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Magic of the herbs and plants in sauna

Necessary to experience it.

The further I go in life, the more I realise that sauna is everything to me. The gate through which the depths of our nation, faith, rites, myths, gods, customs, signs, perceptions of the world open up. The further, the deeper. Sauna coalesce with mythology, history, language, science, health, songs, music. Heritage, that I desire to unravel, that after could say: in the beginning was fire and water. Stone and steam. Ancient humans. And nothing has changed.

Oh, that I could travel in time and see with my own eyes how things really were. Then there would be no questions, interpretations and disagreements. The whole history of the world would lie beautifully on the shelves. And whatever you need, you will find it there. All that remains would be just to read. But even though the information labyrinths are confusing, the heart still burns with a desire to explore. A smile on my face comes when I buy a new book. Five lives will not be enough to explore our entire world. Even just through the prism of the sauna. 

At least I know where I’m going…

Audra Staškevičienė

  • Hello, Audra, how are you? I wanted to start with your beautiful reflection about the sauna. What else could you mention about yourself? 

Hello. I would like to say that I have been very lucky in my life. To be born in such a beautiful country with such deep traditions. Be born in a family with great values. Go through all the experiences that life has brought. To be a wife and a mother. To discover a sauna and a lot of wonderful people.

  • How did sauna come into your life? 

In my childhood, we would go to the sauna with my parents. Later I found out that my grandfather had a sauna in Dzūkija, near Lazdijai. People from all over the village would gather there. Later with friends we had a tradition of going to the sauna every Sunday. Later on one friend invited me to a course organised by the “Lithuanian Bath Academy”. That’s how I started learning the art of sauna. And I’m still learning.

  • What fascinates you about your lifestyle? What would you change it to?

Never thought about it. The feeling inside has always been as if I am being led, as if I have to do certain tasks step by step and climb a step up. And the fascinating thing is that I never know what the next step will be. It is always interesting. My life, when I think about it, is really very non-standard, rich in experience, people and various studies. Probably can be said like this. I really enjoy being able to create and grow all the time. I would probably not change to anything. If I could, I would like to correct some things in the past. But all of that experience was probably needed, too.

  • With which kind of thoughts are you starting your morning? Do you like the beginning or the end of the day?

I start the morning with Wim Hof’s breathing technique. Then I drink water, do short exercises, take a shower or jump into a pond (as I wish at the time). I am grateful for living this day, thankful for everything I have in my life and continue to live my day. My morning ritual gradually crystallises. I like the start of the day more because it is quiet and structured. To stay like this all day it is not always possible.

  • Do you have your own sauna rituals?

In the past, I used to lead sauna procedures for others more often. The time has brought understanding that I cannot forget myself either. So now that my husband has built a smoke sauna, we go there almost every week. I really like the simplicity and archaicness of a smoky sauna, that smell of smoke seems to engulf and carry you somewhere far into the past. The fact that I have nothing to do for others, that I am only being for myself, with my closest people I enjoy a lot. I like just lying on the sauna bench and letting the heat sink in, feeling my whole body warm up and relax. I like how my husband Robert takes care of me, warming me up with the gentle steam. After the last heating-up session, we are going outside and he is pouring over me with warm water. Overwhelming feeling. We once experienced it from one friend, Darius. It’s so impressive when it is cold outside and you are poured with very pleasant warm water. 

  • Share interesting stories or happenings in the saunas?

When I lead a sauna for guests, everything happens. Probably the biggest surprises are with foreigners due to cultural differences. We once had about fifteen female monks from China that it is forbidden for them to undress. It was a very exciting experience. I thought for myself how they will have a sauna experience being fully dressed. Later, however, they accepted the sauna and relaxed. One woman had not bathed in a waterbody for twenty years. It was such an impression for her.

There were also all sorts of adventures with Lithuanians. Once a psychic measured the energy of a sauna with some kind of appliance. He misbalanced me so much that my energy dropped significantly. It took a long time to recover. 

Most probably I like those saunas where things go easy, when I control my voice well and I can improvise. Then everything goes smoothly, unexpectedly and very naturally something new is born. For example, during the procedure suddenly arose a desire to draw with salt symbols on the sauna plank. I was happy as a small child. I surprised people. Such a discoveries are the best.

  • Is the energy of the sauna more feminine or masculine? Can we divide like that?

Apparently, it depends on the people who gather in the sauna. And there is not always a gentle feminine energy in a women’s sauna. We are as different as men are. I often feel that energy alternating. Once I’m getting too tough, I realise I need to relax and let everything flow easily. Happens that saunas themselves turn to have more masculine or feminine energy. Depends on the host. In any case, in the sauna, energy can be divided more according to ease – severity. You meet the people and understand what awaits today.

  • Is there any recipe for both women and men on how to love saunas? Where to start getting to know the sauna?

