My First Sauna

Heather Stone is a founding member of Sandbox Theatre, and can be seen this fall in Sandbox’s This Is A World To Live In.

I had my first old school sauna experience at our retreat in August. (Don’t worry – we wore swim suits). We’d been going up to Tofte Lake Center at Norm’s Fish Camp for three years already and I had no desire to go in that sauna. To me it seemed like it’d be really hot and sweaty and what kind of fun is there intentionally being in an enclosed space with other people – and their sweat and various smells? No thank you!

Some of us were sitting around the camp fire, drinking our beers, the clear sky above filled with thousands of stars that you can’t see in the city, swatting at the various bugs, when down by the lake from within the sauna we heard “Five…four…three…two…one!” and then a moment of mumbling and shuffling and then what seemed to be cannon balls hitting the water followed by shrieks of what I thought was pure terror. Then laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. Which made those of us sitting around the fire laugh, too. There were two more episodes with the same results. Hmmm.

The sauna crew came up to the camp fire refreshed, invigorated and energized. They wanted me to experience the sauna. But I was tired, bloated and probably drunk. And scared. I needed to sleep on it.

The next day, whenever anyone had a chance, I would be tempted and teased with the sauna experience. The tension was building throughout the day. I had to conquer the sauna! I finally caved and said yes to the sauna experience – on one condition that we didn’t do it super late at night because I’m a chicken shit.

It was already dark when the sauna was ready. I suited up. I entered the sauna. Holy crap what a blast of hot air in the face! Holy crap it’s really hot! Holy crap! There are NINE of us crammed in here?! What if we pass out? What if we can’t get the door open? What if…what if… Someone was splashing water on my face. Oh. Thanks. That was nice and feels really good. OK. Breathe. Breathe. The water bucket was passed around. We all made sure that everyone was splashed with water. We comforted and encouraged each other to stand the heat. We can do this! When water was tossed onto the rocks to give us more steam, we all screamed “Sauna!” and laughed. There were check-ins, more passing of the water bucket, more steam, more heat and as the minutes went by I realized that I was safe and being taken care of. We were having a group event and it was glorious.

“Five, four, three, two, one!” we screamed and headed out to the dock in the darkness, the air tingling my skin and my anxiety rising as I stutter stepped at the edge of the dock. I shrieked with pure terror and jumped into the darkness.

I popped up from below the water, mid-laugh, water up my nose and in my mouth, all of us woo-hooing and laughing together, reveling in our shared event. Looking around at the bobbing heads in the water it confirmed even more to me that it is so much fun intentionally being in an enclosed space with these people with our sweat and our various smells, sharing life, heartache, triumphs, dreams, ideas and creating great art.