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Reading time: approx 11 min 

Preface

I was looking for a book that would explain a sauna's effects in a simple yet professional way. Since I couldn't find it, I wrote it myself.

 

It is 4.45 in the morning, a few days until Christmas of 2020 – the pandemic year, which many would like to forget, but we'll remember it forever.
The world around me is still in a deep sleep. I am sitting behind a big white empty computer screen, immersed in the final acts of a nearly five-year journey through the world of sauna and related science. I'm thinking about the preface to the book, which I probably should never have written. Who in their right mind would want to buy, let alone read, a 400-page thick book about sauna bathing? I thought that I felt the same until certain events brought me to sit down and write one. Without a concrete, clear plan, it happened spontaneously, much like how most of the most exciting things in our lives occur. One event led to another, which triggered a third and so on. Soon a whirlwind of life sucked me into the exciting world of healthy living and sauna, including in-depth biology as their common denominator. Sometimes I feel like living proof of the randomness of the universe.

A meaningful – but perhaps not ground-breaking – event happened almost exactly a year ago. Two days before the Christmas holidays, I met my family friend Cindy. During a short conversation, she mentioned that she would like to take her mother to the spa as a Christmas gift to remember these holidays forever. They worked hard all year, so they didn't have enough time for each other. "Mum has never been to a spa before, and if she likes it, we will become regular users," she said. Since she knows my passion for the sauna, I expected her to ask me for any suggestions or advice later in the conversation. That didn't happen.

Shortly afterwards, a few days after Christmas, we had lunch together with her mom. Of course, I impatiently asked them how the spa experience was. "Alright," Cindy replied. But even before she finished the sentence, her mother jumped into the conversation a little upset: "Alright? I barely survived that unbearable boredom. I thought my brain would burn in the sauna. We were both exhausted all day!"

You can imagine that, as a big advocate of sauna bathing, I was amazed, though not surprised. During my several years of researching the sauna, I witnessed many similar experiences. Of course, I wanted to know more, so I kept asking questions. After some hesitation, they spoke. They explained that the ambience was as beautiful as expected from a five-star hotel. The staff were friendly, and the price was great – they had even received an unanticipated discount. Nevertheless, their entire experience was disastrous. Even so much so that at some point, they thought they would post a lousy online review. Why?

As the conversation continued, a surprising revelation comes out: frankly, they didn't know what to do when they were in there. Laughing, we concluded that they didn't even know that they didn't know. And the very fact that she didn't know (that she didn't know) is the real reason why Cindy didn't ask me for advice at our brief meeting a few days prior. It seemed to her that the use of all those beautiful pools, waterfalls, and all sorts of rooms would be somehow self-explanatory, so she felt no need to inquire beforehand how to use them. Besides, none of the staff was there to instruct them. And even if they were, they would be probably embarrassed to ask, they both admitted. They relied on their intuitive feelings, observed others and did the same; at least that's what they thought. Their only guide was an hourglass on the wall in the sauna. A book on the subject would come in very handy, they concluded.

Their experience is not unusual at all. It happens to many when first visiting the sauna, including me. I remember that my first visit to the sauna was mostly a coincidence. Great anticipation, but the experience itself relatively short and nothing special. It was nothing like what I had heard from a few acquaintances who used the sauna regularly at the time. I was a little disappointed and wondered about the point of doing this.

(It would be interesting to investigate how many new users had similar experiences and how many of them did not become regular users and thus lost the opportunity for long-term beneficial effects on health. Besides, service providers and sauna manufacturers lose as well. So, double loss.)

Fortunately, the somewhat unsuccessful first experience did not deter me from the next visit to the sauna, about a year later. Unlike the first time, this visit was much more dedicated. After suffering from a severe neck injury I had received six months earlier during ski training, a physiotherapist recommended the sauna. Due to long-term immobilisation, I lost a large part of my flexibility and muscle mass. He suggested using the sauna regularly, which was a pretty advanced recommendation for those times. Where I lived, the use of the sauna did not have a tradition. It was mainly considered a form of relaxation and a way of getting to know (same-sex) partners, which, in conservative circles, caused quite a bit of stigmatisation of the back then rare public sauna clubs.