For the beginning the best would be to have some knowledge. We first perceive everything through the mind. Why we do it, what it brings. It would be good to “land” in the hands of a good sauna master. The first impression is very important, so there should be a cozy environment, a gentle steam, a sauna master who knows his job, who will do everything to make a person relax and feel the real sauna. 

There are now a lot of good sauna masters in Lithuania who love their work and run great sauna programs. When a person experiences a good sauna, then no longer has fears or negative beliefs. Feels all the goodness of the sauna. Then you can go to the sauna with your loved ones and create your own sauna rituals. Getting used to the heat should be done slowly, listening to your body a lot and starting to explore what you like and what makes you feel good and what doesn’t. Generally, sauna masters recommend a not so high temperature in the steam room (about 60 degrees). The same should be the moisture. We need to warm up gradually. The more we warm up, the colder water we can put on. For the first time, 2-3 entrances to the sauna are enough. In the sauna less is always more.

  • What you would like to single out as the biggest benefits and effects of a sauna for a person?

Most probably relaxation. Also purification of body and thoughts. We now live in a world where there is a lot of tension and our body is very responsive to it. Through warmth, through touch, through contrasting water procedures, we relax, release the accumulated heaviness, and through massage, scrubbing, bathing, we experience great pleasure and fill up with good emotions. Necessary to experience it. I would add communication to that. Over the last few years, we have all appreciated how important it is to be among people, to talk out, to share our feelings, thoughts, to charge with good energy, to be a part of the whole. Sweating is very important for the physical body, then the body detoxifies. Heat and cold procedures improve cardiovascular function and expand the range of human adaptation to stressful conditions.

  • What sauna ritual is the healthiest?

The one that best suits your needs. For me, when I eat about two hours before the sauna and only drink water or tea during the sauna. When I accept the sauna, without high expectations. While I am with people with whom I feel good. When I listen to myself, as I wish today. And when I know about the sauna, about the steam, I can create a pleasant and cozy environment for myself. When I am not overheating and not cooling. When there is a person who can do quality procedures, scrub. Sometimes the best sauna is when I go alone. I take a birch whisk, put it where I want the most on the body, rub it, massage it or just sit. Sometimes I just want to yell or cry. Then I am completely with myself and there is no need to put on masks. I listen to what my body is asking today. I make a few such entrances to the sauna and if I still want, I go into the pond.

  • Your sauna procedures are unique because of the variety of herbs/(medicinal) herbs/plants you use. Can you tell us more?

Plants have been used in various saunas around the world since ancient times, since the oldest civilisations. People knew their healing properties. Diverse rituals were performed for various purposes. Because our roots go back to very old times, we are part of the old European civilisation, we are people of Baltic culture, our sauna has kept in close contact with nature. We, like our Latvian brothers, use various plants in the sauna. Each plant has its own aroma, its own healing properties, its own energy, its character, just like humans. I realise how much we don’t know about them, so I use what I know today. Simply in love with the plant world.

To go through smells and sensations I like the most. How does the plant smell? What does that smell cause? Maybe it leads to memories, or maybe you can’t step away from it. What touch of the leaves you feel on the skin. Which plant do you want the most today? It is an interesting fact that if you choose plants not by mind, but intuitively, then after the sauna you can read about that plant. What problems the plant works with, what does he treat the most. Then you understand why you needed it so much.

  • How herbs contribute to better well-being? 

One way – through scent. Natural herbs in the sauna are the best aromatherapy. Another way is through touch. Gentle caress with plants is very soothing and relaxing. Caress is the most effective way of massage where tenderness immediately disarms and a person relaxes easier. Whisk leaves have a lot of useful characteristics. During the whisking, the leaves touch the skin and nourish it. Third way is drinking tea. Different plants give different effects. Some are more soothing, others tonic, improve digestion, and so on. Here is the whole science again. I’m just starting my friendship with plant energies. I feel them, but it’s difficult to prove it scientifically. We have done an experiment with Rasa Mažioniene. We used the resonance method to feel what energy is radiating from the whisks or something is radiating at all. The results were not surprising. All of the tree whisks used in the sauna have healing properties, only much more serious research would be needed to draw conclusions.

  • Are all the plants just beneficial?

There are also poisonous plants that cannot be taken to the sauna. For example, yew, thuja, some species of ferns and other poisonous plants. There are very strong plants that sauna masters use them just in small quantities, only for highly short periods of time. For example, bitter artemisia (mugworts plant), European bird cherry. Plants can cause allergies, so I always ask about it before people enter the sauna. Not always people know that they are allergic to the plants. However, in my opinion, the sauna only raises topical problems and ailments, while after that it is up to the person to look for the causes.

  • How does the use of plants in the sauna affect people? What’s the feedback? 

