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Wellness Trends for 2017 : TREND #1 Sauna Reinvented

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Saunas, spaces built for intense dry or wet heat sessions, are standard fare at hotels, spas and gyms worldwide. But when it comes to how sauna “gets done” there has been a serious disconnect between Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, where sauna-going is a way of life…and the rest of the world. In countries like Finland (where saunas were born 2,000 years ago), Italy, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, etc., the rituals and facilities are often creative, deeply social and fabulous. But the sauna experience outside Europe can frankly be rather “meh”: an uninspired, lonely experience in a spa or condo basement “box.” And while non-Europeans often jump in and out, Europeans know how to push this sweat experience, and that contrast therapy (taking a cold/snow plunge after, and repeating and repeating) is key to the health benefits, and to getting those endorphins pumping.

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Helsinki's hip, high-design new public sauna complex, Löyly, shows the new social directions.

And while the medical evidence for sauna isn’t vast - it’s positive for things like pain and cardiovascular impact. For instance, a large, 20-year-long University of Eastern Finland study (2015) revealed that frequent time spent in saunas was associated with a longer life and less cardiac related deaths: people who visited a sauna 2-3 times a week had a 24% lower risk of death; those who sweated it out 4-7 times weekly were associated with a 40% mortality reduction.

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SALT's Arctic amphitheater sauna, the largest public sauna in the world, where 100 people gather for 'group sweat ins' (and music, art and cocktails)

A hot topic at the Summit was not only how the world needs to learn from European bathing/ sauna culture, but how the Europeans themselves are now busy reimagining the sauna experience. For instance, a Summit showcase, “Sauna Aufguss: Hot Doesn’t Get Any Cooler Than This” (led by Lasse Eriksen, Development Manager, Nordic Hotels & Resorts, Farris Bad, Norway), vividly illustrated how sauna in Europe is evolving into a true event, called Sauna Aufguss (which means “infusion”) led by sauna-meisters serving up some serious entertainment to sweaty, happy audiences. Or a panel led by Anna Bjurstam (VP, Spas & Wellness, Six Senses; Owner, Raison D’Etre) called the “Naked Truth about European Spa and Wellness Traditions”, with European spa experts discussing their unique spa/wellness experiences (whether Sauna Aufguss or littleknown experiences like the Latvian “pirt” sauna or ancient “black smoke saunas.)” And how what’s been hot in Europe is poised for global discovery.

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"Classic" Sauna Aufguss involves trained sauna-meisters using elaborate towel rituals to circulate an orchestra of infusions.

Every culture has its ancient sweat tradition: the Arabic hamman, Japanese onsen, Russian banya, Native American sweat lodge, the Mesoamerican temezcal – and, of course, the most globally ubiquitous…the European sauna. All will continue to undergo a renaissance (and reinvention) as the world aches most for stress-reducing, detoxifying therapies. And if the sauna has seemed the most tepid experience outside of Europe, that’s set to change. Because the sauna reinventions now underway, from Sauna Aufguss events to eye-popping, high-design saunas aimed at becoming that communal “third place”, live right at the intersection of so many important, future trends in wellness and spa. The need for social and fun experiences in our Age of Loneliness - wellness experiences that are affordable for far more than the “one-percent” - the interweaving of spa experiences with art, culture, music and performance – and ingenious new wellness architecture. In the UN’s latest World Happiness Report seven of the ten happiest nations on Earth are in Northern Europe (Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Netherlands and Sweden). Places where a “wellness culture” is natural and everyday (rather than a hysterical, consumerist stressor)…and where sauna is a way of life. In a world getting hotter and crazier, more people will travel to these countries for their cool, serene nature, and to try their hot sauna innovations at the source. And their breeds of more social, more entertaining, and high-design sauna concepts will continue to spread across the world.