Guest post series continues. We are pleased to introduce Sam Wacha, manager of the sauna forum on Reddit. Sam is a fellow sauna enthusiast, passionate about helping others realize their authentic sauna dreams. A kindred spirit in crime, we are pleased to welcome Sam to saunatimes! Enter Sam:
As a Minnesotan who grew up a little bit all over the state, I turned my back on the suburbs and the rat race of corporate work life and moved out to the country with my wife and dogs and never looked back. I started enjoying Sauna in my early teens, always listening to the old timers talk politics or weather.
In the summer of 2019, I researched all I could to be able to build my first Sauna. Being the 30-something I am, I hit all the social media platforms for pictures, advice, videos—really anything and everything Sauna related. I had a $1000 saved up and knew enough carpentry skills to be dangerous, so I started in.
My first step was picking up a wood burning stove from a local welding student, who had made it to heat large canvas tents for hunting out West. I’d spent enough time in those tents during my time in the Army to know that thing would heat up a Sauna in no time.
Next was framing the room. I built right on top of the concrete in my back shed, following the chalk outlines I had placed. Plywood exterior walls, insulation, and foil took no time at all with a few screws and a nail gun. It was the end of August when a ding on my phone alerted me to a Labor Day sale going on at the local big box store: cedar fencing was two bucks a board! I jumped in the truck early the next morning so I could be first in line. My little air compressor ran for about four hours straight that afternoon until every board was up on those walls. A few finishing touches over the next couple of weeks—a bench, a door, a wool hat—and I was there.
I would have never imagined that when I finished in the fall that a global pandemic would be right around the corner.
In my hunt for ideas, I came across a Sauna forum on Reddit. At first glance it looked like the Wild West: lots of advertisements for infrared contraptions and talk about how Sauna will cure this or that. Maybe this isn’t the best place for info, I thought. But every so often there would be a user who would post a beautiful hand-crafted Sauna or someone who really helped someone with a question that was posed.
I knew from digging around the Internet that there were not too many places like this so I thought I would get involved. The forum was not being actively moderated, so when I was able to take over, I gave the page a much-needed facelift—new logo, new background, some general guidelines.
It wasn’t too long after that Covid-19 became a reality and businesses started to shut down. Users poured in. Three, four, five thousand users in a relatively short time had me a little overwhelmed, but the content and culture were starting to shift for the better. Pictures of people sharing their Sauna from all over the world were becoming more frequent, how-to questions appeared almost daily, and people were talking others out of wasting their money on things that aren’t Sauna. I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself and took pride in cultivating a place where people could come to see and hear from those who walked before them.
To me Sauna is a ritual—a process that I look forward to when I wake up in the morning. Getting home from work, lighting a fire, getting my drink and silly hat, and finally getting away from my screens and noise. Letting the löyly take me away from the stress and aches of everyday life. Sharing that with others is now a priority for me. I do not want anyone to miss out on what I believe to be a wonderful activity and culture.
What are people talking about?
Reddit, like I mentioned, can be a bit of a free-for-all. Fortunately, users always like to share pictures of their Sauna projects and new additions. My favorite posts are pictures of people enjoying a nice cool down next to the lake, or custom builds I would have never thought of.
I’ve noticed a lot of questions regarding lighting and venting recently. Will these LED lights stand up to the heat of my Sauna? or What is the proper placement for venting in my homemade build? It’s nice to see the community offer their two cents or point them in the right direction. I especially enjoy seeing others point to your e-book for good examples of what a traditional Sauna should be and how they used it to craft theirs.
I try to step in if someone is getting off track or recommending something that truly won’t work. But knowing they are giving good advice to seek out quality information from Saunatimes makes my life easy.
I feel that the community does have a vigorous dialog with those who want to discuss health concerns as well, and this is where our diversity in the group really shines. Young, old, East, and West—we have people from all over who can chime in when someone asks, I have asthma. Should I go in the Sauna? Within a few hours you’ll have someone who’s been in your shoes responding to your concerns.
