Social Sauna – Bathing and Wellbeing

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Edited by Jane Withers Studio and published by Therme Group, Social Sauna – Bathing and Wellbeing presents a new perspective on global sauna culture, ritual and design. By defining the sauna’s essence and exploring how this practice is evolving for the 21st century, the authors reveal how sauna is a deeply social practice that can offer renewed benefits for health, wellbeing, and community.  

Recently, sauna culture and urban bathing is undergoing a global resurgence and has become a platform for cultural and design experimentation. The aim of Social Sauna is to illuminate one of the most venerated communal bathing traditions and analyse why and how it is gaining new relevance in our stressed and hyper-connected world.

The Covid -19 pandemic has given increased attention and urgency to preventative healthcare and wellbeing, particularly in the ever more populated urban environment. Younger generations are more health-conscious with growing momentum in practising breathwork, cold water immersion, yoga, meditation, and urban bathing, with mental and physical health and overall wellbeing being a higher priority than ever before. 

This current renewed interest in sauna reflects sauna’s ability to mitigate physical and mental health problems including stress, anxiety and cardiovascular disease. A 2020 Japanese study of bathing habits revealed that participants who bathed every day had a 28% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 26% lower chance of stroke.

raumlabor’s free public sauna in Gothenberg, Sweden sits in the centre of a former industrial port.
Image © raumlabor.

Ancient Traditions and Contemporary Rituals

Social Sauna explores sauna culture from ancient global traditions of steam bathing through to modern experimental sauna practices. In doing so, the authors uncover the potential for sauna to positively impact wellbeing through its scientifically proven benefits to health, as well as its ability to cultivate a deep connection to nature and a sense of community. The publication reveals the important role that design plays in creating spaces that contribute to wellbeing. For example, the Bathing Culture sauna in Gothenburg, Sweden, designed by architects raumlabor is intended as a catalyst for community-led regeneration of the area from a disused port to a vibrant new recreational district. The Agora sauna created for the nomadic SALT festival is a temporary structure catering for up to 100 bathers. Its lightweight construction with a frame and a tent-like cover echoes sweat lodges. Creatives such as Bauhaus Sauna Society observe sauna traditions and stage sauna lectures and workshops, developing their own rituals with a deep respect for the vernacular spirit

Agora sauna sits by the water’s edge surrounded by beautiful scenery encouraging a deeper connection to nature.
Designed by Rintala Eggertsson, Image © Martin Losvik.

A New Perspective

As detailed in the publication, experimental sauna culture builds on traditional sauna practices, unifying scientific understanding and ancient knowledge with experimental forms of cultural expression, branching out into related areas such as ritual, performance, exercise and food. 

Social Sauna defines sauna as a practise that is deeply connected to nature. Modern trends for saunas foreground exposure to wild spaces, encourage meaningful connections to environment and place, counter Nature Deficit Disorder and foster environmental awareness.

In addition to fostering a connection to the natural world, the authors suggest that sauna is a powerful tool for building community and connection to others, offering a visceral experience as an antidote to the increasing dominance of the digital and rising anxiety associated with it. 

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