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Jarmo Lehtola has been in over 1,000 different saunas in Finland and can out Sauna Talk anyone

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I first had the pleasure meeting Jarmo Lehtola, then President of Finnish Sauna Society, about four years ago at Mikkel Aaland’s Sweat Summit in San Francisco.

Mikkel Aaland’s Sauna Talk podcast episode is here.

Yet today, i’m overjoyed to share with you my conversation with Jarmo Lehtola, who greeted me at the Helsinki airport upon my arrival to Finland. He was my guide during my first day, whisking me off for a day of sauna.

Jarmo’s guide work is well tuned. He effortlessly walked me onto Metro trains, trams, buses, and around corners all over Helsinki today as we partook in a couple different saunas.

Is there a better way to get over jetlag? No!

Jarmo is a pro. He brought for me a Battery energy drink. 12 oz. can popular all over Finland. Jarmo knew that i’d need a boost/kick for my first day. Also, Jarmo brought for me my first of many bottles of Estonian Mineral water, which turned out to be critical for me throughout my trip.

Jarmo and Battery energy drink and Varska mineral water.

Mineral balance is critical for intense sauna action, or intense sweating action of any kind. Mineral replenishment is a critical component of hydration, and more on this later and within this episode of Sauna Talk.

Sompasauna was our first stop. What first popped up as a radical anti establishment sauna squat, sompasauna has gained awareness and legitimacy. Set on Government land, just along the urban sea side seawall, we have two wood fired saunas ready for us this Monday mid day.

Lots of apartment buildings in the shadows of Sompasauna, yet God love the Finns, allowing this free sauna set up to exist. Even construction workers come to Sompasauna after work.

All volunteer. Lots of firewood, most is reclaimed from busted up pallets and miscellaneous dimensional lumber, straight off the work grounds adjacent.

No shortage of Sauna Talk with Jarmo (left) and head volunteer of Sompasauna (right)

Jarmo has been busy lately, hosting banya trips to Russia.

It is important to have specific measurements in sauna. Two fists above your head to the ceiling. It is important for Finns to have this “cold water element” as part of sauna.

We learn 99% of the good for you sauna elements. Your own time. Do it properly or don’t do it all. Sauna is in our DNA. 4 hours is quite normal.

We stay in the sauna as long as it feels good

20 cubic meters: optimal sauna size. Seats 8 persons.

Big gap along hot room door. 10-15 cm.

Sauna is as much a state of mind as it is a physical place.

Hydration: it is really important to drink before sauna. 0.5 liter before. 1 liter of water for each hour of sauna. 3.5 – 4 liters of plain water. Magnesium and zinc. Something else besides tap water.

Never alcohol during a sauna session. Water is the best.

The mental path to sauna

Body condition helps one sweat sooner and faster. A conditioned response. A good sauna person has marathon experience, so they know about drinking and hydrating.

If you don’t drink, you cannot sweat, if you don’t sweat, you cannot stay in the sauna. Simple.

In Finland, you don’t need any timers. Every person is different. We cannot have timers and rules and behavior. It doesn’t belong to sauna culture.

Rules: You need to behave in a Finnish sauna as you would behave in a church. The basic guideline is that you should be quiet in a sauna.

When people come and go, it is polite to ask if people would like to have water on the rocks, to create more loyly.

Then we were off to Hermanni Sauna

A very small yet historic public sauna. Pay 12 euros at the door. Men to the left, 30 men’s lockers, women to the right, 15 women’s lockers.

Separate Men’s and women’s saunas.  Iki tall cylindrical electro
Stove.  Compared to the fresh breezes of the seaside Sompasauna, Hermanni felt a bit stuffy until Jarmo expertly cracked the changing room window, which created good air flow throughout the lower level sauna space. Hermanni sauna has been in operation since 1950, set below ground under a 6 story apartment building in a just about residential neighborhood yet still in Helsinki proper. 

No tourists here, and was not very busy during our sauna visit.

Warding off jet lag with 4 local patrons at Hermanni Sauna, Helsinki
Considering another sauna before retiring to Clariton Hotel, Helsinki Harbor

Jarmo joined me a few days later in Tampere, Finland, “Sauna Capital of The World” Here I am showing you two totally awesome public saunas by the lakeside in Tampere. (Plus, getting on Jarmo’s nerves. “You are hopeless.”)

One more thing about Jarmo before I hand over the mic. I started out by calling him a sauna pro. But after some time together, in and out of loyly rooms and cold plunges, I began to have a different understanding and appreciation of Jarmo Lehtola. He is not a pro, nor an evangelist, but a sauna expert. Jarmo is not looking to “monetize” sauna. Jarmo is not looking to convert people to sauna.

Jarmo is keen on sharing sauna with those interested in learning about sauna. Jarmo is interested only in good sauna. He is only interested in saunas with very good heat. And saunas with “water elements.” Bring Jarmo into a sauna, and he will immediately understand the build and design elements of sauna. I met my match with Jarmo Lehtola.

Other Sauna Talk Episodes


8 thoughts on “Jarmo Lehtola has been in over 1,000 different saunas in Finland and can out Sauna Talk anyone”

  1. Hi Glenn- great site and podcasts from your trip to Finland! I myself visited the Sompasauna on a business trip to Helsinki in May 2016. The photo you show though looks different from the sauna I was in. Curious if on your trip or during other discussion with Finns, whether they have explained building material selection for saunas. Specifically some Finns build structural walls with White Spruce and don’t line with cedar. Thoughts on this and pros/cons of not using Cedar and how common this is in Finland?

  2. I’m in the process of making my Sauna room door right now. Should I cut it shorter for a larger ventilation bottom?

    I was planning on 1″, but this article seems to suggest 4-6″ is more appropriate.

    Am I reading that right? Glenn- do you agree?

  3. Paul: These Finns are crazy for lots of gap underneath hot room door. For now, I suggest sticking with the North American adaptation of 1″ gap. That said, with an empty canvas (new build) I am WAY up for entertaining 7’6″ tall hot room with a 6″ step up/duck board floor on top of skim coated durarock underneath. The key is two fists over your head as you sit on upper bench to ceiling. Then we work down from there.

  4. Cedar is a rarity in Finland. They are big on White Spruce, as you reference. They are using Aspen/Poplar for benches. Soft (relatively) cool wood species. There are two saunas now at Sompasauna. Please send pics. A great place, as you know.

  5. Great article, Glenn! I was just in Finland (again, 4th time in 6 years) to get another puppy of a rare breed I have. I do not ‘tourist’ when I am there- I hang out and live with other friends in my dog breed. And do as many saunas as possible! This time was only 5 days but I got to have some good Finnish experiences this time including 3 saunas (2 wood, 1 electric), lakeside summer cottage, good bread, karelian pies (I plussed them a little bit with avocado and sriracha sauce to bring them into the 21st century), salmiakki ice cream, staying up late because there is no actual night and, of course, loads of Fazer chocolate in my suitcase to come home. And lots more. Going back for a camp near the Russian border for my breed in late August. Can’t wait to try some more saunas! It does make me appreciate my little electric one. I told some of my friends mine doesn’t go much over 155 degrees F (68 C) and quite a few of them said that was good enough for them. But now I want a wooden one some day!

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