Could pop-up saunas be Rochester's answer to these never-ending winters?
Kylie Osterhus says it was during her travels to rural Alaska when she first realized the personal and cultural benefits of using a sauna.
"It was beautiful to see multiple generations of women, comfortable in their own skin, enjoying quality time together," Osterhus told us.
Now back in Minnesota, Osterhus hopes her home city of Rochester will begin warming up to the idea of public saunas.
She has begun working with local architect Brian Muellner on a design for a pop-up sauna that could be set up in various places around town.
Their next step is to begin building backyard prototypes to work out the kinks. Osterhus said she hopes to create the kind of sauna culture already burgeoning in other parts of the state, including the Twin Cities.
"Minnesota winters are long and I get antsy being cooped up in the house," said Osterhus. "Taking sauna is not only a respite from the cold, but makes the outdoors enjoyable. It is a great way to slow down, unplug and relax."
While saunas are often used as an escape from the cold — resting in one sounds particularly appealing right now — research suggests there may also be health benefits to regular sauna bathing.
In Finland, for instance, saunas are a cultural staple — with more heated boxes than households. Studies there have found links between regular sauna use and lower rates of hypertension, cardiac death and dementia.
Rochester resident Martha Rypstra says that pop-up saunas, if done right, could be a good addition to the city. Rypstra and her family recently added a sauna to their backyard. Originally opposed to the idea, she and her husband now use it about once a week — sometimes more.
Since installing the heated box, Rypstra, a mother of four, said the sauna has helped her cope with anxiety and postpartum depression.
"We have used it as much as we can during the winter," she said. "The sauna is a great way to slow down. It’s a great way to get outside, to get warm, to have some quiet time, to spend time with friends."
Osterhus hopes to be able to prototype the concept in time for next winter. Already, she has spoken with a handful of local business owners who have been supportive of the concept.
"If we really want to become 'America’s City of Health,'" said Osterhus, "we’ve got to be creative in our approach to improving the wellbeing of our community and those who visit."
Related: 10 sauna tips for beginners
Cover photo: Creative Commons