So, tell us a little about you, where are you from and your background.
My name is Yukiko Oyama. I was born and raised in Japan. Bathing culture in Japan is very rich, including many hot springs and public bathhouses. A variety of baths and a sauna are available everywhere. I grew up taking a bath every day, so bathing is essential for my life. I moved to New York, and unfortunately the city has only limited access to authentic bathing and saunas.
When and how did you first get into the sauna?
I got into the sauna culture in June 2016 even though I grew up taking it since I was a kid. My mentor, Katsuki Tanaka, an official ambassador of the Japan Sauna Spa Association, first introduced/taught me how to take a sauna in a proper way (repeat hot, cold, and rest cycle) and the benefits of it. I fell in love immediately and started seeking authentic sauna experiences. I also wanted to learn about the history and tradition of the sauna. So, I went to Finland and the Baltic States in October 2016, and I continue my world sauna quest since then.
The current project. It is based on Latvian sauna. Why Latvian Pirts specifically?
During my first sauna trip, I visited a Pirts Master in Lithuania and the ritual struck me. It was an intimate, spiritual, meditative, calming, and utterly relaxing experience and it was different from any sauna experience I ever had before. I also felt like the Pirts ritual is the ultimate form of all my interests and things I love combined – sauna, plants, natural healing, private spa experience, tea time, and small talk. After traveling and experiencing a variety of sweat cultures for 3 years, I came to the point where I wanted to learn more about the Pirts ritual. My sauna friend introduced me to my Latvian Pirts Master leva Lace and I went to Latvia to get my first training in 2019. I had magical 10 days with leva and reaffirmed my love for the ritual.
What is Pirts?
Pirts a healing tradition carried out in Latvia (and The Baltic States) passed down through the generations. The pirts is defined and widely acknowledged by the Bather’s Annual Congress, in 2018: “PIRTS is ancient historical and cultural Latvian tradition of cleansing and promotion of well-being with a unique recital of folklore verses, application of plants and other gifts of nature, in a hot and moist environment.”
Have you read Scott Carney’s “The Wedge” and his experience with Pirts in Latvia?
I didn’t know the Wedge, but have started reading it. Thanks for the recommendation!
Can you elaborate a little bit more about Latvian Pirts?
The Pirts ritual combines healing elements of physical therapy, energy and bodywork, mental and emotional release and restoration, aromatherapy, and hydro-therapeutic procedures. During a Pirts treatment, the body, mind, and spirit are affected by heat and moisture, water contrast procedures, manual bodywork involving whisking and massaging techniques, additional therapeutic treatments, phytotherapy, and aromatherapy.
Back to the Forest Pirts Project, how did it get started?
Yuki went to Latvia in June 2019 to take a private Pirts lesson by leva and some Pirts Masters. It was during midsummer and the whole experience was truly magical. As an outsider, I thought that the beautiful Pirts tradition should be shared with more people, and outside of Latvia. So, leva and Yuki decided to start the “Forest Pirts” Project. While working on a beginner’s manual, Halina reached out to us and joined the project.
Who We Are?
We are a multinational collective of women – leva Lace from Latvia, Halina Kowalski from the USA, and Yukiko Oyama from Japan, sharing the love for sweating culture, nature, and the interests of holistic health, well-being, and self-care.
What We Do?
Our dream is to introduce the Pirts traditions to broader audiences and most importantly, share the knowledge and unique relaxation experiences. We recently created the “Forest Pirts Manual” for beginners which encompasses the history, processes, and whisking techniques. We also share the appeal of the Pirts tradition through our Instagram. Once it becomes safe to travel again, we’re hoping to organize in-person workshops and events to share real experiences with other kindred-minded people and sauna enthusiasts.