It’s been a long, cold New Year so far here in Oregon and it’s only January 12th. Not only have we had more snow and ice than we’re used to, but for many of us the political climate is upsetting, leaving us feeling chilled and uncertain about the future. It’s difficult to know where to begin when so many issues seem insurmountable, when the governments that are supposed to take care of society’s most pressing problems seem to be making things worse.

It’s hard to follow the adage that we can’t take care of the world until we take care of ourselves. For me, sauna, exercise and other restorative activities tend to feel selfish, but I’m trying to view them as essential. We will be stronger, more present and able to deal with whatever comes our way when we do the things needed to keep our own heads above water.

While stuck indoors this week I’ve been reading about a new International Journal of Sauna Studies that’s being created in 2017, complied by Dr. Jack Tsonis, President of the Australian Sweat Bathing Association. He says, “The greater purpose of Sauna Studies is to promote physical and mental health around the world in a time of increasing stress and social fracture.”

“Sauna is one of the most joyful activities humanity has ever created. Thousands of years old, the invention sometimes known as the ‘Finnish bath’ has counterparts across the world – the neighboring Russian banya to the Japanese sento and mushi-buro, to the Islamic hammam and its Westernization as the Turkish bath, to the Mesoamerican temescal and the North American sweat lodges – all of which deliver the unique and blissful experience that Sigfried Giedion called total regeneration.

On a personal level, the inner peace that sauna engenders brings about a softer, kinder interaction with the world. Maybe you are able to sweat out some of your anxiety or anger and stay more true to your values this way, act like the person you want to be. This is no small thing.

On a social level, the sauna is a place where we are equal, we leave our differences at the door and enjoy the ancient and uniquely human experience of communal sweating. We must share an intimate space with strangers that is both public and sacred. Right now, more than ever, we need the warmth of community that sauna brings. We’re all in this together.

Jess Kelso