Recently, during the last training we participated in, we were lucky to be able to test a smoke-sauna or the authentic estonian sauna. This is the time for us to explain a little more of this tradition is in Estonia. Most people know the finnish sauna which is broadly spread in the scandinavian Europe.
Without getting too much into the details, it is basically a fire which is lit under some granit stones (sometimes this is replaced by an electric heating) in a pretty small room, more like a closet, but very well isolated, in which you get in with a few friends if possible to enjoy the heat. It is a very dry type of heat, so you can pour a little water on the stones to make it more humid. The humidity actually brings down the temperature slightly but it feels suddenly much warmer and some find it hard to breath. In reality, it takes time getting used to going to the sauna and it should be done gradually (without trying to beat reccords) to fully enjoy the experience. Each one has his own technique but the options are usually between :
a) jumping into a river or lake
b) rolling yourself in the snow or in a hole in the ice
c) taking a cold shower or pour bucket of water over your head
This stimulates the blood circulation as you can imagine and also cleans your body (and your mind as well, for the only thing you can think of is “it’s hot in here, it’s hot it’s hot !”
The estonian sauna is based on the same principle, but the heating is different, instead of an electric or wooden stove, it is an open fire which is done inside a small house (well isolated), the smoke accumulating inside and the heat warming up the stones.
A person has to maintain the fire going for at least four hours before it gets warm enough inside (that’s probably why they are not so common as the finnish sauna), then the smoke is let out very quickly and you can enter the small cabin with a plank of wood to sit on. You have to try not to touch the sides for the walls are hot but also because of the soot.There was always a little smoke left which gives it a peculiar smell. Some throw beer on the stones in addition to the water to have a nice smell similar to that of baked bread. Purist will go as far as whipping themselves with branches of birch to help stimulate the blood and the sooting. Personnally, we liked this new type of sauna, which we hadn’t tested yet and which left our skinks very soft. This by itself would have been a reason to come back to Estonia !!!
The picture is that of a smoke sauna being prepared in Soomaa during our mid-term training last year, unfortunately we had not been able to try it at that time.