The Art of Sweating


Photo | Teresa Queirós | ♡ Her Work

While melting into the flat cedar bench, stretched along a wooden wall in the sauna at Dragon Tree Spa, My muscle knots sweated straight out of my body in the swelling heat.

Most proper Eastern Europeans are devoted to the practice of sweating inside the sturdy wooden walls of a banya. They do it for health, out of habit, for social purposes, and as a beauty treatment.  The benefits are worth whatever discomfort some complain of, and until now, I forgot well suffocating heat relaxes.

If you haven’t experienced the benefits of sweating, let me tell you why this practice keeps doctors away.

Wet + Dry Saunas

There are two types of saunas: wet and dry.  Both are heated to high temperatures from 150-175 degrees Fahrenheit using a stove or electric heater and volcanic rocks to keep the heat.

In the wet sauna, water gets splashed over the rocks, as it vaporizes hot steam rises.  The steam helps to open pores in our bodies causing us to sweat, unwanted toxins get released, and since viruses cannot survive high heat, illnesses decrease when practicing this peculiar art of sweating regularly.

In a dry sauna, there is no steam— just dry heat making it more tolerable for longer sessions.  Dry heat reaches the body more directly. The body sweats in the same way, removing toxins, tension, and stress while stimulating blood circulation, and rejuvenating skin through perspiration.

What to Wear

The right way to dry sauna, as I learned from my dad, is to wear a funny, triangular wool hat made just for this purpose.  The intense heat is good for the body, but not for the head.  The hat keeps your head from overheating and from drying out your hair.  If you don’t have a hat, just wrap a cotton towel around your head.

If you’re wearing swimsuits or shorts it’s best to choose fabrics made of natural fibers— synthetics can melt or shrivel, while metal buttons or zippers can scorch you.

Water + Aroma

Drink lots of water— this is vital for the sweating process.  Hot tea is another popular sauna drink. The hardcore Russians will down a shot of Vodka, but I highly don’t recommend that.

Adding essential oils isn’t necessary, but they make all the difference.  Just remember that undiluted oils should not get placed on the hot rocks undiluted. Use four drops or pure essential oil to 1 liter of water then splash it on the heated rocks.  A regular 1-liter water bottle can get used, just add the essential oil, close the lid, shake it up and splash the water on the rocks once they start to sizzle.

The most popular oils for saunas are eucalyptus, pine, birch, peppermint and citrus varieties.  But you can use whatever, sandalwood, clary sage and bergamot are also fragrant and healthful.

The Venik

Then comes the most important part— The Venik. A venik is a bundle of leafy birch or oak tree twigs tied together to form a broom-like bouquet.  After your body is well-heated, the venik gets dipped into a wooden bowl filled with water and someone whacks, strokes, lashes, rubs or waggles it over your hot, hot skin.

This is no joke, a venik massage releases phytoncides— the biologically active substance that kills or depresses growth and development of pathogens and improves blood circulation, intensifies skin capillary activities, and metabolism.

I’m completely sold out on the health benefits of the sauna.  Plus, there is nothing quite as bonding as the lightheaded conversations that happen while sweating your soul out with a few close friends. I mean, this beats sitting a cold and sterile doctors office visit.