If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the sauna

On a cold Scottish day a good hot sauna is bliss. Think pine cabin. Think heat. Think water sizzling on the red-hot coals. Think limbs getting rid of toxins. Think relaxation.

But that’s not all. Think gossip. Think indiscretion. Think secrets.

There’s something about the dim light of a sauna that makes people think they’re invisible and no one can hear their conversation.

Quietly recovering after a gym session and a dozen lengths in the swimming pool, my body is ready to lie down in the heat and relax. But, these days, my mind is alert and ready because my local sauna reverberates with local gossip. I never know what’s in store – the inane, the profane or the insane.

The men start with football and pointless replays of alleged ‘fouls’ and penalties. Gossip soon takes over with details of footballers’ misdemeanors, local government scandals, politicians’ activities, fraud, extra marital affairs, not to mention the intimate details of individuals’ medical conditions. I lie transfixed. Occasionally a party of right wing infiltrators will rant about overseas aid, immigrants or ‘benefit scroungers’ and I sweat profusely. Eye contact with other sane and level-headed sauna users is reassuring – I’m fascinated by the indiscretion of some conversations and horrified by others.

I’ve begun to reflect on saunas of the world, sauna ‘types’ and sauna etiquette. The joy of saunas on mountain tops after hiking and skiing; the bliss of rolling in virgin snow to cool down; saunas by lakes; ice cold plunge pools; saunas in the moonlight; and hot tubs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

By comparison this Scottish sauna could appear quite tame, if it weren’t for the local ‘Rules’ and the cabin entertainment

  • It’s unisex
  • Swimming togs are kept on at all times.

The occupants are a mixed bunch:

  • Sauna Enthusiasts. We embrace the joy of a well-designed pine cabin with an efficient heating system.
  • Sauna ‘wimps’, who survive for two or three minutes before rushing out red-faced and gasping for air.
  • ‘Hot Air Wafters’, who appear indecisive about leaving. In order to have the last word in a conversation they frequently stand by the half-open door (lowering the temperature several degrees). I lie on the top shelf, my blood pressure rising in direct proportion to the drop in temperature.
  • This week a 20 stone, heavily tattooed, Italian man amazed us all by pouring a bucket of water onto the coals and then sitting on the bottom bench and pouring another bucket of water over his head. He then stood up and became a ‘Door Wafter’. Then after a few minutes of indecision he waddled off and collapsed on a sun lounger.
  • Bottom Shelfers. Today there was a women’s brigade who preferred to ‘glow’ rather than sweat. The temperature was very low so I asked if anyone would mind if I put more water on the coals. One of the bouffant haired “glowers” immediately responded, “No. I certainly don’t want any water putting on. I don’t like hot saunas.”

I almost told her that if she didn’t like the heat she should get out of the sauna but I was feeling too relaxed after my first swim of the year. So I lay back and listened to more raunchy gossip and tales from the sauna.


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