Wellness trend: 4 things you need to know about sauna Aufguss

Image: YouTube/Nordik Spa

Do you or your guests get bored and lonely in the sauna? It doesn’t have to be that way.

Sauna Aufguss, an involved and somewhat complex sauna ritual, has been identified as one of this year’s “hottest wellness trends,” and was tagged in 2017 as part of a larger trend of sauna entertainment by the Global Wellness Institute.

The idea of Aufguss is that sauna can be a bigger, more engaging experience than simply sitting around and sweating.

The GWI wrote at the time.

“Saunas, spaces built for intense dry or wet heat sessions, are standard fare at hotels, spas and gyms worldwide. But when it comes to how sauna “gets done” there has been a serious disconnect between Northern, Central and Eastern Europe, where sauna-going is a way of life…and the rest of the world. In countries like Finland (where saunas were born 2,000 years ago), Italy, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, etc., the rituals and facilities are often creative, deeply social and fabulous. But the sauna experience outside Europe can frankly be rather “meh”: an uninspired, lonely experience in a spa or condo basement ‘box.’”

A large part of this fabulous, creative experience is Aufguss. More than a mere custom, Aufguss has a whole culture surrounding it. There are schools, and for serious aficionados, competitions and events throughout Europe.

While Aufguss isn’t exactly exploding in the non-European world, there is evidence of its emergence in North America. Minneapolis’ Hewing Hotel, for example, offers Aufguss, as does Canada’s Thermea, by Nordik Spa Nature, which has the only two Sauna Meisters in Canada.

Curious about this popular European ritual? Spa Executive spoke with Marianne Trotier of Groupe Nordik; and with Riccardo Marzi, of Aufguss.it, an Italian association that offers training and is passionate about spreading the knowledge of Aufguss.

Read on to learn more, and to see videos of training and competitions.

What is Aufguss?

Aufguss (a German word for “infusion) is a wellness / purification / entertainment ritual performed in the sauna, usually by an  “Aufgussmeister” or “Sauna Meister.”

The ritual involves pouring water mixed with essential oils onto the hot stones of the Finnish sauna stove, after which the Aufgussmeister directs the hot, scented steam towards the bathers using rhythmical movements of a towel and sometimes dance, accompanied by music.

Riccardo Marzi explains that the practice “creates an intense and enjoyable multi-sensory experience,” and adds that there are different types of experiences.

“A ‘classic’ Aufguss is more dedicated to relaxing and health benefits, a ‘show’ Aufguss is more entertainment, and a ‘standard’ Aufguss is a mix of the two,” he says. “Creating the perfect mix of these is the key for a spa.”

At Nordik, the Sauna Miesters use music and instead of liquid, snow balls infused with oils are placed on the stove.

“Each Aufguss is unique and different,” says Marianne Trotier.  “The music, the choice of essential oil, the Sauna Meister’s movements;  Each of them have a different style. Our guests will sweat, but also their five senses will be stimulated but the temperature, the smell, the music, and the dance of our Sauna Meisters.”

The ritual is followed by a dip in the cold. Trotier explains that this is “in order to create a thermal shock, which will release adrenaline.” She goes on: “After that step, our guests will look for a cozy spot to rest so the adrenaline secretion can make its way for endorphins.”

Where did Aufguss originate?

Aufguss is thought to have originated from the need to replace the air inside the sauna every hour or so by opening the doors. To quickly restore temperature and humidity, water is poured and the steam and distributed. It’s thought to have evolved from there into the contemporary entertainment ritual of today.

Now Aufguss is performed mainly in Europe. Marzi says that “Northern European Countries, mainly Finland, are more focused on classic Aufguss, also known as Loyly, in a ritualistic and almost religious way.”

How does one become an Aufgussmeister?

Aufguss training can be handed down to a novice by an experienced Aufgussmeister. And in countries where the ritual is popular, there are Aufguss Training Schools, such as Aufguss.it.

According to Marzi, “the training consists of waving techniques, use of essential oils, history and tradition of Aufguss, verbal and non-verbal communication, and safety.”

Nordik Group, meanwhile, regularly invites European professional Sauna Meisters to train their North American teams.

Skills that make a successful Aufgussmeister are the ability to connect with people, and physical stamina – since you’re moving quite energetically in 140-160 degree heat.

Aufgussmeisters may have a job in one spa, or travel around from place to place.

Aufguss events and competitions

As we stated above, there are events and competitions. The largest of these is the Aufguss World Championships, for which there are qualifying rounds such as the Italian Championships.

At these, says Marzi, an expert jury evaluates competitors on criteria including professionalism, heat distribution, fragrances, waving techniques, emotions, theme and show elements, team spirit and Syncro (for team Aufguss).