Avanto swimming + Finnish sauna = the perfect match
For this Valentine’s Day, we’ve been thinking about perfect pairings and when it comes to Finnish traditions, there’s no better match than avanto swimming and a sauna. Avanto is the practice of cutting a hole in the ice and going for a winter dip. After the wonderful tingly sensation of ice-cold water on your skin, it’s time to warm up with a sauna session.
While sometimes the sea surrounding Helsinki freezes enough to enjoy an avanto dip, that has not been the case so far this winter. Luckily, there are freshwater spots within easy reach of the city, where lakes have frozen and there’s a sauna on hand for the all-important post-swim warm up.
One such place is Lake Kuusijärvi, which was a winter wonderland when we visited earlier this month. Wooden walkways allow swimmers to stride out onto the lake to reach metal ladders leading down into holes cut out of the ice. Shards of ice sit beautifully arranged around the holes, adding an extra level of drama to the -2° C water.
There wasn’t a wetsuit in sight, as swimmers clad in bikinis, bathing suits, trunks and shorts tentatively made their way towards the ice holes. This offers maximum effect from the cold water on the skin. There were plenty of bobble hats, however, as this woollen accessory is the perfect way to ensure you don’t get too cold during an icy dip. The key is to get out before the chill reaches your core and to warm up thoroughly afterwards.
A brisk walk and a lukewarm shower are the first steps, so as not to shock your body too much. Then, it’s a choice between an electric sauna or a traditional smoke-fired sauna in a cabin in the woods. Both options take your body from cold, through warm to hot and relaxed, with your skin feeling rejuvenated and smooth by the time you emerge from the sauna.
Hardcore avanto and sauna fans sometimes carry out the ritual in the opposite direction, emerging into the cold air of the Finnish wintertime with steam coming from their sauna-warmed bodies. Then, they plunge into the ice-cold water for the ultimate contrast. We don’t recommend this method if you’re experiencing avanto for the first time – Finns build up their resilience to the cold over time.
But why put yourself through any of this at all, you may be asking? There are many health benefits associated with a cold-water dip, ranging from boosting the metabolism and circulation to improving memory and energy levels. Combine these with the numerous known benefits of having a sauna – eg flushing out toxins, relieving stress and cleansing the skin – and you’re set to feel like a new person.
Of course, it’s not always convenient to travel to Helsinki to enjoy an avanto and sauna experience. You can recreate the ritual in the UK with the installation of an authentic Finnish sauna and an ice bath or even a freezing cold shower. Just close your eyes and imagine you’re in frozen Lake Kuusijärvi, surrounded by a blanket of snow and the wooded landscape beyond...