It was 20 years ago today that we fired up our first mobile sauna at the Intention gathering in 2001. As I recall, that festival was created in response to millenarian anxieties about the world ending for various reasons. The idea was that by setting positive intentions we would bring about positive outcomes for our community of friends and relations. As it turned out, we had a lot of great saunas, many fun adventures, and made a lot of friends. Now, during our 20th year of hosting sauna sessions, we didn’t really have many saunas at all.
Should we be disappointed or optimistic about the state of our sauna community practice this year? As we became aware of the pandemic, we thought it prudent to suspend our weekly sessions. I don’t have a sauna at my residence, and the community center where I also use the sauna sometimes has been closed as well. In fact I think I’ve only had a handful of saunas this year. We had a few “virtual sauna sessions”, essentially a bathtub video conference as an experiment, but in general it’s been many months without our usual sauna community. Nonetheless, I think it’s been a good year for saunas. A lot of people in our circle either completed or started new sauna builds this year. A few of our friends who have property outside the city have managed to build their own, and there’s a few new mobile saunas that came online this year. For city dwellers, I’ve never been a big fan of personal-size saunas, but they’ve definitely been proven useful lately in these days of isolation, and we know several people that have installed their own. That’s all just people we know, not to mention the untold numbers of new saunas built and used around the world. And of course, while our we haven’t been hosting the community gatherings we’re used to, our saunas are still being used by the households that maintain them, even as we write this, including the red Saunabus, the Bussauna, Saunalab, the Shop Sauna and others.
A lot has changed around here in the past 20 years. Our lives have transitioned online in new ways. Around Vancouver at least, it’s become a lot more difficult to find the space to park and use a mobile sauna. Old friends have new responsibilities, and we’re all dealing new new issues and new concerns. However sauna culture (and other social bathing customs) has been around for ages because the reasons for that culture continue to be relevant: health, wellness, spirit and community. This December 17, Finland inscribed sauna culture on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. And as we’ve done for two decades now, we’ll continue to sweat together in the years ahead.