Latvian pirts is a an ancient Latvian tradition of body cleansing and promotion of well-being. It differs from other culture bathhouses with very rich application of plants and other natural materials and it’s unique procedures and rituals. Pirts is well known in Latvian culture and therefore huge part of citizens tend to have one. So, lets lave a deeper look on what it is and what makes it so interesting and one of a kind.
Why Pirts is interesting and special?
If you think that just a sauna room, equipment and some experience is all you need to experience the full benefits of Latvian pirts, then you are wrong.:) It is a playful mixture with heat, aroma, sensations and nature in the right time and right amount. Latvian pirts requires quite a lot of knowledge and therefore, there are even schools dedicated just for pirts knowledge.
It is a playful mixture with heat, aroma, sensations and nature in the right time and right amount…
Let’s start with a person who is specialized to manage and lead the rituals inside the sauna room. Pirtnieks- It is a person who is specially trained to give you the best experience depending on your needs and your mood. They have a wide knowledge in tradition folklore, human anatomy, psychology, herbal medicine and in use of sauna ofcourse. Every master has its own techniques and own recipes that they use in rituals and sessions, by meaning, that every experience managed by a different ”pirtnieks” will be unique in its own way. It is a passion for them, something what they really enjoy and truly love to do. In most cases, a real pirtnieks, have his own pirts somewhere in the countryside. They grow and collect all necessary herbs and plants from their own gardens, make all the equipment by themselves and even build their own dream pirts by themselves. If you ever consider to try a real Latvian pirts procedure, then look for somebody in countryside, where they grow all their supplies by themselves, because exactly this person will give you an experience that will stay in your mind forever!
Herbs inside the pirts
Latvians are quite passionate with nature and like to bring it inside of sauna room. They acknowledge all the benefits from different herbs and are not afraid to use them inside the pirts.
Different combinations of teas, scrubs, aroma oils, sauna whisks and herbs are specially adjusted for each ritual, mood, celebration and so on. Variety for herbs are huge and each of it has different good values in it. By understanding how each value in them interacts with a human being, it is possible to change your mood, improve the immune system, cure diseases and pain, improve the blood circulation and make you feel healthy and clean. As i already mentioned, variety is huge, but i will mention at least some of them.
Peppermint- Contains essential oils, flavonoids, tannins, ascorbic acid and vitamins. Has anti-inflammatory, temperature-lowering, soothing, antiseptic and cooling effects. Heals wounds and promotes bile secretion. Used in the form of inhalation for headaches, neuroses, cough and bronchitis. Peppermint infused water is being used as a stone water.
Meadowsweet- Contains essential oils, flavonoids, ascorbic acid and vitamins. Has anti-inflammatory, urinary effect, analgesic and sweating effects. It has a calming effect. It is being used inside whisk brooms and infused water for stones.
- Artemisia abrotanum- Contains essential oils, tannins, bitter substances. Has sweating and anti-inflammatory effect. Improves digestion, heals wounds, rash and bronchitis. Is being used by putting some branches inside whisks, infusing the water for stones or for feet heating purposes.
- Lavender- Contains essential oils, flavonoids, tannins. Has antibacterial, relaxing, analgesic, tonic, calming effect. Used for headaches and migraines, helps against insomnia and depression. Is being used for steam or for bath with infused water.
- Birch broom reduces bone fracture feeling, enlarges bronchi eliminates rashes and perfectly cleanses skin.
- The oak broom is suitable for oily skin, the oak leaves are rich in valuable tannins and other firming agents, making the skin matte and firm. Oak has an anti-inflammatory action.
- Linden broom accelerates perspiration, removes toxins and is very fragrant.
- The nettle broom promotes blood circulation and is a great help in the fight against cellulite. Before use, soak it in hot water to soften the needles.Nettle broom helps with painful waistline or rheumatism.
This is just a very tiny part of what and why is being used inside pirts. I mentioned just few of them to give a perspective and understanding on how different herbs are used and why.
Pirts ritual is a set of Latvian sauna traditions that focus not only on physical, but also on mental body recovery. Sauna and ritual is like an adventure that takes place on several levels- healing the body, focusing on senses, getting to know yourself, relying on the other person and experiencing an altered state of consciousness.
Every pirtnieks (pirts master) has their own beliefs on how the ritual should be, because there are many different variables and it is impossible to make one follow up guide on how to manage the ritual. For instance- size of the room, heat loss, ventilation (because of these factors, the temperature and humidity will differ from other pirts), available herbs and trees (this factor limits the creativity for the ritual), location (does the pirts have an access to a cold water pond or river). Because of these variables, each pirts is different and has its own atmosphere and “feeling” and every pirts master builds their own way on how to manage a ritual because they know their pirts the best and they know how to adjust the ritual for the best experience.
There are many different rituals with different meanings. For instance, a ritual for birthday, ritual for a newborn, marriage, love or for celebrations like Christmas or st. John day. In overall, a ritual is leaded by a pirts master (pirtnieks) and it can last from 3 hours to even 8 hours. It is like a complete Spa session for your body and mind. Different techniques are being used for a ritual, for instance- peeling with scrubs, massage with different types of whisks, hot/cold treatment, feet bathing, massages with chocolate or honey and face or body masks. Each ritual has a different meaning and different techniques to achieve the best result. Casual ritual might look like this-
Preparing the body (2 or more heating up seesions)
Skin peeling with different types of scrubs
Massage with birch or different whisks
Massage to feed the skin with nutrients
Black or smoke pirts
There are several types of saunas in the countryside of Latvia, one of them – smoke or black sauna (similar principle as Russian banya). It is the oldest sauna used by Latvians for many decades. Tourists can enjoy a black bath in the ethnographic museums where they are preserved or in some recreation complex where they are freshly built by following the ancient traditions. We can say with certainty that the ancient cultural features are still inherited today. The values and techniques that have been used for centuries are being used in the age of modern technology as well..
Smoke sauna is special. It is a wooden log building with natural material roofing (reeds, shavings, moss turf) and is built without a chimney; it has small windows, doors and small gaps in the walls. Due to the smoke, you can already feel that the sauna is burning. From a distance, such a sauna looks quite exotic. During the firing process – the smoke escapes through every gap that it finds and it might look that every second it could caught on fire. Despite the view from the outside, the sauna is fireproof.
The main difference of the black bath is the construction of the stove. The furnace is a large pile of stones which is heated up with burning firewood beneath them. On top of stones there is a water boiler. During firing, both the window and the sauna door are open. Smoke heats not only the stones, but also the walls of the sauna. Heated oven stones are the only source of heat in such a sauna. During the firing, smoke circulates through the sauna room and everything inside becomes covered in soot. Soot is a good absorbent that absorbs all unpleasant odors from a previous sauna visit and is a good antiseptic, therefore, such a sauna has almost sterile environment. Smoke concentrates on the sauna ceiling and soot settles on the sauna floor and bed so there is no need to be afraid to get dirty.
Latvians has strongly developed the culture around sauna and have been very successful with saving the ancient traditions. Pirts is still widely used and is a big part of Latvia. It is truly a magical place that can heal, restore and fulfill…