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Are saunas for more than just sitting?

Absolutely, says Tiina Vainio, the Finnish woman who invented Sauna Yoga

Are saunas for more than just sitting?

Text by Astrid Olsson

What’s the big idea?
Yoga in a sauna. Tiina Vainio was working in advertising three years ago, when she visited London and had a eureka moment of sorts in the quiet room of a London gym. “It was this place of solitude and total quiet, and I thought it was just like being in a sauna back in Finland. I started to think of other quiet places, like yoga rooms, and the idea of yoga in a sauna started to form.”

That’s a bit of an unlikely leap…
Well, Vainio had for 10 years been a trainer in BodyBalance – a sort of hybrid of yoga, tai chi and pilates – as well as practising yoga for longer. Not long after her trip to London, she hosted a workshop for her wellness clients on ways to attract foreign tourists to Finland’s hotels, day spas and health clubs. “We brainstormed what was essentially Finnish – saunas kept coming up, as did the idea of silence, which Finns are very comfortable with. We discussed the concept of doing yoga in one – I thought it would all end there, but the idea stayed with me.”

What makes this special?
Vainio started coming up with poses that work sitting down in even the smallest of spaces and tweaked the idea so it would have wide appeal. “In Finland, there’s a certain stigma about yoga, particularly with men – a lot of them find it a bit weird or complex.” Essentially, she came up with a “more user-friendly” form of yoga, with a sequence of six main poses over a 30-minute session, with eyes closed for much of the session. “It had to be easier because you’re in a 50oC room, but I also wanted something everyone can do, from sportsmen to 80-year-old men.”

Sounds good…
Vainio says one of the benefits is that “everyone’s equal. There’s soft lighting, no mirrors and no pressure – and having eyes closed means people can’t judge each other. It’s also a kind of meditation – one woman said it was like a 30-minute holiday for the mind.”

But how does it work, business-wise?
In December 2010, Vainio approached wellness companies about doing test classes and around 700 people tried it in early 2011 (“Most of them fell in love with it,” she says). She had barely applied for a trademark, come up with a business plan and starting training instructors, when newspapers and TV broadcasters started reporting on this new concept.

And it went big?
As Vainio says, “That was it – after that I just answered my phone.” Sauna Yoga today operates through 40 companies in Finland, from Helsinki to Rovaniemi in the north, with 150 trained instructors. Vainio is set to launch the concept in Estonia, Spain and Germany, and to expand her core team from three to five or six. It’s a licence-based product, so companies pay a monthly licence fee as well as paying instructors. Vainio, who has also published a book on Sauna Yoga, says: “Now I think it could go worldwide. I feel like Alice In Wonderland, on this unlikely journey.”



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