I tried to imagine a sauna without plants now. It would be just sitting and sweating. This, of course, is also very healthy and beneficial. But the plants bring life, greenery, smells and sensations into the sauna. Plants greatly enrich the sauna: we can whisk with them, shake them, caress with them, gently strike with them, rub with them, even dance a whisk dance. We can put the plant whisk as a pillow or put it under the ankles instead of a roll. 

Without sauna whisks, we would not be able to do whisking, which was a very old Baltic tradition. That whisking moment cleans you up. You have to feel it. Once you’ve had a sauna experience, you realise that something inside has changed, purified, freed.

Either we can use the water left from the bucket where whisks were kept for ablution. Humans feel the goodness provided by plants somehow intuitively. You want to hold the whisk of tilia and to stay still. Or to make a good beating with juniper on the soles. When you start listening, the plants start “talking”. You look at them and feel what they are for, somehow you intuitively know what to do. Benefits of plants are being scientifically proven more and more.

  • Do you use herbs/plants only as a whisks or in some other ways too?

In the past, various herb extracts and infusions were used. Now the production of herbal distillates has become popular, and the use of natural incense is reviving. I also use plants for aromatherapy, scrubs, and foot baths. For teas and food, of course.

  • You pay a lot of attention to each plant. Do you have your favourites?

It happens that the plant is particularly attractive. For me, these are black currant, common sage, myrrh, peppermint, lavender. I like strong plants in general, and people have very different reactions to plants. Because we are all very different. I use some only for light inhalation, others can also be placed along the nose during inhalation, for example a twig of black currant.

  • How are you looking for new plants? Do you like to use more of what is around us or also some exotic ones?

I’m always looking for herbs, but they come to me in different ways too. At the “Steam Bath” festival in Kaunas, I met a woman who had myrrh plant incense. The scent took over all my senses. 

Another unexpected discovery was the frozen whisks of young sea buckthorn twigs. I had to work hard to clean all the thorns out of the sauna, but a real sea buckthorn smelled amazing. It seems to me that each plant has its own time.

  • A lot of activities. Lots of inspiration. How do you maintain your inner balance?

I have been learning all my life to keep inner balance. Still learning. Lately, I’ve been trying to put things together in such a way that there would be a balance. I am very happy when it succeeds. Solitude, good sleep, and calm music help a lot to recover.

  • Maybe your songs? Do you use them in the sauna? Where can everyone listen to them?

Sing in the sauna when I feel like it. Sometimes I just hum. And sometimes silence is the best. My songs are on Youtube and Spotify. You can find me as “Perkūnija” (Thunder). Not all songs are put there yet, meanwhile new ones are born. There is a plan to release an album this year. And in our sauna, people can listen to the songs and meditations I created. I really like whisking to the rhythm of the music. Then it is much easier, it seems that the body dances itself. And after bathing, calm meditation music is good for relaxing when you just lie down wrapped in a warm blanket.

  • Or is it a massage? Do massage and sauna supplement each other?

Massage is inseparable from the sauna, because it is the art of touch. The sauna master touches the person, caresses the head, scrub, smear the body, and with the whisks he rubs, caresses, and whisks.

  • Thunder Sauna School self-improvement through the sauna. Is it a way to get to know yourself or formal studies?

Good question. Quality is always more important to me than formality. I often ask myself whether I would like to develop a formal sauna school. I realised that it demands a big team, many mandatory disciplines, standards and requirements. The content of my training is still in the development stage, so there are no official state studies yet. There is constant growth and creativity. How to make the knowledge as useful as possible and how to teach effectively so that the knowledge is absorbed and exploited. I want to improve the training program so that it would be as effective as possible. Every year, the content of the training improves. I can’t work the same way for ten years. And I don’t know where this research will lead me. Because I am very attracted to the old sauna culture, women’s saunas and health. First of all, probably, during studies I get to know myself better.

All the people who come to study are a great gift to me. With each group I experience something new, we get to know each other, we travel together, we create, we share our activities. There are already four groups of Thunder Sauna School students that finished studies and the fifth one has started. All very wonderful people. They constantly make me learn and grow, and give me incentive for new projects. I am very grateful for that and believe that every person brings something special. For example, thanks to Magarita Bladženauskaitė, the unique sauna theatre “Širdys pilnos dievų” (Hearts full of gods) was born. It is about how the four creator goddesses create a world.

  • Various seminars, classes, activities, events, pleasant time and nice people. What are you dreaming about? What else are you creating or want to implement?

Goal of the year is to release a new song album, finish the studies with the fifth group, improve studies, prepare an online study course, and then we will see what next the universe brings.

  • What would you wish for others?

Wish to everyone be responsible for their life and create it in such a way that it would be good to live it.

  • How to get to you? Where to follow you?

You will find us www.perkunijoserdve.lt 

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/perkunijospirtis

Instagram: Perkūnijos erdvė

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