On your marks, get set, sweat. This month, La Pochette opens the door into the world of saunas - as well as Aufguss, a sauna ritual that’s never been hotter in the wellness industry
A staple feature for any hotel, gym or spa worth its salt, saunas are not a new thing. They actually date back to around 2000 BC and are thought to originate from somewhere in northern Europe, although there’s a lot of conflicting arguments for exactly where saunas first sprang up. They’re still an integral part of everyday life in numerous countries, including Latvia, Russia, Estonia and of course, Finland - where despite a population of just over 5 million people, this Nordic country has a whopping 3 million saunas within its borders. That’s a sauna to share between almost every two people.
The first Finnish saunas were nothing like the trendy, clean Hygge-like spaces we know today. Originally made from pits dug in a slope within the ground, the initial saunas were always incredibly smoky, known as a type now called savusauna (which means, unsurprisingly, smoke sauna).
Taking around half a day to raise temperatures high enough, these differed from modern saunas in that they were operated by using a fireplace to heat a pile of rocks called a kiuas. After burning large volumes of wood, users would then let out the smoke before stripping off all clothing to enjoy the heat and the steam. This warmth could last for up to 12 hours, if one knew their sauna stuff.
Things changed after the industrial revolution arrived in Northern Europe, which led to a more advanced (and consequently much more lung-friendly) style of sauna - with the addition of chimneys.
This new feature enabled saunas to be heated not only much faster but continuously - leading to the eventual style of saunas we know and love today. Electric saunas (first invented by the Fins) became popular in the western world by the mid-20th century. Going electric meant saunas became widely more accessible to a vast number of people - and could be easily installed inside hotels, gyms and of course, spas.
Benefits of Sauna
So, why do we love to robe up? There are multiple physical and mental health benefits associated with using saunas - but the most notable is a feeling of relaxation. This is because your sympathetic nervous system becomes more active in order to maintain a temperature balance in your body - after all, there’s a lot going on when you step into the heat of a sauna. Your heart rate goes up and your blood vessels dilate, whilst blood flow increases to the skin. Things get sweaty, fast - it’s not uncommon to pour out a pint of sweat during just a short stint.
As a result, your body’s natural reaction to the heat can make you more alert and less receptive to pain. The heat relaxes your muscles (which is why many athletes love to make a beeline after an intense workout) all whilst improving blood circulation and reducing joint tension alongside.
Fascinatingly, saunas have also been associated with improved brain function. In 2016, researchers from Finland published findings* of a 20-year study of over 2,300 men, linking sauna use with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Research found those who used a sauna 2 to 3 times per week were 22% less likely to get dementia and 20% less likely to get Alzheimer's than those who did not. With the study focusing on men alone, there’s still plenty of uncharted territory to explore when it comes to the benefit of sauna and how it can impact both sexes.
The Fuss About Aufguss
Now, onto Aufguss. A word stemming from the German “infusion”, Aufguss is essentially a multi-sensory wellness ritual that takes place inside a sauna and originates from the need to replace the air inside a sauna.
Traditionally, in order to restore the temperature and humidity inside the space, water would be thrown onto the sauna’s hot stones and a rotating towel would be used to distribute the vapour.
This experience has slowly grown from being a simple functional act to becoming a full wellness ritual, developing into more complex and choreographed towel movements over time. Led by an Aufgussmeister and lasting for around 15 minutes, the wellness experience involves pouring essential-oil-infused water onto the sauna’s hot stones and using rhythmical towel movements to circulate the fragrant air. No two Aufguss are exactly the same - some feature music, whilst others let the simple sounds of towel-waving accompany the ritual.
Many types of Aufguss exist, but the three most commonly known are “classic”, “show” and “standard”. A “classic” Aufguss focuses on wellness alone. The “show” centres around entertainment whilst lastly, the “standard” is a blend of the two.
Increasingly popular across the global spa and wellness industry, the Aufguss experience has grown in popularity so much that you can even find ‘Sauna Theaters’, which are equipped with professional light shows, surround sound and the space for up to 250 people. Now that’s a lot of sweat - we don’t envy the person who cleans up afterwards.
Try it out for yourself
...and don’t forget your waterproof Sweat, Kit or Wet bag:
1 UK: Rudding Park, Yorkshire
The luxurious Rudding Park spa hotel in Harrogate offers more than just a daily dedicated Aufguss ritual - they’ll be hosting their very own annual UK Aufguss Championships this September, where participants can battle it out to be crowned towel champion.
2 USA: Awana Spa and Wellness at Resorts World, Las Vegas
The Awana Spa and Wellness at Resorts World in Las Vegas features a wellness experience unavailable anywhere else in the US: a grand-scale event sauna, with the capacity to seat an audience of up to 40 people who sit together and enjoy the theatrical art of Aufguss, performed by professional dancers alongside special lighting effects, aromatherapy and accompanying music.
3 EUROPE: L’Albereta, Italy
L’Albereta, nestled halfway between Brescia and Bergamo, is a 5* Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel featuring stunning views over the distant foothills of the Alps and a world-renowned Henri Chenot Wellness SPA. As well as a plethora of treatments and top notch facilities, guests can also enjoy regular Aufguss rituals during their spa sessions.
P.S: Don’t forget your sweat bag, wet bag or kit bag for a dose of La Pochette style
Links * https://academic.oup.com/ageing/article/46/2/245/2654230