Besides the scientifically proven health benefits of using a sauna, there are also spiritual benefits to be gained. Consider the many cultures who made use of heated tents or rooms in order to achieve divine visions and inner peace. Many Amerindian tribes make use of a “sweat-lodge” which is a primitive sauna or steam room in a tent.
The sauna meditation rituals are different for each tribe, but are frequently used as part of a vision quest or rite of initiation. The intense heat induces a state of mind conducive to enlightenment and deep contemplation.
There is more than one type of meditation. While in the East, Buddhists attempt to free the mind from all thought, Western styles are sometimes about focusing the mind on one thought alone and concentrating on it until a revelation is revealed. There is also an ancient tradition of sauna usage here in the West too.
“Vapour baths were in use among the Celtic tribes, and the sweat-house was in general use in Ireland down to the 18th, and even survived into the 19th century. It was of beehive shape and was covered with clay. It was especially resorted to as a cure for rheumatism.” –Encyclopedic of Religion and Ethics.
Then of course there is the famous use of saunas in the North by Vikings and Lapps. The Finnish löyly can mean steam vapor and is connected to saunas. Löyly was created by splashing water on the heated rocks. Löyly is cognate to Estonian leil. Originally meaning “spirit” or “life”, as in Hungarian lélek and Khanty lil, which both mean soul, pointing to the spiritual origins of sauna use and occidental sauna meditation. There is a very old Finnish saying, still in use today which goes, “saunassa ollaan kuin kirkossa,” – one should behave in the sauna as in church.
Some people in Finland fire up their saunas just for the benefit of the elves or spirits believed to reside within them. Learn more about these in our post on Finnish Sauna Folklore.
HOW TO MEDITATE IN THE SAUNA OR STEAM ROOM
Meditation is easier when you are comfortable and free from distractions. This is why saunas and steam rooms work so well for meditation. Your muscles are all relaxed and your mind stops thinking about the body. This is the time when your thoughts will wander. It is important to sit upright in a comfortable position with your back straight. As the stress and anxiety is released, you will be surprised at the clarity of your thoughts. If you stay in for long enough, you may even have a vision like the Amerindians do, but you must be careful not to over exert yourself and remember to keep yourself hydrated at all times.
Sit in total silence and ignore any noises except for the sound of your own breathing, which should be steady and rhythmical. If you are already experienced with any kind of meditative discipline then you can put it to good work in the sauna but if you are a novice, you may find this takes practice. The good thing about sauna meditation for novices is that it is actually easier in the sauna than out, because the conditions are so peaceful and relaxing.