In recent years there has been a surge of interest in lifestyle and wellbeing trends from Nordic countries. With their commitment to decent parenting leave and almost spiritual devotion to the afternoon coffee and cake break known as fika, it’s unsurprising that the rest of us look up to our Nordic brothers and sisters when it comes to wellbeing. Most people will have tried, or at least are familiar with, mainstream Nordic wellbeing practices like saunas and Swedish massages — but there’s so much more to discover. Here are six less well-known Nordic wellbeing practices you need to try.
1. Birch beating
The practice of beating and scrubbing your skin with birch leaves during a sauna originates from Finland, but has been adopted across the Nordic region. Birch beating is said to aid circulation, relax the muscles, be good for your skin, and create a lovely smell inside the sauna.
A great place to experience this practice is at Stockholm’s Hellasgården — a wooded sport and leisure park surrounding a lake just 15 minutes from the city. Here you may be lucky enough to stumble across the weekly birch scrub sauna. Local sauna aficionados gather to lather themselves — and each other — with a mixture of birch leaves, salt, and butter before squeezing into a super hot sauna to sweat it out. An officially appointed sauna meister stands in the center of the sauna, pouring birch infused water onto hot rocks and whipping the air around with a towel, a practice known as aufguss or loyly. People then make a dash for the icy cold lake and leap in, before heading back into the sauna for a second — and perhaps third — session.
2. Hot pots
Iceland lends itself beautifully to treatments involving extremes of temperature. The ancient therapies of bathing in different water temperatures to boost health and wellness are known as balneotherapy and have long been practiced in Iceland. With around 800 geysers across the country, Iceland is blessed with an endless supply of volcanically heated water reaching temperatures of over 100 degrees Celsius.
Reykjavik has several thermal pools, known as “hot pots,” where locals and tourists can enjoy bathing to reduce stress, release muscle tension, and improve sleep. Interchanging between hot and cold water is said to boost your blood flow, circulation, and metabolism, and is deeply relaxing. To get the maximum benefit from the practice, take a short swim, shower, and rest after your final cooling off period.
Flothetta is a relative newcomer to the Nordic wellness scene. It involves putting on an inflatable cap and knee pads and floating serenely around a swimming pool. Icelandic product designer Unnur Valdis came up with the concept, which allows total relaxation of the body. The benefits for your body include melting muscle tension, lowering blood pressure, and overall stress reduction.
You can purchase the kit and float solo wherever you fancy, or attend a Flothetta gathering and float with others. Several pools across Iceland host regular mass Flothetta sessions — known as samflot, meaning floating together — and some are even accompanied by yoga stretches, healthy snacks, and sound healing for a holistic experience.
Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for several years, so there’s no doubt that we can learn from the Finnish lifestyle. The Finnish ethos of sisu — meaning courage, grit, or guts — is the latest aspect of Nordic culture to be celebrated. In the book Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage, Finnish author Joanna Nylund defines sisu as a blend of qualities, including courage, resilience, tenacity, and cheerful determination.
Nature can be your accomplice for cultivating sisu; challenging yourself outdoors is a great way to develop your grit. In Finland, winter bathing is a popular accompaniment to a sauna session and involves plunging into a frozen lake. Many Finns start the morning with an icy dip in the lake for an energizing boost that lasts all day — they say there’s nothing better!
5. Summertime hygge
When we think of hygge, the Danish ethos of cozy living, we might think of cashmere cardigans, cups of hot cocoa, and an evening by the fire. Hygge, however, is a year-round philosophy. Summertime hygge is about getting out into nature to enjoy intimate, laid-back time with friends and family.
Wellness blogger Kayleigh Tanner suggests summertime hygge activities, such as barbecuing fish on a campfire, lazy picnics by the river, collecting shells on the beach, or enjoying a glass of wine and a good book in the garden. Hygge simply requires us to slow down and savor the sensory delights of everyday life.
In the long darkness of Nordic winters, people naturally seek out ways of warming up and cheering up. However, there is more to winter wellness than cinnamon buns and keeping cozy. Sweden’s Happy Friends of Darkness and Cold is an association with an aim to develop positive experiences in those parts of the world that have a prolonged period of darkness and cold.
The group organizes a series of events named the Melankoliad, which embraces the extremes of winter. It includes bathing in frozen lakes, as well as walking and sitting in quiet reflection in cold temperatures. The organizers state southern tourists often come north during winter to experience the deep peace of the cold and darkness. The Melankoliad reframes the melancholy of long, harsh northern winters as a chance to dig deep inside and find inner strength and peace.