel ‘sticky’ when you are taking the whisk off the skin. If your whisks are long, you will notice that you are even whisking your back. During the time you were whisking your legs and arms, the skin of your sides and back warmed up, became sweaty and swelled up, so you don’t need to heat it up now, it is more important to rub and stroke it while cleaning the horny epithelium. If you know how, you can massage it. Touch your chest once more, just softer. Attention! At this point you may feel unpleasant because of the hot steam, but this is not due to overheating, just a lack of air. Open the ventilation or even better open the door wide, allow yourself to breathe in some air. It will become much easier. Wash your face with cold water, this refreshes and improves your skin tone a lot and smoothens out wrinkles. You can check yourself in the mirror later, now it is time to whisk your own back.
The back is less sensitive to heat, so in case you have the door open, close it and pour more water on the stones and then start whisking your back. If you are not alone, then exchange this service with others. You can do it also collectively at the same rhythm. It will be fun. Ask your neighbour to rub your back and in return rub his. Bathing in a traditional sauna has always been collective, and especially fun.
Just right before the end, if you want to, pour extra water on the stones, so that the steam becomes ‘biting’ and fun. In this way you will wash your skin well and all the itchiness will disappear. If this turns out to be too hot, move to a lower bunk and sprinkle your face with cold water. In this way you will easily last another minute while your friends are finishing their whisking.
If after the whisking, you feel light-headed outside, don’t worry and sit down for a minute or two. Once your dizziness goes away, you can go into a river or pond or at least pour cold water over your body from top to bottom. Congratulations, you have just been reborn!
Safety of whisking
Whisking is a serious challenge to your circulatory system, however there is no need to worry about that. If you are not a sportive person, are overweight or have a weaker heart, whisk yourself while sitting on a lower bunk. Gradually you will get used to sensing your state and you will be able to whisk yourself independently, no need to worry. However, I do recommend to have some cold water next to you in order to refresh yourself when needed.
After you have completed the self-whisking procedure and refreshed yourself with cold water, I recommend you to lie down and allow your consciousness to relax. Close your eyes and spend a few minutes with yourself. Intensive experiences are guaranteed. You can call it a spiritual trip to ‘yourself’.
Light steam for everyone!