Hygge, lagom, friluftsliv, päntsdrunk. Over the past few years, a series of Nordic words such as these have crossed the North Sea and entered the British lexicon, buoyed on a stream of newspaper articles and books extolling their life-enhancing virtues.
Brits have loved learning how to embrace these ideas from their Nordic neighbours, although some are meant to be taken a little more seriously than others.
Hygge is the Danish concept of cozyness, lagom is a Swedish approach to living life in moderation, and friluftsliv is a Swedish and Norwegian idea about spending more time in nature. And as for Päntsdrunk, well, you might be practising päntsdrunk right now while reading this article without even realising that there was a name for it. That’s the Finnish word for drinking at home in your underwear.
Based on current trends (and our own plans), we predict that the next Nordic word to enter English will be leil.
Leil is the Estonian name for the steam that you bathe in after pouring water onto the rocks inside a sauna. It literally translates as the ‘spirit’ of the sauna.
For too long, many Brits have thought of saunas as small rooms at the gym where they briefly sweat in silence after a workout. Sometimes, they are not even allowed to pour water on the rocks. In Estonian however, this room is literally called the leil-room and the sauna (or saun) is the entire building and experience around it. Good leil is important for a good sauna, but a sauna is so much more than just this. Cooling down is just as important as heating up — and so too is enjoying the sauna experience with good friends, good food and good drink.
More recently, there’s been a surge in interest from Brits towards more authentic Nordic-style saunas, which have been popping up across the UK — not just in spas, but also in private homes, as well as campsites, country hotels, Airbnb properties, and more. There’s even now a wood-fired sauna on Brighton Beach for Brits to strip off and beat themselves with birch branches.
As is now reported quite regularly in the British press (thanks to key influencers like David Beckham), Estonian design and technology has been at the heart of many of these new saunas.
Alongside this, the British media has also been increasingly reporting about new studies into the health benefits of saunas — although we think the most important benefit is also the one that is least known about yet. Loneliness is on the rise and has become a serious public health problem, yet the sauna is the original social network and, some might say, still the best. It’s a place for people of all backgrounds to come together in a relaxed and equal environment.
That’s what all these Nordic trends in the UK have in common. They offer Brits an antidote to the stress of our modern, urban lives. Brits work the longest hours in Europe and also spend the longest amount of time commuting back and forth to those jobs. And, despite those long journeys, more than four out of five of us still live in cities.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising then that more Brits want to learn a few lifestyle tips from their seemingly more balanced Nordic neighbours by getting back to nature, getting back to their roots, and stripping off for a good sauna.
Now more than ever, more Brits need to learn about how to enjoy a good leil.
Like many Estonians, Anni Oviir and I love going to the sauna regularly and also enjoy introducing more people from around the world to Estonian sauna culture.
We document Estonian saunas through our Estonian Saunas blog and also offer our own sauna experiences for visitors to Estonia. These have helped generate a lot of international media coverage that raises more awareness about Estonian sauna culture — including in the UK. Our proudest moment was getting the word leil onto the BBC News recently.
We’ve now partnered with HUUM, Estonia’s leading sauna stove manufacturer, to launch our UK shop at EstonianSaunas.co.uk, which will help more Brits build their own saunas with Estonian sauna design and technology delivered to them in the UK. We’re focusing first on the UK due to the rising interest there, but also because we are British-Estonians ourselves.
HUUM’s first stove, the DROP, was designed with the help of students at the Estonian Academy of Arts and has since won several awards. It’s shaped like a drop of water, the purest thing in nature, and doesn’t just look good when fixed to the wall but also delivers a great leil.
Too many sauna stoves today have become clunky and a bit too industrial-looking, but HUUM has recognised that the stones should always be the central focus of any sauna — as they have been for thousands of years — and more exposed stones provides a superior heat and steam.
HUUM have now expanded their product line to include a second stove, the HIVE, which stands upright and is available in both an electric and wood-fired version. All of them are now available in a range of sizes to suit leil-rooms from 3 to 35 cubic metres. They are also all compatible with British regulations and wiring standards.
