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The history of the steam bath can be traced far back into the mists of time. Popular with the ancient Greeks, the steam bath was subsequently adopted by the Romans as the "Sudatorium" which almost invariably formed part of the Roman baths of the period throughout the entire sphere of influence of the Roman Empire. In Turkey, the steam bath, or "Hamam" has survived the thousands of years, and with it our continued use of the term "Turkish bath". The practice spread to northern Russia too, where it was known as the "Banja". While steam baths were also built in Europe, their expansion was probably limited in the first instance by technical problems (chiefly in regulating the steam temperature) and because of the high investment costs involved. Today though, new developments in steam generating technology have made it possible to install steam baths almost anywhere at reasonable cost.

Not unlike a sauna in that it induces sweating, but with entirely different atmospheric conditions, the steam bath not only relaxes you and renews your energy, but also promotes your health and beauty as well. It is operating most effectively at temperatures of between 43C(110F) and 46C(116F) and a relative humidity above 100%. In a steam bath, steam (or to be more scientifically correct, MIST) should be permanently present. This requires an efficient steam generator, a precise control system and a steam-tight cabin to prevent steam escaping and damaging the fabric of the surrounding room.

Between 1983 and 1986, at the University of Munich’s Institute of Medical Balneology and Climatology a comprehensive series of comparative tests were conducted to determine the effects of the sauna, steam bath and whirlpool bath on the human body in view of a considerable uncertainty which had previously surrounded the steam bath. Steam baths should not be recommended or prescribed to clients with known cardiac pathology. Steam baths are recommended wherever generalized moist heat applications are indicated.
Physical agents act directly with a physical effect; that is, radiant energy becomes heat when absorbed by living cells. Physical agents may in addition indirectly influence the AUTONOMIC AND ENDOCRINE SYSTEMS as well as the ELECTROLYTE balance. The BIOLOGIC RESPONSE to the "push" of physical stimulation of the VEGETATIVE HORMONAL SYSTEM is an adaptive reaction to stress, which involves the adrenal cortex and increases blood steroids. In fact, the interrelationship between adrenal and blood steroids may be an important factor in the hit-and-miss success of this form of hydrotherapy. If so, the intensity (or dose) of physical stimulation will determine the "stress" of this hydrotherapy program.

Physiologic Effects

The body tries to increase its heat loss through all possible avenues-especially the skin and lungs. If the environmental temperature exceeds that of the body, the only way to lose heat is through sweating. The body cannot maintain a constant temperature when the environmental temperature is a s high as that reached in a steam bath or sauna, and so the body temperature begins to rise. As the cutaneous circulation increases, heat is accepted more readily by the body from the environment. A reduced skin circulation would reduce the rise of body temperature, but this is not possible. The rise in body temperature depends mainly on (a) the temperature and humidity content of the steam bath, (b) the sweating capability of the bather, and (c) the bathing time. Body temperatures have been found to range from 37.6C (99.6F) to 40C (104F). Thus, the physiologic changes that occur during the bath are due in part to the rise in body temperature and in part to the influence of the reflexes of the hormonal and nervous systems, which attempt to increase the heat loss. The research results revealed that, given the correct choice of temperature and duration, a steam bath produces the same thermal effect on the body as a sauna and is equally beneficial. This is due to the fact that the saturated level of humidity in a steam bath is markedly counter-balanced by lower temperatures than in a sauna. The enjoyment and benefits that the steam bath affords thus depend critically on the correct temperature being set and maintained. In a steam bath, the optimum temperature lies within a narrow 43-46C(110-116F) range. These temperatures are not only experienced as the most pleasant, they are also the most beneficial. If the maximum temperature is exceeded by as little as 2-3C, the atmosphere is felt to be too hot. Proper steam bath control systems prevent such a temperature rise and maintain the optimum conditions with the utmost reliability, regulating the temperature, the supply and density of the steam, the intake of fresh air and the extraction of spent air entirely automatically.

A steam bath is health giving as well as enjoyable. As a supportive activity, a steam bath is especially recommended to alleviate the conditions listed below by virtue of its high steam content and the general benefits of moist heat. The list was confirmed by the research carried out at the Institute of Medical Balneology and Climatology at the University of Munich: Bronchial asthma, bronchitis, catarrh of the upper respiratory tract, coughs, hoarseness, expectoration (particularly with the assistance of essential oils) non-acute rheumatic complaints and restricted or painful movements of the joints.
In addition, again as a supportive measure the steam bath is beneficial for persons suffering from:
  • Sleeping disorders, particularly through over excitability
  • Poor skin circulation
  • Dry, chapped skin
  • Muscular tension
  • Muscular weakness in the subcutaneous blood vessels
  • Sensitivity to sudden changes of temperature.
A great advantage of the steam bath lies in its highly beneficial effect on the skin, a feature particularly appreciated by women. The moist heat stimulates the subcutaneous blood flow and cleanses the skin intensively, opening the pores, removing dead skin and impurities and leaving the skin feeling soft, clean and silky smooth.

