Sauna Rituals: Traditional Practices, Including Use of Vihta (Birch Br
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Sauna Rituals: Traditional Practices, Including Use of Vihta (Birch Branches)

Sauna Rituals: Traditional Practices, Including Use of Vihta (Birch Branches)

Saunas have been cherished for centuries, especially in Nordic countries, as a sanctuary for relaxation, detoxification, and socialization. One of the most captivating aspects of sauna culture is its traditional rituals. Among these, the use of vihta (or vasta), birch branches, stands out for its unique health benefits and cultural significance. Let’s explore how you can incorporate these age-old practices into your sauna sessions to make them even more rejuvenating.

The sauna culture in Finland has been inscribed on UNESCO's List of  Intangible Cultural Heritage - Finnish Heritage Agency

The Historical Roots of Sauna Rituals

Saunas have deep roots in Finnish culture, dating back over 2,000 years. Traditionally, saunas were more than just a place to bathe; they were considered sacred spaces where people could cleanse their bodies and spirits. Families would gather in the sauna to discuss important matters, celebrate milestones, and even give birth. Over time, specific rituals evolved to enhance the sauna experience, and the use of vihta became a staple in Finnish sauna tradition.

What is Vihta?

Vihta, also known as vasta in some parts of Finland, refers to a bundle of fresh birch branches. These branches are typically harvested in early summer when the leaves are full of essential oils and then used fresh or dried for later use. The vihta is used to gently whip or pat the skin during the sauna session, a practice believed to stimulate circulation, cleanse the skin, and provide a pleasant birch aroma that enhances the overall sauna experience.

Sauna In Finland – The Ultimate Guide To Finnish Sauna, 55% OFF

Benefits of Using Vihta

Using a vihta in the sauna offers numerous benefits, including:

  1. Improved Circulation: The gentle whipping action helps to increase blood flow and stimulate the skin.
  2. Skin Cleansing: The essential oils from the birch leaves open pores and cleanse the skin naturally.
  3. Muscle Relaxation: The heat, combined with the gentle massage from the vihta, helps to relieve muscle tension.
  4. Aromatherapy: The fresh scent of birch leaves has calming and invigorating effects, enhancing relaxation.
  5. Traditional Connection: Engaging in this practice connects you to a rich cultural heritage, adding a deeper meaning to your sauna experience.

How to Use Vihta in Your Sauna Session

Ready to try vihta for yourself? Here’s a step-by-step guide to incorporating it into your sauna ritual:

  1. Preparation: If you’re using dried vihta, soak it in warm water for about 30 minutes before your sauna session. Fresh vihta can be used immediately.
  2. Heating the Sauna: Heat your sauna to your preferred temperature, usually between 80-100°C (176-212°F).
  3. Entering the Sauna: Start by sitting in the sauna to acclimate to the heat. Take deep breaths to relax.
  4. Using the Vihta: After 10-15 minutes, begin gently whipping or patting your skin with the vihta. Start with your back and shoulders, moving down your arms and legs. The action should be firm but not painful.
  5. Cooling Down: After using the vihta, step out of the sauna to cool down. Some prefer a cold shower or a dip in a cold pool to close the pores.
  6. Repeat: For a full experience, re-enter the sauna and repeat the process.

How to Make Your Own "Vihta" – A Bundle Of Birch Branches – Scandia  Manufacturing

Integrating Other Traditional Sauna Practices

While vihta is a significant aspect of traditional sauna rituals, there are other practices you can incorporate to enhance your experience:

  • Steam Infusion (Löyly): Pour water over the hot stones to create steam. This increases humidity and intensifies the heat, promoting sweating and detoxification.
  • Sauna Spells and Songs: In some traditions, people chant or sing specific sauna spells or songs to invoke a sense of spirituality and connection.
  • Herbal Infusions: Adding herbs or essential oils to the water for steam infusion can provide additional therapeutic benefits. Birch, eucalyptus, and peppermint are popular choices.

Löyly sauna | Visit Finland


Incorporating traditional sauna rituals, especially the use of vihta, can transform a regular sauna session into a deeply enriching experience. Not only do these practices offer various health benefits, but they also connect you to a time-honored cultural heritage. So next time you step into the sauna, bring along a vihta and embrace these traditional rituals for a truly authentic and rejuvenating experience.


Q: What is the best time to harvest birch branches for vihta? A: Early summer is ideal when the leaves are full of essential oils.

Q: Can I use other types of branches for similar effects? A: While birch is traditional, other branches like eucalyptus can also be used, but they might offer different benefits and aromas.

Q: How often should I use vihta in my sauna sessions? A: It depends on personal preference. Some use it every session, while others prefer it occasionally for special occasions.

Q: Is the vihta practice suitable for everyone? A: Most people can use vihta, but those with sensitive skin or certain medical conditions should consult a healthcare provider before trying it.

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