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Good heat is easily felt, yet harder to understand

light steam graphic

You don’t have to be a major sauna aficionado to step into a sauna, settle onto the sauna bench, and appreciate how really good heat feels. Good heat is as egalitarian and “righteous” as is the cold. Much like how, on a cold Northern Minnesota night, we can all feel that same blast of arctic wind on our faces.

Some of us can call it out: “it’s gotta be -10 wind chill!” while others just know “man, it’s fucking cold!” and that’s enough.

You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

– Bob Dylan (written possibly somewhere close to Duluth, MN on a cold winter’s day)

Good heat is easily felt

Sauna aficionados sitting next to those new to sauna will often share that same “ahhhhhh” feeling after a well timed blast of steam from tossing water on the sauna rocks.

Good heat is harder to understand

There is a lot to that blast of steam. The Finns call this löyly, and löyly is a very spiritual thing to the Finns. Every sauna has its own unique löyly, and this is saying something in a land of 3.3 million saunas. Good löyly represents the depth potential of good heat. Scientifically, good heat is produced from thermal mass: a quality sauna heater, with the right amount of sauna stones on the heater, and other Lämpömassa producing elements like a dense stove surround, depth to the wood paneling on our sauna walls, and thicker wood decking of our benches.

Most don’t notice these things, yet everybody feels these things.

Does this mean anything? Yes, this means everything. Good heat is what it’s all about. Without good heat, we have no chance of heating up evenly, thoroughly, completely. Without good heat, our ears may feel like they’ve been soaked in hot sauce while our body temperature never changes. Without good heat, after exiting the hot room, if we jump through a hole in the ice, we come out freaked out, because our core never warmed in the first place. Without good heat, we may as well wear a spring jacket while sitting on the sauna bench.

We owe it to ourselves to build saunas that make really good heat. Good heat is what it’s all about. It’s easily felt, and yet harder understood.

Enjoying good heat between sauna rounds (photo Brian Peterson)
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2 thoughts on “Good heat is easily felt, yet harder to understand”

  1. I’m relatively new to sauna, Glenn, and my wife and I are absolutely loving our barrel sauna we have built in our basement. This article interests me and makes me wonder about heating your core temperature. Are there general rules to follow to make sure we’re not only heating our skin? Does a lower temperature (~175-180 degrees) for a longer session raise the body’s internal temperature better than going hotter (~195-200 degrees) for a shorter time? We normally get one session each day, which is typically 20-25 minutes at ~190 degrees.

    I’m loving the website and the podcast! Thanks for making so much information available!

  2. Scott, as you take more and more saunas, I think the concept of heating your core, not your skin, will become natural for you.

    The limitation then becomes the sauna and the heater. As you’ve read about the three types of heat transfer, the mechanics that we are looking for are hot room environments where we aren’t feeling the blast of heat off the metal stove, but the deeper, more subtle and resonating heat that comes from the mass of the room, transferring into our bodies though conduction. (That heat we feel putting our hand above a toaster is radiant heat. And we can’t take much of that type of heat transfer while sitting on the bench).

    So, temperature is relative.

    I hope this helps! Glad you are digging SaunaTimes.

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