The method that has proved successful for the sauna applies to the steam bath, too and you should practice this regimen in order to recommend it to your clients:
-Shower before the first session-time the stay in the steam bath in accordance with your personal sensitivity-do not exceed 15-20minutes- cool off with cool fresh air and cool water without shocking the system and avoid shivering-take a warm foot bath if you have cold feet- do not take more than 2-3 sessions in the steam bath. In the case of combined facilities like sauna and steam bath, which provide for different types of bath, you may also switch from one type to another. What is essential though, is that you cool off thoroughly after each session. Never start a fresh session if your body is warm (or worse still, hot) and never change from one type of bath to another until you have cooled down properly. To do so could overtax your circulation. Unless the body has cooled down properly after a steam bath, even a swim in a heated pool could be physically harmful as it can be after a sauna. Enjoyed correctly, a steam bath will help to overcome the stresses of everyday life, to relax and recover and to gain new strength and improve general physical and mental well being.
And what’s more, a steam bath can also be fun. STEAM AHEAD…

First saunas
The oldest known saunas were pits dug in a slope in the ground and primarily used as dwellings in winter. The sauna featured a fireplace and stones were heated in fire until they were hot. Water was thrown over the hot stones to produce steam and to give a sensation of increased heat. This would raise the temperature so high that people could take off their clothes.
Eventually the sauna evolved to use a metal woodstove, or kiuas, with a chimney. Air temperatures averaged around 160-180 degrees Fahrenheit (70-80 °C) but sometimes exceeded 200 °F (90 °C) in a traditional Finish sauna. Steam vapor, also called löyly, was created by splashing water on the heated rocks. The steam and high heat caused bathers to perspire, thus flushing away impurities and toxins from the body. The Finns also used a vihta (Western dialect, aka vasta in Eastern dialect), which is a bundle of birch twigs, to gently slap the skin and create further stimulation of the pores and cells.
The Finns also used the sauna as a place to cleanse the mind, rejuvenate and refresh the spirit, and prepare the dead for burial. The sauna was (and still is) an important part of daily life, and families bathed together in the home sauna. Indeed Sauna was originally place of mystical nature where gender/sex differences did not exist. Because the sauna was often the cleanest structure and had water readily available, Finnish women also gave birth in the sauna. When the Finns migrated to other areas of the globe, such as Minnesota, Northern Wisconsin, the Upper Pennisula of Michigan and Western Ontario, they brought their sauna designs and traditions with them, introducing other cultures to the enjoyment and health benefits of sauna. This led to further evolution of the sauna, including the electric sauna stove, which was invented and implemented in the 1950s and far infrared saunas, which have become popular in the last several decades.

During a 10-20 minute sauna session, the heart rate increases by 50-75%. The increased cardiac load is the equivalent to a brisk walk. There is a nominal effect on blood pressure because the heat also causes blood vessels in skin to expand to accommodate increased blood flow.
Blood vessels become more flexible and there is increased circulation to the extremities. During a sauna, blood flow to the skin increases to as high as 50-70% of cardiac output (compared to the standard 5-10%). This is due to the blood vessels in the skin's surface expanding to accommodate the increased blood flow, a process known as vasodialation.
This increased blood flow brings important nutrients to subcutaneous and surface tissue, promoting cellular activity and growth. It is especially beneficial to areas of the skin which normally suffer from poor circulation. Along with nourishing the skin, the high temperatures also cause the skin's 2 million eccrine glands to excrete sweat to cool down the skin and blood capillaries. Research has shown that sweat is much more effective than water at emulsifying fat located in the skin's sebaceous glands, and thus at removing the sebum and bacteria lodged in the fat. The vasodilation caused by the high temperatures also allows essential fluids to be transported to the skin's surface. This enhances the development of collagen, giving the skin a continued elasticity and wrinkle-free complexion.
Steambaths and saunas induce perspiring to provide a comprehensive cleansing of the skin and sweat glands. Skin is the largest organ in the body. 30% of body wastes are passed through the skin. Profuse sweating enhances the detoxifying capacity of the skin by opening pores and flushing impurities from the body.

When taking a sauna, skin temperature rises to 40°C (104°F) and internal body temperature rises to about 38°C (100.4°F). Exposure to the high heat creates an artificial fever state, a process known as hyperthermia. Fever is part of the body’s natural healing process. Fever stimulates the immune system, resulting in increased production of disease fighting white blood cells, antibodies and interferon (an anti viral protein with cancer fighting capability). 
It is an excellent treatment for many respiratory problems. For example, the moist air in saunas can relieve throat irritation. Steam also loosens secretions and can stimulate discharge of mucous from the lungs and throat, giving relief to sufferers of bronchitis.
Finally steam can also aid sinusitis by relieving congestion and inflammation of the upper respiratory mucous membranes. An occasional secondary occurrence caused by breathing in the steam-- In some cases and with some people, if they have a weak respiratory system, example; the infection of a common cold or sore throat, may be carried into the lungs causing it to spread. This is uncommon but does occur. However, to counter this from happening a small opening for the head in the wall of the sauna at the level of the seat will allow the persons head to be outside the sauna (on a small shelf) and thus the benefit of the 38°C (100.4°F) still takes place without the fear of increasing the infection.
The heat also kills all kinds of bacteria and insects, e.g. lice. This knowledge was used widely during the Winter War when Finnish troops were forced to sauna (although the unclean conditions in the field made it unnecessary to force them). While the men were in their sauna, their equipment was in another. This cleansed both very effectively while Russians had problems with many diseases.
However, it should be noted, people with heart problems may be at risk due to blood pressure unpredictably rising or lowering after using a sauna. People with stable coronary artery disease are generally safe in a sauna, but people with uncontrollable heart problems may be advised to stay away from a Sauna by a doctor in order to avoid possible complications.