If you told me I’d be spending a Monday afternoon on our trip to Lake Garda sweating in 95 degree celcius heat whilst an Italian dude wafted essential oils in my direction (to the beat of System of a Down), I might have choked on my gluten-free pasta…

Alas, that’s how things went down. We rocked up to the Aquardens Thermal Park fully intent on relaxing in the warm natural spring waters and soothing a few achey joints. 

But once we’d exhausted the chill-out zone and downed more than our fair share of stinky sulphur-rich mineral water, we decided to stop by the sauna village – a new complex cordoned off from the main pools. You have to pay a little extra to get in, but for us at least, it ended up being well worth it… 

The benefits and drawbacks of traditional saunas

I’m a big fan of using saunas. Improved blood flow, heart health, immune function, heat + cold tolerance, mental toughness – the list of potential benefits is pretty impressive. 

But there are a couple of first-world problems that can sometimes make the sauna experience a tad less appealing to me:

1. Saunas in commercial gyms and spas often don’t feel hot enough. 

2. Ones that get toasty can often be uncomfortable, lonely places. 

Sure, you could read an old book, meditate, have a chat with your mates if they’re up for a good sweat, or stick on some tunes or a podcast if you’re flying solo. But in a sense, they’re all secondary distractions from the experience itself. That’s where this idea of a ritual comes in. Hear me out.

Alone we are strong. Together we are stronger.

The Ritual Sauna Experience

Upon entering the sauna village, we noticed on a board that on the hour, every hour, there was the option to get involved in a group sauna ritual. 

They were all set in different saunas, led by people with exotic names, and rated on a 1-3 scale based on the intensity of the music and movements. Why not? 

Donning our dodgy disposable swim gear, we decided to crack on with the first one. A mellow session that just so happened to be set in the sauna of my homeland – complete with a giant Celtic firepit.

Over the next 15 minutes, we sat in silence with 15-20 other people as a dude dropped essential-oil infused ice onto the pit and wafted the smell (and heat) towards us to the sound of Bob Marley. Throughout, the temperature gradually ramped up throughout to a toasty 95 (most commercial gyms sit around the 75-90 mark).

As Buffalo Soldier came to a close, we left with a round of applause and a strange feeling of invigoration. Sure, the whole thing was a bit out there. Not on my typical Monday to-do list. But something drew us back in. With a curiosity of mind and the rest of the evening to kill, we decided to give them all a go to find out what that was.  

So over the next few hours, in between dunking under the ice cold showers, we rubbed up with sugar crystals in the Turkish Bath, sat through the intense ‘Energy’ session in the Finnish sauna, and topped things off in the Russian hut. The last ended up being the most rememberable – epic Celtic beats, fresh willow leaves on the fire, everyone banging on the benches to the music, and the heat… Christ the heat…  

If the first sauna was set at 95, this one must have been around the 105-110 mark (probably not the best idea to sit right at the top there mate). It was without doubt the hottest temperature I’ve ever sat through, and one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had. But it was awesome, and it felt entirely natural to stick it out.

How does this all relate to life and  forming healthy habits?

Here’s the thing:

Without the ritual, the music, the people, it’s super unlikely that I’d have stuck out the full 15-20 minutes in that last sauna. 

But as a part of the group, I felt a surge of untapped resilience. Sure, it was still uncomfortable towards the end, but there was no chance I was going to leave. 

It got me thinking about how when a group of people come together and commit to an experience, regardless of whether they know each other, interesting things can happen. The collective energy of each individual is added to a central pot for everyone to feed off, and we all grow stronger.

The ritual brings structure, focus, and a sense of belonging. 

There's a unique sense of unity in the group when you face a shared struggle or challenge. An unspoken agreement that's hard to put your finger on.

Key Takeaways for Embracing Ritual

I left the village that evening feeling rejuvenated. Not just from the spring water, belly full of food and the heat exposure. It was more of an underlying feeling of content. Like I’d remembered an important truth that had slipped my mind for a several years.

The truth was that being part of a group and facing a challenge is an important pillar when it comes to living a healthy, fulfilled life. Going all lone-wolf and flying solo has it’s merits, but it’s when we give ourselves to a group and let ourselves get taken away by the ritual that the magic stuff happens, and we break through those plateaus.

So aside from spending a load of money on going to an Italian spa and sweating your nuts off to Awolnation, how can you bring the benefits of ritual into your everyday life? How can it actually help you out in a real, tangible way?

Here’s a few ideas: 

  • Group movement. The classic example of overcoming adversity with others. I like to train solo a lot of the time, but I also know I perform much better in a group environment – whether it’s martial arts, team sports, or plain old strength and conditioning. There’s power in the peer-pressure and collaborative sweat.
  • Food gatherings. Coming at it from a slightly different angle, ritual also has it’s place where food is concerned. That might take the form of a community pot-luck, or just meeting up with loved ones once a week and cooking for eachother.  
  • Spiritual rituals. Ritual is one of the cornerstones of many religions. Like there’s power in collective movement, there’s likely something to prayer or meditation in a group. That’s definitely something I felt when I took an 8-week mindfulness course. It’s easier to stay focussed and bring more awareness in that group setting than it is on your own. 
  • Community projects. The ritual can also be a useful tool for serving the community and making the world a better place. That might be a beach clean, litter picking, charity runs or anything in between. Again, it’s that coming together that makes the big difference.
  • Solo rituals. Ritual is something best served in a group setting, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable on an individual level. The classic example is a morning routine. I don’t buy the idea that here’s a perfect formula everyone should stick to, but by having a rough structure for starting your day, you have a sense of clarity and meaning to carry forwards with you.
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Luke Jones

Luke Jones is a Movement Coach, Wellness Enthusiast, Online Content Creator, and Founder of HERO Movement. Through articles, videos, courses, and online coaching, his big goal is to help people discover freedom of movement and create lives filled with well-being & adventure.

2 Responses

  1. Great depiction of our experience at the sauce. If only I’d manage to stick out that last one…

    Either way I definitely felt that pull of the communal gathering – it definitely made for a more well rounded experience.

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