HUUM has also added advanced new technology so that these stoves can be conveniently and safely operated through either an ‘UKU’ wall-mounted controller or through a mobile app thanks to the addition of WiFi technology inside the stoves. This means that Brits can start heating up their saunas while they are still commuting home so that it is the perfect temperature by the time they walk in the door after a long day of work.
Anni and I don’t just encourage others to build their saunas with Estonian design and technology. We also have our own saunas in Estonia that we’ve created to showcase Estonian sauna culture, design and technology.
That includes Rangi Saun, Tallinn’s only smoke sauna, which has been built using the same contemporary design as David Beckham’s. We also offer short term accommodation at Tondi Saun, our Tallinn apartment which has the first sauna in Estonia to receive HUUM’s new WiFi control system and can be booked through Airbnb here.
This is me excitedly installing it:
..And then testing the WiFi controller after a day of swimming at our favourite bog:
And finally returning home to enjoy the leil:
Many of the people who visit our own saunas were initially quite hesitant but were converted into sauna fans after being reassured that they would be provided with all the guidance they would need.
Similarly, we believe that to export our saunas, we must also export our sauna culture — which includes educating and showing them how to enjoy a good sauna.
As a result, we plan to invest our time into educating Brits about how to sauna the Estonian way. This will include more sauna content online, as well as more opportunities offline to join our special sauna sessions across the UK. We’re even planning an annual sauna expedition to Estonia for our customers.
We also want to join forces with Finnish friends in the UK and anyone else who is passionate about developing Britain’s sauna culture. The Estonian Embassy in London has been very supportive to our mission and have also helped put us in touch with their Finnish counterparts who are on a similar mission and our keen to collaborate in future. There’s even a newly established British Sauna Society.
In addition to teaching Brits about the Nordic sauna tradition, it’s equally important that we help Brits learn more about their own British sauna heritage.
The sauna, as most people around the world know it today, is rooted in the culture of Finno-Ugric peoples around the Baltic Sea — like the Finns and the Estonians. There’s a common misconception though that this is where the sauna was invented, although no one will ever truly know the origons of this tradition. In fact, the more that archeologists look around the ancient world, the more evidence there is that saunas belong to the common heritage of all humanity. What’s more special about Finnish and Estonian saunas therefore is that the tradition has survived and continuously evolved there.
The oldest sauna ever discovered was actually from 3,500 BC right here in Britain — at Marden Henge, close to Stonehenge — while evidence of other ancient saunas have been found all across these isles. That includes other stone age saunas at places like Little Catwick in Yorkshire, as well as numerous bronze age saunas that were discovered in the Orkney Islands. In addition, there is a distinctive Gaelic sauna tradition that survived in parts of Scotland and Ireland until the 18th century.
The only thing more remarkable than Britain’s sauna heritage is the fact that so few Brits actually know about it today. We’re going to change that by working with others who are passionate about rebuilding Britain’s sauna culture.
Britain’s sauna heritage has also been heavily influenced already by various international cultural styles through the ages as a result of its history. The Romans build palace-like baths here. The Victorians brought back their successors, Turkish baths, and built equally extravagant Royal baths in their style. Throughout the 20th century, Finnish saunas spread to the UK and elsewhere around the world — partly thanks to the innovation of the electric stove, which allowed them to be installed more easily in more places like gyms.
Now, it’s time for the Estonian sauna to make its mark on the UK too and help more Brits rediscover the joy of leil.
About ‘Estonian Saunas’
Thanks for reading about our plans for EstonianSaunas.co.uk.
If you are interested in learning more about our mission to share Estonian sauna culture with more people around the world, check out our Estonian Saunas blog or follow Estonian Saunas on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. There’s also a Facebook group for fans of Estonian saunas where you can share advice and stories.
Our company, Estonian Saunas OÜ, is run by Anni Oviir and (me) Adam Rang — and we even founded the company inside an Estonian sauna.
Anni is a green building specialist who grew up here in Estonia immersed in sauna culture, while I’m a väliseestlane (‘foreign Estonian’) whose family were exiled to the UK during Soviet times but I’ve now returned and am still trying to understand the sauna — and everything else about my Estonian heritage — with Anni’s help.
You can email us at email@example.com.