612 Sauna Society raising funds for mobile sauna

Katherine Campbell, John Pederson and Lee Sarkela (l to r) at the Firehouse sauna.

Sauna_3Multiple times a week, people gather at the “Firehouse” in a Tangletown backyard to sit in a 185-degree sauna, cool off by jumping into Minnehaha Creek, gather by a bonfire, and repeat.

The 612 Sauna Society is in the midst of a $30,000 Kickstarter campaign to build a new community-owned mobile sauna that will travel throughout the metro. Its first stop in February will be the Surly Brewing Co. courtyard. The Society partnered on a project last winter that brought the Little Box Sauna to spots like Dangerous Man Brewing and 38th & Nicollet. Minneapolitans seemed to like the idea — more than 1,700 people signed up, filling 93 percent of available reservations.

“People know sauna here, they appreciate it,” said Society founder John Pederson.

Steering Committee member Lee Sarkela said the sauna attracted plenty of attention last winter.

“There you are in shorts and steaming, and they are all bundled up with hats and scarves,” he said. “I think we caused an accident — in South Minneapolis, somebody was rear-ended.”


Sarkela said he’s noticed the sauna boosts his immune system. Any sniffle seems to disappear by the end of a sauna session, he said, similar to a fever cooking the body to fight an illness.

The 612 Sauna Society is starting a co-op to operate the new sauna. Those that support the Kickstarter campaign at a founder level will have immediate and priority access to reservations on the bench.* As more people buy in, they’ll have the capacity to build more saunas and reach more people.

Pederson said a sauna can relieve stress by promoting deep, relaxed breathing. And the switch between hot and cold temperatures helps regulate the nervous system and promote oxygen delivery, according to the Society.

Pederson said sweat bathing traditions extend to the Native American sweat lodge in North America, the temezcal in Central America, the banya in Russia, the hamam in Turkey and the sauna in Finland. The Finnish Sauna Society reports that ancestors used saunas for everything from births and medicine to bathing and curing meat. Pederson said it’s common in Scandinavia for top officials to discuss business in the sauna. 612 Sauna Society Campaign Manager Teke O’Reilly co-authored a Bush Foundation grant proposal with the Minneapolis Parks Foundation to host cross-community dialogue with 150 local leaders and community members in the sauna this winter.**

“People have been doing it for a thousand years,” Pederson said. “We never needed it more than we need it now. Especially in the city, we’re bombarded with screens and clutter.”


Pederson said he enjoys meeting people who sign up for a seat on the bench. He finds that it brings out authenticity in people who are trying a new experience.

“It’s like the ocean. … It’s such a unique experience in a really complete way,” he said. “Physiologically and socially it’s a new way to experience a familiar season.”

* Corrected for clarification **Updated to name the grant’s co-author.