The Finnish Sauna – An Introduction to the Finnish Language

Among the great benefits a traditional Finnish sauna offers is a thorough cleansing of the body. The heat of the sauna helps to open pores in the skin and flush out built-up bacteria through heavy perspiration. Regular sauna use is also good for blood circulation, pain relief, and strengthening the body’s immune system. Health benefits such as these have been touted in numerous books and articles that have been written on the subject of Finnish saunas.

However, there is one potential benefit of traditional sauna bathing that has been repeatedly overlooked by even the most fervent supporters of the Finnish sauna. As obvious as it may seem in hindsight, it’s still worth mentioning: the traditional Finnish bath can serve as a great introduction to the Finnish language.

The word sauna itself is a Finnish word. In fact, it is the only word of Finnish origin that has established such a secure place for itself in the English language. Ask yourself what other word better describes a sauna than sauna.

While not yet accepted into the English language, there are some other Finnish words that define important aspects of the authentic Finnish experience. The word kiuas, for example, describes the traditional Finnish stove or heater that holds and heats the rocks that are such an integral part of the Finnish sauna. When water is tossed upon these hot rocks, steam is then produced. The Finnish word for this steam (so esteemed by Finnish sauna enthusiasts) is loyly.

In a traditional Finnish setting, bathers sit on wooden benches. To the Finnish people, these benches are known as lauteet. Each bench, or laude, is placed at a height in the sauna room where the bather can enjoy the air as hot as he or she can tolerate it.

Adding to the pleasure of a traditional Finnish experience is the vihta or vasta, a thick bunch of young, leafy birch twigs that are tied together and used by the bather to slap on him or herself (without causing pain) to promote blood circulation and cleanse the skin. In countries where tender birch is not as readily available as it is in Finland, the vihta or vasta can consist of cedar or poplar twigs. The actual slapping of the vihta or vasta is known as vihtoa in Finnish.

Sauna, kiuas, loyly, laude, lauteet, vihta, vasta, vihtoa. Congratulations on completing your first Finnish vocabulary lesson. Next we work on the pronunciation.