Dozens of sunrise swimmers and walkers enjoyed a pre- and post-workout warm-up Friday morning as they slipped into a mobile sauna unit parked at Lee Street Beach.
The event was hosted by Sauna Club, a new Evanston venture whose owner Ryan Cohler aims to bring the pleasures and health benefits of the ancient Nordic tradition to Chicago’s North Shore. Its 120 square foot traveling sauna can be rented for private parties or special events and delivered right to your door.
On October 21, the mercury outside hovered around 45 degrees, but inside the wood-fired, cedar-lined sauna, temperatures fluctuated luxuriously between 160 and 180.
Cohler encouraged people to alternate between enjoying the heat and cooling off with a dip in the lake or a few minutes of fresh air.
“The in-between is where the magic happens,” he said.
Over the next six months, Cohler, who is also a painting contractor, built a sauna using wood salvaged from construction dumpsters and tiles from his own home improvement projects.
Cohler said he’s always been a fan of saunas, so much so that during the COVID-19 lockdown he was inspired to build his own backyard unit from salvaged materials.
“The Y closed,” he recalled, “and I was like I really missed the sauna and the steam room because that’s where I fell in love with the whole thing.”
He bought a steel stove for $25 on Craigslist. The cedar for the interior walls came from a closed Spice House store in Chicago. A neighbor who was doing updates provided an all-weather glass door. “I’m a little thrifty,” Cohler said, “and I like the idea of repurposing and repurposing things that are in good shape.”
Over the next year, Cohler’s family, friends and neighbors enjoyed the sauna so much that he began to think of ways to share the joy on a larger scale.
“I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of all sauna culture,” he said. “It’s this quirky bunch of weird but great people. I’ve noticed these different pockets of sauna culture popping up, especially in the Twin Cities and in Duluth, which is the epicenter of the North American movement.
After completing a six-month sauna entrepreneurship course, Cohler purchased a fully-built mobile unit from a Minnesota company and Sauna Club was born. In September, he toured a few local block parties, warmed up revelers at the Main and Dempster Mile Fall Fest, and traveled to South Elgin for the city’s annual Scandinavian Fest.
More pop-up events are on the way and starting next week, the Mobile Sauna will be a staple every Tuesday night at Sketchbook Brewing in Skokie. Customers can pre-register for one-hour sessions on the Sauna Club website. The cost is $30 for individuals or $125 for a private booking for up to six people.
Cohler touts sauna baths, which have been shown to improve cardiovascular health, help manage stress, promote healthy sleep patterns, and even reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A recent study from the University of Eastern Finland followed 2,300 Finnish men for 20 years and found that those who went to the sauna four to seven times a week were 66% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia and 65% less likely to succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. sickness.
And that’s not all. According to Cohler, the benefits of the sauna go beyond the physical and provide a valuable opportunity to rebalance mentally and connect with others. “It’s a matter of relaxation,” he says. “To talk to people or not to talk to people. For some people, it’s social. For some it is loneliness. It’s fantastic.”