Sauna’s are the Holy Grail.

Since I was a child, I have been going to saunas, although I call it a Schvitz.  In Yiddish, “Schvitz” means to sweat, but also means a bathhouse. If you are Russian, you call the sauna a Banya, and if you are Turkish it’s Hammams, and the Finnish call it Loyly. My father indoctrinated me and brother into the fraternity at a young age and 45 years later, we are still going.  Most Wednesdays during the winter, we make the 12-mile trip to Detroit to spend an hour sweating. This particular Schvitz has been around since the 1930’s and resides in a nondescript building in northwest Detroit. It was by design that the building looks characterless because back in 1930’s it was a gathering place for the Jewish mob, The Purple Gang. And, since the Schvitz was a bathhouse, it was the perfect meeting place because everyone was in towels making it very hard to conceal a weapon or wear a wire.

The sauna was not built for saving time but for spending it well.

Bernhard Hillila, The Sauna Is

Today, the Schvitz is a place to sweat, detox and purify your mind and soul. There is really nothing like spending a few hours in a sauna. Although saunas or Banyas are all designed differently, there are two common elements: A place to sit or lie down and really, really good heat.  This particular sauna uses an oven to heat rocks, which are then doused with water, which creates the steam that heats the room.

Patrons, lie or sit on benches and spend the next few hours sweating away toxins.

And, after a 20-minute sweating session, you can take a cold plunge (the pool is freezing), rinse in the showers and repeat. 

Implacable dry heat interrupted by waves of löyly is the essence of sauna

Michael Nordskog, The Opposite of Cold

If you really want to amp up your experience, you get a “Playtza” which uses a Venik, or bushel of oak leaves banded together which is then soaked in hot water and soap and is used to brush and at times to smack the person as a dead-skin and toxin removal treatment.

For seasoned Schvitzers and laypeople, the entire ritual is a cathartic release and research has shown that sustained heat releases the same endorphins as heavy physical activity. The combination of the heat, sweat, oak leaves and cold plunge invigorates, detoxifies and clears the mind.

The ideal sauna is a small building made of logs, set near a lakeshore, facing toward the sunset.

Bernhard Hillila, The Sauna Is

Many cultures have their own rituals as it relates to sweating and detoxifying. The Native Americans call it a Sweat Lodge and although the design is different than a Russian Banya or Eastern European Schvitz, there is always a place to sit or lie down and it provides really, really good heat. The Sweat Lodge is typically used in a ritual or ceremony “… to give thanks, to heal, to seek wisdom, and to purify the mind, body, and soul.” The lodge itself is essentially a hut, built from branches and covered with blankets to keep the heat in. A pit is dug in the center where the rocks are placed. The rocks are heated over a 24-hour period outside of the sweat lodge and then placed in the pit once the ceremony begins.

“A sauna is a very simple thing. The simpler it is, the more you are likely to enjoy it and the better it will be for you.”

Aarne (sauna host to Caskie Stinnett), Grand and Private Pleasures

I have attended a number of Sweat Lodge ceremonies which can last 2-3 hours and felt the ritual was as invigorating and cleansing as my time in a Schvitz or Banya. The Sweat Lodge ceremony is considered more than just a detoxifying exercise, but rather:

The sweat ceremony is intended as a spiritual reunion with the creator and a respectful connection to the earth itself as much as it is meant for purging toxins out of the physical body.

  • Mental Healing – it frees the mind of distractions, offering clarity.
  • Spiritual Healing – it allows for introspection and connection to the planet and the spirit world.
  • Physical Healing – it can potentially provide antibacterial and wound-healing benefits.

In fact, I attended a Sweat Lodge with colleagues from work, and the experience was illuminating and team building.  After the ceremony, we all sat down to a meal and had time to decompress and share our thoughts on the experience and the response was unanimously positive and some said it was life changing.  Most of us felt that we released emotional as well as physical toxins. There is a feeling of lightness that lasts for a few weeks, and maybe even months.

A few months ago, I bought an infrared sauna blanket. Now, when I am not visiting the Schvitz, I will spend 45 minutes to hour in the bed. And, although I do sweat, fell clearer and have more energy than when I started, for me it doesn’t provide the same experience as sitting in a sauna for 20-25 minutes. There is just something truly special about the whole experience, from the heat to the sweat to the cold plunge and then back into the heat. The cycle is cathartic!

I will leave you with a Sauna Deep Thought:

“Here in Finland, we think that the sauna is of enormous physical benefit but that benefit depends entirely upon your ability to relax yourself while you are taking the heat. […] Relaxation is everything, that why we discourage conversation, singing, or whistling in the sauna. Shut out the outside world and its problems.”

Aarne (sauna host to Caskie Stinnett), Grand and Private Pleasures

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top