The use of the term " Sauna " as it has been referred in most of North America has truly been abused and over-used to such an extent that it has lost its true meaning. When a person mentions the word " sauna " in North America, visions of seedy bathhouses and steam rooms come to mind. The home sauna is in most instances a pleasant enough enclosure heated by various devices that range from electric sauna heaters to far infrared units. These saunas are what have interestingly enough been called a " dry sauna ". There is no steam .The one thing these home saunas have in common with a traditional Finnish sauna is the generated heat because there really is no such thing as a dry sauna.
The true " sauna " has lasted for well over a thousand years. It has been tweaked and minutely altered over all those years but in its true essence, very little has actually been changed. Any changes that have occurred have been mostly health improvements like better ventilation and heating units. The form and function of a traditional Finnish sauna remain intact.
Another term that has taken a pounding in North America is the " sauna session " or " sauna ritual ". A sauna session has come to mean nothing more than a naked or semi-naked individual or individuals sitting in a nice wooden cubicle and just plain sweating. This of course is followed by the occasional dip in the pool or a nice invigorating shower. Although this is so-called sauna session is better than no session at all (at least you clean out and purify your skin pores a little), it is hardly worthy of the term.
The original Finnish sauna incorporates several elements that make up the actual sauna session or sauna ritual. The primary difference between the Finns and most North Americans is the abundance of time that they lavish on the experience. In a Finnish sauna, time is not of the essence. The pleasure of the ever-evolving moment is.
The different elements of the true sauna are the Preparation, Perspiration, Lowly (does not quite translate the right characters here, but it means the hot steam of the sauna), Whisking, Cooling, Washing and finally, Relaxation. There is no schedule or timetable whatsoever and a watch is definitely an optional attachment. Plenty of time is allotted for a true sauna session and many of the actual elements are repeated more than once.
The sauna was introduced to North America in the 1960ès as a status symbol for those that had it all and wanted something different. Even today it is considered to be something of a symbol of wealth, or at least of being well off. Considering that the Finns had a 2000-year head start, it is little wonder that here in North America there is little or no tradition attached to the use of a sauna.
The one true driving force in North America is commerce, and commerce drives the evolution of products to be bigger, better or best. There is no in between. Perhaps in this light, the sauna is evolving into something different and unique to this marketplace. The actual sauna ritual as it pertains to Americans is something that will just have to take more time to develop.
Perhaps we need a new term to describe the North American Sauna Culture. Let the Finns keep their sauna and their sauna ritual. Here we will develop and enjoy our own rituals. Maybe we can use the Native American sweat lodges as a starting point. Or not. I would just like to have the term sauna mean one distinct thing. Then again, I would have to change the name of my site and start from scratch. Never mind. If you can afford it just get the best North American built sauna you can and start your own personal sauna ritual.