After a successful rehabilitation that lasted almost two years, I switched from the world of sports to the world of business. As a result, I had less time to relax and, unfortunately, less time for sauna bathing. However, when particularly intense and demanding periods of life arose, I rediscovered the sauna each time, mainly as a way to retreat from the unbearably fast pace and madness of everyday business life. Sometimes, however, I visited the sauna because of the positive experiences I'd had previously, and also for better well-being and regeneration. Time and time again, I was amazed at its effectiveness.

A highly challenging period of my life began about six years ago. The stressful business lifestyle has taken its toll. My health began to decline sharply. It became evident that I would have to make some drastic changes; otherwise, I would join the crowd swallowing a dozen pills a day to function normally, which was the last thing I wanted. (Sounds a bit cliché but obviously, I was one of those who understood the importance of health only after losing it.)

My engineering mindset dictated that I need to listen, respect, and above all, better understand my own body, to begin with, and then introduce some necessary lifestyle changes. I wanted to know more about healthy eating, exercise, and other health-promoting activities, including sauna and meditation. I needed this primarily as a solid incentive to stick to the necessary changes. It was not difficult to find textbooks and literature on physiology or nutrition, as many good books are available. As for the sauna, however, the story was quite different. I could not find a good book that would describe the sauna and its effects on the body to understand the causes and consequences. I turned to my brother Peter, who had infinitely more experience with the sauna. For a few days, he invited me to his home to show me some "important rules of true sauna masters." I admit that I felt I didn't need it, but I gladly accepted the invitation anyway. Although separated by a few thousand kilometres, I boarded a plane a few days later and soon arrived in a beautiful village in the middle of Germany, where he lived at the time. He had a lovely spa on the ground floor of the house. The following day after arrival, we went to the stove, as he affectionately called the sauna. Over the next few days, I realised that I had no idea how powerful the sauna can be if used correctly, despite my few decades of prior experience. When I went home, I immediately turned the bathroom into a DIY sauna. Since then, the sweating has been an essential part of my daily routine.

I decided to discontinue all business activities for the next two years and devote myself entirely to learning about human physiology, the importance of healthy food and the type of diet that could help me regain my health. An important reason for such a decision was that I knew absolutely nothing about one of the most critical life activities: (healthy) eating. I was further motivated because I have three young daughters. I wanted them to avoid what (unfortunately) awaits many of their peers, an epidemic of chronic metabolic diseases. I also wanted to make sure that they wouldn't ask themselves what a healthy diet was as a grown-up and wonder why they didn't know this before, similar to their father.

So, I began to study the scientific literature intensively. I started to accumulate and stack it into a kind of logical whole. The more I delved into the topic, the more it became clear that things are not simple. But surprisingly, the more I struggled with an infinite number of new expressions, phenomena, and the incredible complexity of the human organism, the more appealing it all became. I was further encouraged by the results, which became increasingly noticeable in my better health and well-being. I paid particular attention to the developments, which I attributed to regular sauna bathing. Of course, healthy eating was crucial to my positive health transformation. Still, I soon realised that it was not just what, how much, and when you ate, but also that the nutrients needed to be absorbed and appropriately delivered to each cell. Also, I realised that body urgently needs a variety of challenges to thrive. However, in all of this, exercise, sauna, and surprisingly even meditation can play a significant role. It soon became apparent that positive health changes were not just a subjective experience. People around me have also started to notice changes. They sometimes asked me for advice, which encouraged me to start thinking about never going back to old projects. Why not turn my passion for wellness and accumulated knowledge into a profession?

