I’m embracing the Nordic lifestyle. I really am. I will get rain boots next time I go downtown, I promise. And I will buy an umbrella next time I see one on sale. It’s funny how good intentions of doing something don’t ever really end up happening. I’ll watch that documentary tomorrow; I’ll learn to knit next week. I’ll start my diet after this meal; I’ll learn Danish when… who am I kidding? I’m never going to learn Danish.
And such good intentions keep snowballing until you don’t actually do them anymore because you’ve lost track of them… until you do. This is what happened with the Swedish Sauna. Sweden, just a stone’s throw of a 20-minute ferry ride away from my school, was tantalizingly close, and we couldn’t avoid going out to explore Helsinborg for the day. And no trip, absolutely no trip, to Sweden is complete without an experience of the Swedish Sauna.
Some of us in our group were extremely adamant they were not going. Being naked with 20 other women in the same room was not something they felt comfortable with, and that’s fair play. It takes a certain kind of blasé to subject yourself to the scariest criticism of all: your naked body. When we reached the spa, some people remained adamant, and others were persuaded by the excitement of the group.
We walk in to the spa, a one-storey, unassuming building along the shores of the beach boulevard, our group divided by gender, and are led straight to the lockers, where we strip down to nothing but a towel. Shy laughter punctuates the air as us girls discuss the many layers of clothes we have on. The narrow hallway, brightly lit by the ceiling-to-floor windows on the left, overlooking the sea and wide sundeck, leads us to our next destination: the shower. After fidgeting with the buttons and avoiding eye contact, we shiver under the shower for ten seconds, before swiftly picking up our towels to wrap around ourselves again. We then enter the resting room. Although not heated, it is warm enough for you to sit naked around little round tables and take a drink from the water fountain. It is especially nice if you can’t motivate yourself to jump into the ice-cold water of the sea, but still need a break from the stifling heat of the sauna.
The House on the Sea
Finally, through a heavy glass door, we enter the hot room. The sauna itself sits on the corner of the spa, which actually rests right on top of the ocean. Four kilometers ahead, with a sea between us, is Helsingor’s Kronborg Castle, whose outline we could just make out through the misty November afternoon. To our left was the rocky Swedish shoreline, our naked bodies vaguely protected from public view with a long wooden fence. The view to our right was limited, with the men’s sauna room being separated only by a temporary wooden partition. We could even hear them speaking. We settle down, keeping a ‘safe’ distance from each other, some girls clutching their towels to their chests, others forcing themselves to ‘be cool’ and just let it all hang.
Small talk ensues, and we trade stories on the day’s events while trying to make out what the guys next door are cheering at. Slowly, as the room fills with our fellow friends and classmates, we settle into a comfortable atmosphere. More and more, towel-clutching slackens, and a few comments are made about how beautiful we all look sitting on the steps of the sauna, different shapes, colours and sizes. Individuality lost all meaning, we were all the same- the big boobs, the small ones, the thin legs, the big hips… it was all there for us to specifically not judge. We were all too different.
The Main Event
Of course, the highlight of the spa is not the sauna itself but the ‘jumping into the sea’ bit. The sun had broken out through the clouds, so with bolstered confidence, a couple of us march off to the patio, where a small set of stairs will lead us to the clear, icy water of the Sound separating the North Sea from the Baltic Sea. My feet were the first to touch the icy liquid, and my body’s immediate reaction was to jump back a step. After much self-convincing, I finally ran into the water, forcing my body into the icy fire. Either feeling relief or shock, my brain took a moment to respond before I dance my way back out of the waist-deep water, up the iron steps, and back into the safety (and relative warmth) of my beach towel. My feet ached- the icy water did not agree with them. Perhaps it was my Asian tendency towards chilblains (winter feet)?
But my, oh, my, was I rejuvenated! My heart felt a bit lighter, my shoulders less tense. I felt like a bit of weight was lifted off my shoulders. I am so excited by this that I actually run back into the water, almost immediately after having come out of it. Of course the next fifteen minutes are spent warming back up in the sauna, wiggling my feet, willing them to stop stinging. The feeling of euphoria doesn’t last long, but the comedown isn’t quite as hard. You keep a state of zen-like contentment. And each time you go in the sea, you stay a fraction of a second longer- improvement! I guess it should be noted right about here that everyone else in my group was a lot less chicken than me, and managed to actually do two breaststrokes in the waist deep water before jumping out. There were others that managed to actually swim out a bit before coming back, cool as cucumbers the sea.
I’m not saying that I’m going to start walking around naked every chance I get. I’m not saying that I’m now headed into the icy ass ocean every time I get a chance. But… I am saying that I’m proud of myself. I faced a fear of being stark naked in front of people, and I fucking went into the 10-degree-ocean. If you’d met me a year ago I probably would have given you the middle finger. I’m now giving you the middle finger for a whole other reason: I’m taking leaps that I never really thought about before, and jumping, trusting myself that I’m doing the right thing. I’m not going to let people’s presumed judgments stop me from taking those leaps and bounds.
We all need to bare our all sometimes, and trust ourselves to be doing the right thing. Sometimes, probably most of the time, we would be surprised at how well that works out for us, in the long or short run. Here’s to jumping into the next adventure.
front of people, and I fucking went into the 10-degree-ocean. If you’d met me a year ago I probably would have given you the middle finger. I’m now giving you the middle finger for a whole other reason: I’m taking leaps that I never really thought about before, and jumping, trusting myself that I’m doing the right thing. I’m not going to let people’s presumed judgments stop me from taking those leaps and bounds.
We all need to bare our all sometimes, and trust ourselves to be doing the right thing. Sometimes, probably most of the time, we would be surprised at how well that works out for us, in the long or short run. Here’s to jumping into the next adventure