Eero Kilpi is a low-key, soft-spoken kind of a guy. Friendly and easy going, he and his family moved to Rye 17 years ago.
By Bill Lawyer
Eero Kilpi is a low-key, soft-spoken kind of a guy. Friendly and easy going, he and his family moved to Rye 17 years ago. Born and raised in Finland, he has a Ph.D. in Business Administration and runs a small import and export business from home. Now that his children are grown, he has the time and energy to direct his focus on spreading the word about his passion — saunas.
His worry is that while many heat-able spaces are marketed as saunas, the original idea of saunas has been lost.”
Kilpi is the New York Chapter president of the Finlandia Foundation, a charitable organization, and, he is the president of the North American Sauna Society. In his official capacity, and on his own behalf, he says, “If sauna was better understood, and more often built to specs that facilitate real sauna bathing, it would most likely take off.”
According to “Finland In Figures,” there are built-in-saunas in almost every house in Finland. For many Americans, their encounter with saunas is through membership in a health club or YMCA. Kilpi’s experience was quite different. His family had a weekend and summer cottage with a sauna located by a lake. While living in Helsinki, they used a commercial sauna in a nearby residential building. He started using a sauna with his parents and brothers when he was about 2½.
He can’t imagine a life without sauna time in it. That’s why the North American Sauna Society has partnered with sauna manufacturer TyloHelo, Inc. to educate Americans about the “proper” sauna experience and design.
Archaeologists have discovered various versions of saunas all around the world, going back to ancient times. Researchers into the history of saunas note that in the modern era it was the Finns who have been most closely associated with their development. The word “sauna” can refer to a cabin, or bathhouse, as well as the bath.
Kilpi makes it clear that to be considered a traditional sauna, a facility must have three steps/components: sitting in a dry, heated (about 190 degrees) room with hot rocks; taking a shower; and, having a space outside the heated room to relax or meditate — then repeating the process for an hour or more.
The heat induces sweating, but the dryness of the heat causes the sweat to evaporate. This gets the body’s endorphins flowing.
Just recently the North American Sauna Society hosted an evening of “traditional sauna” and refreshments at the home of one of their board members, in Stamford. Their message was that traditional sauna is a lifestyle with a variety of benefits. These include relaxation and cardio-vascular exercise.
So what are the concerns and misunderstandings that Kilpi says are keeping saunas from becoming more popular? First, there are safety and health concerns, such as the risks of fire or danger of people being exposed to high heat too long or too intensely. The Los Angeles YMCAs permanently shut down their steam bath and sauna facilities several years ago due to a major fire. Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University have warned that people with heart disease, seizure disorders, and alcohol/drug abuse problems should not use saunas.
Kilpi says that like any form of exercise, people should check with their doctor before practicing sauna. “No pain, no gain does not apply to saunas,” he says. People should never do it if they are sick.
Second, there are practical concerns, such as the heating costs, the problem of adding a sauna to an existing house or property, and possible building code issues. Kilpi says that if built correctly, according to the requirements of local building codes, heating costs should be minimal.
And, third, there are etiquette and social concerns with public saunas. People are often self-conscious about sitting in an enclosed room with strangers, particularly noisy ones, even if the same sex.
Kilpi responds that public saunas need to set and enforce rules to maintain a peaceful, relaxing atmosphere. And he says that establishing a sauna in one’s home provides people with a certainty that their experience will be a pleasant one.
He is planning to install a sauna in his backyard, where he and his friends and family will be able to share in the true “sauna experience.” And he feels confident that the use of saunas will increase in coming years – he projects that about 100 will be installed in the coming year.