When we talk about sauna, we think immediately about Finland or Russia, but this is an important part of Latvian life too. For Latvians sauna is a special ritual with which they don't just cleanse their body but their soul too; so important that they established even a museum.
If you have never experienced the real Latvian sauna it would be a nice idea to start by visiting the Sauna museum. Here you will get acquainted with the traditions of Latvian sauna and will have the possibility to sit inside six historical saunas as the Big Black Sauna or the newly built one. In addition guides and experts are available to tell about Latvian sauna traditions and show you the whole process and its unique benefits.
If you want to do Latvian sauna in the right way you should follow these special bath rituals. First you have to find a sauna, a wood-fired stoves sauna or an electrical one, that has a pond, a cold pool or at least a shower. This last detail really makes the difference since after sauna you should cool down rapidly to benefit by the contrast between the heat and the cold, that will act positively on your blood vessels and the flexibility of your skin toughening your whole body.
When finally in the sauna, first you have to ladle water over hot stones from time to time, “to raise the spirit”, in other words you have to sprinkle the rocks with hot water to produce vapour. The air in the sauna has to be very humid and the room has to reach the ideal temperature of 86 C°. For their first time people enjoy sauna at a much lower temperature because our body need to get used to it, otherwise the first experience could be not so relaxing and pleasant. It will be even better if you sit in the sauna to heat up and then cool down outside the room for a couple of times.
At this moment the ritual to purify your body and your spirit has already begun. You start to sweat, get rid of dead skin cells and then you can move to the next step: the swatting ritual. For this one you use swatting besoms made with bunches of various three branches. The swatting is usually done by oneself, but it's actually better if a friend or sauna companion does it for you, especially if he or she is already experienced in switching from slapping to fanning and whacking. After the swatting you should jump into the pond, a cold water pool or have a cold shower. Then you have a little rest and you can start the beauty treatments: applying facial mask or scouring yourself with store-bought or homemade scrub.
Apart from beauty treatments and specific rituals, sauna for Latvians is a particular place that they enjoy with people who are really close to them, people who they really trust. So think twice before refusing their invitation to a sauna because that really means that you're very special to them.
Written by: Jessica Carrettiero