Anxiety Melts Away with Sauna Aufguss
As I stepped off the elevator onto the sixth floor of the Hewing Hotel at precisely 6:45P, I carried with me a beach bag stuffed with four rolled beach towels, and another overflowing with flip flops, a swimsuit, sweat suit and another change of clothes. I was maybe a bit overly prepared and for sure a bit overly anxious.
I was present because I loved the idea of sauna and inherently understood how it could help detox and refresh the body and mind. What I wasn’t entirely sold on was my ability to sustain the heat. I recalled past visits where the slightest bit of oppressive air and rise in heat would have me throwing in the towel and running for a cold shower in a hot second.
What did other sauna sustainers have that I didn’t? Were they comfortable in enclosed spaces with other profusely sweating humans? Did they sweat more efficiently than I did? Did they ever live in a dessert climate?
The answers to all of these questions and more were revealed in the 2.5hour experience of Aufguss with Alex. Aufguss, a German word for infusion, is a wellness, purification, and entertainment ritual performed in the sauna by an Aufgussmeister. Our Aufgussmeister for the eve, Alex, was well versed in the history of sauna, physiology of the body, towel techniques and essential oils. He was our guide through the entire sauna experience.
Our sauna crew included my husband, brother, sister-in-law and me, brought together for this eve in collective celebration of wedding anniversaries. We began by acclimating to our intimate setting that felt reminiscent of a private backyard but in the spa-like Hewing Hotel rooftop setting and the Minneapolis skyline as backdrop. It was an overcast evening with shades of lavender. It felt like some Purple Rain might fall and wouldn’t that be awesome?
Under our robes and sweat suits, us Minnesotans wore conservative swimsuits. I was a bit curious if everyone would follow suit, especially after my German friend’s comment on my Facebook share about the eve in anticipation of the event. “Love it! But in Germany, swimsuits are verboten (cringe emoji),” Catherine commented… meaning forbidden. To which I replied, “Ha! I think this is the German-American version, but we might be in for a surprise!”
I’m happy to report no surprises. After all, most were Aufguss newbies. However, given the level of comfort you start to feel in your body and with your fellow sauna-goers, I would not be surprised if the regular attendees of the biweekly Wednesday sessions (next up June 5) experimented with coverage options.
We surveyed the rooftop pool and environs. The pool/hot tub immediately beckoned and seemed the appropriate way to start with a familiar experience before our immersive sauna experience, new to many. This was a relaxing way to enter into the space and meet our fellow sauna-goers. After waivers were signed and pre-showers completed, Alex brought all 16 of us into the sauna.
We were welcomed to what is called warm-up. This is where the official evening began. Some, including my husband and brother, squirmed a bit through the history of saunas, details and rules. Others, including my sister-in-law and I, so appreciated the insight. I welcomed the distraction to concentrate on words and visuals of public baths during the Roman Empire, rather than my quickly rising body temp.
In this intro, we were at a lower temp without oils and forced airflow, yet we all agreed it felt like the longest of what I’ll call four segments (the intro, Session 1, Session 2 and Session 3). Later, we realized just how much the uncertainly of the time we’d be in intro and if we’d get a break before Session 1, affected our perceptions of the experience and what was going on in our bodies and minds.
When Alex announced the intro was complete, you could feel the collective release in the room. I was on the lowest of three levels, said to be the coolest. Early on in the session, I eyed the one spot you could crouch into along the west wall of the sauna on the floor as an intermediary step to getting the heck out if you could just not take the heat. No one opened the door to exit and be that person throughout the entire experience -- a huge credit to Alex and Aufguss.
During our breaks between the intro and consecutive sessions, some of our group used the standing outdoor cold shower and cold water dunk tub. I wasn’t yet ready to go to that extreme, but my brother was. He followed Alex’s direction about moving intentionally into the water and ending with the water at the base of the neck. I imagined doing so would send a rush of blood pulsing throughout my body. For next time, I thought, while safely sprawled across the way on a large lounge sofa, practicing mindful breathing techniques.
For Sessions 1-3, we came to understand the timing, process and pattern of Aufguss. I recalled Alex’s comparison of the free-flow of Finnish saunas vs. the precision of German saunas, both equally valid in experience yet differing. Halfway into Session 1, which he cued to be 6-8 minutes at the onset, my mind began to relax knowing the time duration and expectation.
I felt myself embracing and moving into the heat while being guided through breath work – just enough voice, then silence. The sauna water, pre-mixed with a different essential oil or essential oil blend each session, produced the steam, heat and awakened the senses fully.
As Alex executed the special towel snapping and swirling motions (cue the Lumberjack!) that distribute the heat top down and throughout the sauna, I was grateful my only job was to relax and be still. The drinking water I brought in each round and sipped throughout pushed its way to my skin’s surface in crazy large drops (so not tiny beads of sweat, which meant, yes my body knew how to properly sweat and cool itself down).
For the finale, the last part of Session 3, sauna-goers were invited back in to the most intense session. Our crew of four opted out, but remain curious if we could withstand the heat. For next time, we thought. We said our goodbyes to the community we came in close contact with for the evening through this shared experience. We showered up and reconnected at the hotel rooftop bar for drinks before heading to the lobby to rehydrate and enjoy some eats.
This experience transformed my view of sauna. It tested my mind and body stamina. It found me letting go of judgment of my body (when it’s this intense, you don’t really care how you or others look in your suits). It demonstrated how this collective yet personally intimate experience can fuel humanity’s need to socialize in settings without the intensity of always being on. I am on board with Aufguss and can’t wait to experience again soon! Wer ist mit mir?
The Aufguss experience is one of many sauna experiences hosted and promoted by Sauna Society Outfitters (SSO). They also have a mobile sauna and pop-up sauna events in the MSP areal Check out Alex’s Facebook page and the SSO website and FB page and set your appointment to sauna soon!