Where are people from?
Reddit is open to everyone and r/Sauna is open to anyone who hits the join button. From what I can tell, we have a healthy mix of users from the States and Canada, as well as a good deal from Europe. I always check some of the other forums when we have a large influx of new users, such as when the Finland forum is discussing a popular Sauna topic. At those times we usually see a bump in membership.
If I had to put a percentage on it, I believe more than half, maybe even 75%, understand authentic Sauna. These are the users who make our community what it is today. It doesn’t take much for someone to come across the amazing health benefits of this or that and get targeted ads for some plug-in box that will cure everything. They think, Huh, maybe that’s the ticket! They do a simple Google search and find our forum and post, I’m thinking about getting this. Invariably they will share a link to some $200 junk.com foil Sauna tent with a space heater for a seat.
It’s then that we as a community step in and start to ask questions: Why? What are your goals? Do you have the room for a Sauna? Have you looked at this? I always get a little smile when these conversations evolve, with the new enthusiast realizing that Sauna is an experience. It is a culture unto itself. It isn’t something that you use for five minutes and cures what ails you. Yes, there are some members who come across a little stern at times, putting their foot down on what is and isn’t Sauna. But if we didn’t have people who believe as strongly as we do, the forum would descend back into the chaos it was before I started.
How Important Is Good Sauna?
To me it is everything.
Sauna is an experience, and exercise if you will. There is a process and key parts that can’t be ignored. When you go to work in the morning you get dressed, you eat breakfast, possibly commute, interact with co-workers, work on things. You don’t just start working; there are conscious decisions that get made, even small ones, that are sometimes overlooked, like wearing matching socks. I feel the same is true for Sauna.
A good Sauna experience to me has multiple steps and little checkpoints along the way. Stoves have come a long way, but I still haven’t seen one that is ready with the flick of a switch. So, there is an anticipation that builds with getting ready.
Time. Time is a gift and the older you get, the more you realize how precious it is. Sauna gives me the time to reflect, to slow down a bit and relax while the hot room gets up to temp. Then after I’ve chosen my beverage and my wool hat (yes, I own multiple) I open the door and feel that heat and steam for the first time and know I’m going in for a wonderful sweat.
I frequently Sauna alone, but doing so with my wife and friends allows me to have a conversation with no distractions. No one checking their phone, just natural togetherness. After 15-20 minutes, it’s time for a break—elevated heart rate, profuse sweat, the rush of cold air as you step out. That’s about the time it starts to set in for newcomers. This isn’t a quick fix. Nor does it require anything behind it other than a good time. Then, a cool shower or a jump in the snow. In Minnesota that’s about nine months a year. And then do it all over again.
That to me is good Sauna.
What Topics Do You Feel Need Better Explanation and Understanding?
For Americans, it’s the holistic culture behind Sauna. It’s not just some steam room next to the pool at a motel. It’s not just a hot room at your gym where all the old guys hang out. It’s truly for everyone and the benefits come from within. I think we (Americans) are so easily marketed to—take this pill, buy this gadget. Unfortunately, this quick-fix mentality has warped the Western idea of Sauna compared to what it truly is to people around the world. Those who don’t know any better won’t unless the good stewards of the culture step in.
I’ve touched on the health-conscious crowd. I believe there are some great benefits but only through personal experience. There are some wild claims out there pertaining to Sauna and how it can do X, Y, or Z. I take a lot of that with a grain of salt as it’s usually just trying to sell you something. There are some great medical professionals out there and, given time and increasing use, the science will only get better with time. For now, I would encourage them to trust their gut and do what feels good.
Those outside the US should know that we’re trying, and we mean no disrespect. Come to Minnesota or join the conversation online. Glenn and I will be the first ones to welcome you to where Sauna is being respected and flourishing. From Lake Superior to downtown Minneapolis and everywhere in between, Sauna is alive and well here in the States, and we want to share it with you!