Sauna aufguss: the rise of the ritual

sauna aufguss

Event saunas and aufguss performances are designed to make saunas more social and less boring.

You’ve probably been hearing a bit, or a lot, about sauna aufguss lately.

Until recently, this niche trend was mainly popular in Europe and relatively unknown in North America and elsewhere; so much so that even spa managers and directors didn’t know what it was- or still don’t. That has been changing, and aufguss has become increasingly popular recently, with more hospitality businesses around the world looking at the idea of adding event saunas and related programs to meet growing interest. For spas and wellness businesses, these experiences can create new revenue streams. 

This “trend” has actually been growing for some time. In its 2017 trends report, the GWI stated:

“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.’”

Event saunas are designed to change this; large spaces that can accommodate 10 people or more, and typically incorporate space for a Sauna Master (or “Sauna Meister” or “Aufguss Meister”) to perform the “Art of Aufguss” and/or lead group classes, like meditation or breathwork. 

A history of aufguss

“Aufguss” is a German word that, according to Minneapolis-based Sauna With Alex, translates to English as “infusion.” The Finnish, who have more saunas per capita than anywhere else in the world, call it “loyly.” It refers to the pouring of water onto the hot stones of the sauna oven. The steam this creates increases the heat and humidity inside the sauna. Sauna and other communal sweat bathing methods can be traced back at least a few thousand years.

Alex explains that aufguss is thought to have begun as a means of maintaining the heat level in the sauna. After the door is opened to let fresh air in, also letting in the cold, people pour more water to quickly restore temperature and humidity levels and wave towels to distribute the hot steam. Over time this action has become the more complex social and experiential communal experience it is today, a performance art, incorporating everything from elaborate, theatrical shows with dramatic towel work to quieter meditative journeys and sound baths. 

Aufguss in the 21st Century

According to Sauna With Alex, one can find both large wellness parks and smaller sauna facilities all over Germany offering a variety of aufguss. The rest of the world is following suit.

For example, the first event sauna in North America opened in 2022 at Resorts World AWANA Spa & Wellness in Las Vegas. AWANA’s event sauna measures 360 square feet and can accommodate an audience of up to 40 people. The theater-inspired space was created by Design for Leisure (DFL) in collaboration with aufguss consultants Lasse Eriksen, vice president of Aufguss-WM, Rob Keijzer, a three-time world aufguss champion and professional trainer, and spa consultant Cary Collier at Blu Spas.

Also, the UK’s first sauna festival, Saunaverse, took place at the Community Sauna Baths in Hackney Wick in February 2023. The Community Sauna Baths is part of an emerging sauna movement in London, offering wood-fired saunas and cold plunge facilities for £10-£15. Saunaverse includes aufguss experiences and aims to promote sauna culture in the UK and make use of unused spaces in London. 

In Canada, a number of Nordic style spas have opened up recently,like Nordik Spa-Nature, offering Aufguss rituals. 

World Aufguss Championship

There’s even a World Aufguss Championship  (as you might have noted from the above mention of three-time world Aufguss champion, Rob Keijzer). This year’s nationals will soon take place in countries around the world, including the UK, which will hold its first-ever national championships in April 2023, and winners will go on to compete in Germany in September.

Resorts and properties with the space to create larger facilities and hold events may see benefit from offering aufguss experiences. Since the pandemic, pundits have been touting the allure of social and community wellness experiences. Not only does Aufguss fit this bill, it offers the added benefit of novelty for many. 

An example of a champion Aufguss performance:

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