Sauna Nation

On 7th May 2014    By Ilana Mitchell

It’s not just jumping on the Scandi-wagon, the Wunderbiz idea-in-development Sauna Nation was inspired by an incredible sauna experience I had in Latvia…

The Idea

Could the natural mood enhancing nature of a sauna offer an alternative to more traditional medical or talking therapies? Or even to less healthy mood-enhancing substances? Is there money in it…?

How will it work in different places, where local customs and acceptances of communal, social nudity vary so widely?

Sauna Nation plays with ideas around the commercial alternative therapies on the market to form the basis for a self sufficient, franchisable business model.

The Inspiration

It’s a Tuesdsay in September, Latvia. I’m on a remote beach on the Baltic Sea; a long coach ride out of Riga. I’m visiting Homo Novus, a festival that takes place over two long weekends in the capital. In the middle, a day off, during which the international travellers get to spend time together, relaxing, socialising, getting to know each other.

I huffed, puffed and grumbled

 Late on a brochure deadline for my own festival, fielding calls and emails from colleagues at home for whom the concept of a day off is unthinkable, I almost didn’t come. I huffed, puffed and grumbled when we arrived; I can still get strong mobile reception so can’t easily ignore work.

It’s really overcast, it’s not very warm, and the promised sauna is actually on a raft a good 80 metres out to sea. Not just any sea, remember – the Baltic Sea.

It’s taken a good couple of hours for the sauna to get going; a wood fire was lit, smoke eventually rose from the chimney. The most enthusiastic of the group stripped down to swimsuits and strode off into the sea. Turns out, they don’t have to swim; the sea is shallow, the boat accessible by walking.

There is a strong smell of barbecuing fish.

 The phone keeps ringing. I’ve walked away along the beach. It’s bleak, desolate. There are missing logos and the printers aren’t sure they can deliver on time. There is a strong smell of barbecuing fish. The first bathers are coming back, raving about the sauna.

Partly guilty for abandoning work, partly irritated at the enforced nature of the remote holiday, I’m still wary. It doesn’t help that one wall of the toilet is basically a giant window, and there is no lock.

Not that there are many passers by, but most of this group are near on strangers. Still, I’m here. Who knows when the bus will come back, and I really want to get away from the stinky fish.

So, whilst trying to keep the door shut with one limb and avoid the window,  I manoeuvre myself into my swimsuit. The weather is clearing as I stand on the beach a while, plucking up courage. I step into the sea. I walk as quickly as water allows.

It is freezing. As I get to the boat I’m mid-thigh deep; I forget that I’m shorter than most, it looks shallower from the shore. I’m standing on tiptoes to avoid the water burning any higher up. And now, carefully, wary of slipping, I climb the stairs up to the sauna.

It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling reborn.

If not for hunger*, perhaps fear of being stranded on this remote beach, I’d probably still have been there. As experiences go, it tops the list. It is simultaneously the most calming and euphoric I have ever felt.

I go from grumpy worker to dancing child in a matter of moments. Splashing in the sea to cool off, back in the heat, having ritual birch leaf slap-downs from the sauna owner, screaming with heat induced agon-ecstacy. It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling reborn. 

And it’s made me talk to all the people around me – Israeli architects, French clowns, Latvian curators – in a way that couldn’t have been shared otherwise. Except maybe by getting very drunk – and at least this way we’ll all remember it.

Isn’t that what all entrepreneurialism is about? Have a good idea, make money from it?

So while thinking about Wunderbiznesses my mind turned to a way to celebrate and share this intimate, yet social physical and bodily experience. The other beauty is in its craftsmanship – the individual graft and love that has gone into engineering this sauna boat.

Is it possible to make a business out of handcrafted, personal endeavour, skill and creativity? Out of the most undigital, the simplest pleasure and most healthy experience possible?

It seems wrong really, to commodify this magic. But isn’t that what all entrepreneurialism is about? Have a good idea, find out how to make money from it…? 

*not for the fish. Cold sea fear I’ve tackled, but I’m not yet cured of my vegetarianism.

 



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