on the side effects of heating up and cooling down

Rendering of Sauna at Highgrove

I usually stay on the bottom bench. Sometimes, when I'm feeling really brave (and it's a sauna with dry heat), I'll venture up to the second bench. The third one (not pictured here) is always off-limits though - I wouldn't survive that for five minutes, much less fifteen. (Image via Wikipedia)

I went to the sauna this week. It was heavenly. Imagine heating up in one of the many kinds of saunas available, then stepping out into the snow to cool off, before braving the cold shower and/or the plunge pool. Lovely, quite lovely.

Besides all the health benefits the sauna provides, and the fact that it forces me to relax, I also like it for another reason. This particular sauna facility was mixed-gender, nudity-compulsory (as Wikipedia so convincingly puts it), and although it felt strange, the first time, to disrobe in a co-ed changing room, then sit in a sauna next to both men and women, it soon became natural. You kind of forget that you don’t have any clothes on. (Though I think this only works when you don’t run into an unexpected colleague or classmate or neighbor. For some reason it’s totally fine that strangers see you naked, but it would be very awkward to meet a teacher, for instance. Luckily that hasn’t happened to me yet. That would quite ruin the experience.)

What a visit to the sauna teaches me, every time, is that nobody’s body is perfect. Even the thin girls have something of a belly, a little bit of fat that clothes can conceal but suddenly become visible there. Without bras, breasts sag. Without clothes, lumps appear, and spots, and cellulite. And in the context of the sauna, it seems quite natural and not ugly in the slightest. Bodies aren’t meant to be chiseled out of stone – they’re meant to be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Something I tend to forget under the influence of tv and magazines and ads and my own lack of self-confidence where my body is concerned. I have to say, it felt good to stop obsessing about which clothes make me look fat(ter) and just relax, since I couldn’t hide anything anyway. Even better, I stopped feeling the need to have to hide anything. Lovely, quite lovely, as well.

In this particular sauna, kids 12 and up are welcome. I’d probably take my daughter, if I have one. I think it would be good for her to see what bodies actually look like. It might teach her to be at home in her own – a lesson you can’t start learning early enough. It might save her quite a bit of heartbreak and angst during her teenage years…at the very least, she’ll enjoy the beneficial effects of a visit to the sauna, which, incidentally, include gorgeous hair. My hair was suddenly soft and curly. It’s really too bad that the sauna makes me too tired to actually do anything the rest of the night – I would have quite liked showing that off.

2 thoughts on “on the side effects of heating up and cooling down

  1. David says:

    I think its amazing the difference in attitudes between countries within Europe in regards to the sauna and the experience you have when you go to it. Where i am from (The UK) its very much clothed occasion when you go into the sauna with your swimming trunks on and is a quick thing that you do at the end of a swim or maybe before you go into the steam room.

    Having experienced both and being apprihensive at first with the Dutch variety, ive come to enjoy it! Its very relaxing and a place you can spend hours (If you dont mind becoming a rasin…) inside.

    • I know what you mean. I was reading the wiki article on saunas and a lot of countries apparently do it the English way. Too bad my gym and pool don’t offer a sauna..but I do like the forced unwinding that comes with an entire day spent in the heat and cold. So I’d do both, not either/or, if I could.

      you and Elske should go sometime, it’ll be good for her, force her to relax😉

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