Saunas, originating in Finland, have become a worldwide phenomenon and are touted for their health benefits, including disease prevention, ridding the body of toxins, improving circulation and reducing stress levels. However, different saunas can offer very different experiences, depending on where they are located. Sauna etiquette in Spain is different than in many other countries and educating oneself on the unspoken rules of Spain's sauna culture may prevent any number of embarrassing scenarios. The important distinctions to remember when looking into any country's sauna etiquette are the question of clothing, the importance of hygiene, and the separation and/or integration of males and females in sauna rooms. Keeping a polite distance from other patrons and using hushed voices for conversation are important in the sauna etiquette of any country.
While Spain may be known for the nudity on its beaches, its saunas do not tend to accept the same philosophy of letting it all show. In general, saunas in Spain require that guests refrain from complete nudity, but do not have specific requirements regarding what to wear. According to Protocolo.org, Spain's virtual encyclopedia of all that is in good taste and manners, the benefits of sauna usage are maximized when the body is entirely nude, as the body can better rid itself of toxins. Keeping this in mind, minimal clothing is required simply for the sake of courtesy to other patrons. Protocolo suggests a bikini-type bathing suit with minimal body coverage or a thong for women. Another option both for men and women is to be wrapped in a cotton towel. The cotton is a non-restrictive, breathable material that allows the skin to sweat out the toxins while staying modest in the company of others. The rules of each particular establishment regarding nudity should be clearly posted upon entering. If they aren't or if you have any doubts, do not hesitate to ask a staff member, as they will be well versed on what is acceptable in the specific establishment.
Before entering the sauna, it is important to wash the entire body with soap under warm water. This shower serves multiple purposes, the first of which is hygienic. With a large number of people sitting on the same surfaces and with lots of exposed skin, germs could easily be passed from person to person if such precautions were not taken. Lathering up protects your health and the health of other patrons, in addition to making it easier for the skin to sweat out toxins and warming the body to avoid system shock upon entering the sauna. Whether a nude sauna or not, the rules of hygiene require sitting with a towel beneath you, to prevent leaving germs and sweat on the wooden benches. This also protects the skin from the heat of the wood.
Co-ed or Not
Single sex saunas are more common in Spain than mixed facilities. Single sex saunas are divided into two sides, one for men and another for women, and often have more lax rules regarding dress than mixed buildings. If going with a group of people of mixed sex, be sure to contact or visit the sauna beforehand to be aware of their regulations on mixed company.
Distance and Conversation
A sauna, in Spain and elsewhere, is meant to be a relaxing and peaceful experience, a cleansing for both body and mind. For this reason, maintain a distance from other patrons large enough so that they can safely lay down or stretch out to relax comfortably. Some saunas have strict rules prohibiting conversation, but even in those that do not, be considerate of those around you. Hushed tones are likely not to bother other sauna-goers at a considerable distance, but never talk loudly and be sure to observe the reactions of others and act accordingly. Conversation is not always inappropriate, but do not let your chatting ruin another person's experience.
The heat of a sauna offers numerous physical and mental benefits. Heat helps the body to relax and relieves muscle tension, as well as helping to alleviate mental stress. The sweating that the sauna induces facilitates the elimination of toxins, cleanses the skin and increases muscle flexibility. Sauna use can increase blood circulation, offer temporary relief for asthma and bronchitis sufferers as well as temporary muscle and joint pain relief, including pain caused by arthritis. The relaxing sauna atmosphere can also provide relief for stress-related disorders, including backaches, chest pains, anxiety, insomnia, headaches and depression.