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A fact to consider: Finland is home to 5.5 million people and 3.3 million saunas. At one per household, the sauna is as common as a kitchen or bedroom in Finnish homes. It’s an essential part of the Finnish experience and one that, until now, tourists were not always able to experience.

Jasper Pääkkönen set out to change that with Löyly, a public sauna in central Helsinki. In 2016, the actor (best known for his role on the Vikings television series) and his business partner opened the seaside space as part of a revitalization effort in one of the city’s industrial neighborhoods. Pääkkönen insists that there’s no right way to enjoy a sauna, but he offers a few tips.

Cold water

Saunas are traditionally positioned lakeside for good reason. Alternating between the sauna’s dry heat and cool water works wonders on the body. “Science tells us that there are a lot of health benefits to the sauna,” says Pääkkönen. “If you add the cold water element, those benefits only increase.” A dusting of winter snow never stood in the way of a health-conscious Finn. When lakes freeze over, visitors use drills or saws for quick access to fresh swimming water.

An ice-cold beer

While saunas are traditionally single-sex and clothing-free, Pääkkönen says times are changing. Modern public saunas, like Löyly, often invite mixed groups to slip on swimsuits and socialize over a chilled beer. “A post-sauna beer is part of the culture. It’s not to get drunk, but a way to relax and enjoy the moment,” explains Pääkkönen.

  • Words:
    MacKenzie Lewis Kassab
  • Photography:
    Lasse Fløde

Birch branches

Most Finns say a gentle, self-inflicted beating enhances time in the sauna. The practice is called vasta—or vihta, depending on which part of Finland you’re in—and prescribes whipping the skin with a bundle of birch branches. It’s said to increase circulation and soothe sore muscles.

An open mind

“The average Finn goes to church when someone gets married or dies,” claims Pääkkönen. “Instead, the sauna is how we cleanse our mind, body and soul.” He suggests combating stress with a silent, solitary moment in the heat. Most people make it a weekly ritual, but some find more frequent visits beneficial. “You won’t find a Finn who doesn’t have an essential relationship with a sauna,” he concludes. “It has a special place in our lives and in our hearts.”

This story originally appeared on Skandiastyle.com.

  • Words:
    MacKenzie Lewis Kassab
  • Photography:
    Lasse Fløde
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