How Not to Make a Sauna

“Just try it,” my mother urges me, “it’s just like a sauna.”

For the record, hanging your head over a bowl of boiling, eucalyptus-scented water in the hopes of clearing your sinuses is nothing like a sauna.  Saunas involve handsome Finnish farmhands, in the nude, and alcohol and obliging fields through which to go streaking.  I know this because a few years ago, I went to Finland, and Finland is the motherland of all saunas (mainly because there isn’t much else to do on the arctic tundra).  The way I see it, if there’s anyone in the Richter household who knows what comprises a bone fide sauna and what does not, it’s me, and this sorry concoction of essential oils does not.

Nonetheless, I’m at my wits end—it’s my second sinus infection in three weeks and I feel like my brain is slowing leaking out through my eye sockets.  I can’t think straight, I can’t see straight, and to make matters worse, I can’t even blog about my sorry state because every time I sit down at the computer, my eyes start to water (I’m writing this entry at five-minute intervals as it is).

I’ve tried every vitamin, tea, cough medicine and homeopathic remedy known to man (including the ancient Indian technique of oil pulling which usually works for me, even if its garnered the occasional odd look from my roommates over the years) but nothing beats the strength of my germ-wielding preschoolers, even though I have tissue boxes strategically placed throughout the dance studio where I teach at three foot intervals.

And so, when my mother hands me a towel and says, “Just try it,” I do.  But first I take the opportunity to toss a quick, cursory remark over my shoulder.

“Just so you know,” I inform my parents, “this is nothing like a sauna.”

“Of course it is,” my mother insists.

“No, it’s not,” I sputter through the steam.  “There are no cute men in here.”

“I beg to differ,” my father calls across the room.  “At least I’m sure your mother would beg to differ.”

After scalding the first, second and possibly even third layers of my epidermis (which I’m pretty sure is scientifically possible) I do start to feel a little bit better.  Because I have the emotional maturity of an eight year old when I’m sick, however, I hate it when my mother’s remedies actually work and as such, I take it upon myself to whip up a second batch of sauna-water on my own.

I stumble over to her basket of essential oils and select my favorite three: eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint.  This selection, I should note, is based not on my knowledge of medicinal herbs (as was my mother’s) but rather on my love of lavender massage oil and Orbit gum, and my reluctant acknowledgment that Vicks Vaporub really does work, even if I’ve always hated the smell of eucalyptus.

I boil a few cups of water and prepare my concoction.  Three seconds later, I’m running across the living room simultaneously hacking up my lungs and trying to claw my own eyes out.  Evidently peppermint does not a good sauna make.

12 Responses to “How Not to Make a Sauna”

  1. Pat Amsden

    Ugg! Definitely not a sauna. For what it’s worth I know a few people who swear by Netti pots. Made famous by Dr. Oz
    you can find them here (Victoria, BC, CANADA)in some drugstores and also in health food stores. Since that’s half a world away from Dr. Oz’s stomping grounds I’m fairly sure you’ll be able to find them there.

    Pat Amsden

  2. Jill

    Oh, but it gave me a laugh, which is good medicine, which is important because I’m sick too, very likely with a sinus infection. Will find out Monday. I have only one preschooler, but she’s good at what she does. Three of us are down with whatever she brought home. Do try a neti pot. If you use hypersalinated water it draws the congestion out. Or something. I hope you feel better.

  3. Debbie

    I swear by Oscillococcinum, Airborne, and Emergen C… Especially the Oscillococcinum. The moment I feel something coming on I take it! Pre-schoolers are the germiest babies around! Hand Sanitizer! FOR THEM! They LOVE it! The moment they come into the classroom! Do the hand sanitizing dance! Feel better…

  4. TL

    Ohhh… I hope you are feeling better! Have you tried one of those netti pot things? I have not used one, but hear that they are amazing…

  5. Your Landlord

    I urged the Osc on Kat, she tried it the first time, but forgot to take the required dosages (it works GREAT for me too), then I suggested the neti pot, and she nixed that idea, so getting her try this was an accomplishment 😉

    AND NO, peppermint does NOT feel good in a “sauna”, live and learn, “grasshopper”

    (you have to be old to get that reference )

  6. Sam Barnett-Cormack

    Neti pots are the traditional thing for naso-sinal lavalge, aren’t they? I wanted to try those when I had a really horrible sinus infection…

    Sinus infections can be worse than many others because the anatomy in some of the sinus spaces is such that you can end up with bacterial resevoirs that the immune system can’t easily reach, so you need to do something to unclog it. Facial saunas can be good, but remember that oils are very potent when warmly vaporised. I, personally, use Olbas in mine, which certainly includes eucalyptus, and I can never remember what else. Of course, the steam itself is what really helps the most, if it’s a matter of getting mucous to go away (usually by leaving via a nostril), in my experience. If you find it nicer, and your bathroom isn’t too well ventilated, you could try having as warm a bath as you feel comfortable with, and just keep any doors and windows closed. More like a real sauna, in that sense, and even room to add a cute guy, but I wouldn’t have thought you’d *really* want a cute guy around when trying to stop your head feeling like it’s going to burst… feeling like your head’s going to burst not being conducive to appreciation of such things, IMO.

    • Kat Richter

      Very true… feeling sick equals feeling ugly in my case, and feeling ugly does not make me terribly keen to recreate my Finnish sauna experiences 😦

  7. Jess Killmenow

    I hope you are feeling better by now. I have been reading your missives on Austen and what’s his name (PMS#3?) with interest. Do keep us informed, k, K?


  8. tocapturetoday

    I must say, your picture made me smile, though mainly because I have one just like it. As a singer, I used this poor-excuse-for-a-sauna method MANY times…my roommates just laughed and took pictures, but I loved doing it.

    Good to know about the peppermint 🙂

  9. jswesner

    Great! Oh and Finland sounds wonderful.
    I think I am going to my gym’s sauna tonight. That sounds so wonderful!

  10. Becca

    I’m sure you are long over the plaguing sinuses by now, but for the future I suggest a nasal inhaler! I had a prescription strength one – Rhinocort – back in the day when I would get constant sinus infections. It worked wonders. And yes, I had tried everything including those nasty netti pots.


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