New book, Sauna: The Power of Deep Heat, is dedicated to the art of sauna

Emma O’Kelly's new publication explores the growing sauna culture in the UK


By Wendy Golledge

07 November 2023

As new a wave of sauna culture spreads throughout spa and wellness centres in the UK, author Emma O’Kelly has published Sauna: The Power of Deep Heat.

Saunas are increasingly being built in unique settings, providing tech-free spaces for spa guests to gather and enjoy nature.

Earlier this year, the first UK aufguss champion was named at an inaugural event at Rudding Park Spa. And some of the biggest new spas of the year, such as The Bothy by Wildsmith at Heckfield Place, are now running sauna-bathing sessions as part of their offer.

The newly refurbished Aqua Sana Elveden Forest has even installed multi-sensory forest sauna following a £6.5m investment.

A red traditional Finnish sauna
A private sauna on the archipelago, southern Finland | © Maija Astikainen

The benefits of sauna rituals in spas

O’Kelly, who grew up on a British farm without a sauna in sight, was inspired by the art of sauna during a work trip to Finland in 2016.

Her book explores the joys of a real sauna and how the tradition’s rich history is filled with rituals that encourage us to soak up the mental and physical benefits of deep heat.

Sauna highlights the benefits the tradition can bring to the body and mind, its connection to nature, its history and its compatibility with another great invigorator – also a rapidly growing wellness sector trend – cold-water swimming.

O’Kelly also shares her ‘best bakes’ in a chapter dedicated to her stand out European sauna experiences.

Woman in bathrobe looking into the camera

"Spas are about creating wonderful experiences and sauna can offer many of these. Aufguss is a great way to bring people and spa hotels with generous grounds are seeing the benefit of putting saunas next to ponds and cold water as contrast therapy takes hold."

Emma O’Kelly


“The idea for the book was born in 2016 when I was on assignment, writing an art story on a remote island in Finland,” says O’Kelly.

“After we’d finished working, we all headed to the sauna with some beers and snacks, and spent the evening chatting, sweating and jumping in and out of a cold lake.

“It was so much fun and so relaxing, I wondered why we didn’t do this more in the UK.

Woman laying in a wooden barrel
London's community sauna in Hackney | © Maija Astikainen

Sauna’s intangible cultural heritage

“I had always admired ox blood cabins perched on the archipelago in Scandinavia and thought Sauna would make a lovely coffee table book, but publishers weren’t keen,” O’Kelly continues.

“Then in 2019, Finnish sauna culture was added to Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and of course, after the pandemic came a new-found focus on wellness. And since sauna is very good for our health, I finally got a book deal!”

Accompanied by stunning photography, Sauna honours the old, embraces the new, and plunges headlong into the transformative power of sauna bathing.

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