The planned two-year break passed quickly, so it was necessary to decide on a direction. The field of wellness is pervasive. The "market" of healthy eating is saturated and intertwined with many industries, political and even ideological interests. I decided to do more research on other health-promoting activities. The sauna was the first in my mind. What could be nicer than spending days in a spa and making a living from it? I imagined I would need a few more months to get a deep enough understanding of its effects and then apply the accumulated knowledge in some way to future work. How or in which way, I wasn't wondering at the time. Of course, I couldn't have been more wrong! Planning half a year of research stretched to three years and more. The breadth and depth of knowledge required surprised and overwhelmed me. To understand the sauna and the body interactions as accurate as possible, I needed to delve into thousands of scientific papers. The number exceeded all my initial expectations. It became less and less clear why there are so many myths and misunderstandings about the sauna, seeing that science is quite familiar with its effects. Above all, I was surprised by the ignorance of the spa and wellness industry. It looks like the dissemination of knowledge is not adequate; the information does not flow as it should even to those who should primarily know and understand the sauna's effects. And even when some of them asked me for advice on where to turn for knowledge, I couldn't help. I could only recommend scientific literature. Understandably, there was not much interest in it, as it requires a lot of time and additional knowledge to understand. Given all my recent insights, I thought it was worth starting here – dissemination of the accumulated knowledge in an easily digestible way.

I created a website (www.mysauna.info), intending to gather all the sauna information in one place. The website is free, as a labour of love. I also created an educational system for sauna and meditation, intended for spa and wellness centres, presented on swe.mysauna.info. In January 2020, after years of research and learning, I finally got to the point where I could start doing practical work. I agreed with a few spa centres to organise a regular weekly presentation of the sauna bathing effects. These events, called Sauna Wholeness Experiences (SWEs), should begin in March that year. I was looking forward to finally being able to "show what I know" when a shock follows – the COVID pandemia.

The events that followed was a kind of Déjà vu. They took me back thirty years in my thoughts. More precisely, on the evening of June 26, 1991, when my colleague Marko and I coordinated the final details before starting "an epic" summer business. In a small touristic village on the Croatian coast, he built a trampoline centre, and I created a unique beach bar next to it, a dream of many aspiring young men. We worked hard all winter, and we finally made it. On the mentioned evening, we planned the last details for the following day. We would make a short shopping trip to the discount shop in Austria, to buy some little things we needed and continue to the Adriatic coast towards new business adventures.
Before we parted that evening, I told him, literally: "only war and military tanks on the street can stop us now." The next morning the phone ring wakes me up. It was my friend, Marko, screaming, "The Military Tanks are on the street! The war has begun!" "Yeah, yeah, look, I'll wash, get dressed and come," I murmured and hung up. Who are you kidding? I thought and went to shower. The phone rang again. Since I was already in the shower, I didn't pick it up for some time. The phone rang tirelessly. I finally picked it up again, and Marko screamed at me: "Hey, I'm not kidding, there are military tanks on the street, the war has started! Turn on the TV!"

I turned on the television. The "breaking news" shows scenes from the road, not far from my home, where a column of military tanks rolled. It's hard to describe the shock that swept over me in those moments. Not so much for the tanks themselves or the murderous war that would go on to mark the lives of many. More because of the instantaneous realisation that my world had stopped. The long-awaited summer business adventure, for which I had worked so hard, had ended, and all dreams connected with it were interrupted. (I understand, it looks selfish, but In my defence, I was only a young boy with no clue about what war was and what was coming).

Feelings similar to those of the past struck me this time, in spring 2020, 30 years later. The complete shutdown of the society and the consequent closure of hotels and spas due to the Coronavirus meant an instant catastrophe for the Tenerife island, where tourism is the main activity.

It quickly became apparent that this would affect the whole world. This time it would not end as soon as it did thirty years ago when I was luckier. Despite the ten-day "war for Slovenia," which was just an introduction to the later, much more serious war in the Balkans, I still managed to "pull out" part of the touristic season. This time, however, it was clear that the "war on the virus" would last longer. For the first week of the complete cessation of life, I estimated that the situation would last at least until the end of 2020. Many therefore labelled me a "panicker," but it later turned out that I was right. I even underestimated the situation as the problems dragged on into 2021. After a few days of the first spring closure, I decided to not lie helplessly on the couch and feel sorry for myself but to make fair use of my time. It was a moment that I decided to write a book about the sauna. And, as it is popularly said, the rest is history.

Reading time: approx 11 min 

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