I went to my first public sauna in Holland. I knew the basics and took my locker key and towel from the attendant who greeted me at the check-in desk. The entry fee was 20 euros for the day, for as long as you wanted to stay. Once in the locker room, I felt a little less sure. The women around me were all speaking Dutch. They seemed friendly enough and so I watched them and followed their lead – bring your towel to sit on in the sauna, your key goes on a rubber band around your wrist or ankle. Nudity was nothing to even notice and stark naked women strolled around the lounge area, sat drinking tea at the cafe. It had a feeling of everyday-ness and casual fun.
Once in the sauna I could tell the conversation was relaxed, open for whoever wanted to join in or ignore it. It was fine for me to lay there naked and just be. As my heart rate picked up, the heat took my anxiety and transformed it into sweat, which left my body in small, salty rivers. It was like full-body crying. I felt my layers of worry grow thin and inconsequential. I could feel even my deepest existential fears burning off like a fog. When I was hot enough, I went to the outdoor courtyard and dumped a bucket of cold water over my body.
Women and girls sat or lay naked on lounge chairs around the courtyard, chatting or resting with their eyes closed. The wind and rain felt nice on my skin and time drifted pleasantly. I had no idea how much time had passed and I didn’t care. It was odd to feel so relaxed and to somehow occupy my body even more than usual. My heart beat hard but it felt good. The grey sky above was like a welcoming, soft blanket and I almost felt at home in the world.
I love all of the saunas, but my favorite place to sweat is in my small backyard barrel sauna, first thing in the morning. I walk out in my robe, carrying water and coffee. My dog follows. I feel the cool air on my skin and hear the distant, oceanic sound of the freeway. Then I’m alone with just the tick of the sauna heater and my heart beating. I enjoy being in my body, and to me this feels like magic.