Every month PelotonLabs founder Liz Trice interviews a Peloton member for the West End News. This month Liz caught up with Hannah Hamalainen, the founder and saunapreneur of Little Red Sauna, a business that offers a mobile wood-fired sauna experience and community.
What led you to create a mobile wood-fired sauna experience and community?
I’m from Portland. After years away, I came back because I love it here. Maine is known for its loving, entrepreneurial spirit. We are full of hard workers, dreamers, creators, and artisans committed to building community and safe spaces for all.
I love Maine’s four seasons and all its economic ups and downs, but I found the tourist season to be really long. For the most part in the off-season in winter, people hibernate in their homes or go to bars. I wanted to create a bar alternative and I found that in bathhouse culture. I crave that safe space – to be with people of all genders and types and abilities, where everyone is equal, and I find sauna to be that.
It turns out there are a lot of people like me, who crave that safe space. Sauna is a strong part of New England culture. I wanted to create a place where there’s a melting pot of people who could feel comfortable coming together.
I grew up in Maine, too. . . how are saunas a part of local culture?
Sauna is part of the culture here, but it’s not public. It’s in people’s houses, in private places. There are sauna houses scattered along backroads in Monson and West Paris, but our Puritan roots made those places not known to all. There are traditional saunas throughout the state that have been passed down through families.
This summer Garrett Conover, a legendary Maine wilderness guide and co-founder of North Woods Ways, just authored a book called “Sauna Magic,” with photographs of sauna culture in Maine.
What’s the community part?
There are two parts to the business. It’s available for rentals – weddings, anniversaries, even “Soberversaries.” But we also offer pop-ups and long-term residencies. These are opportunities where anyone can show up to a sauna gathering – at the beach for example. At the first pop-up, there were people from so many different backgrounds, identifications, genders – it was amazing.
I’m a librarian by training, and I can say that before libraries were the center of communities, there were bathhouses. Sauna is part of that bathhouse revival.
What is it about bathhouses that allows people to mix?
When you bring people together with a common purpose – health, digital detox to get away from technology, to commune in nature – people let their guard down. It has nothing to do with bathing; it has to do with the community and being able to have a civil discourse with strangers.
Two women came in and one was going through chemo. They were sitting in the sauna at the same time as another woman was in the midst of making a big life decision. I like sauna that can bring people together. It makes me proud.
How often are you going to do pop-up saunas? What’s the experience like?
Ideally, they will be held weekly and I’m looking for additional places to host both popups and long-term residencies. An ideal location is publicly accessible, near a body of water, in nature. We can accommodate four to six people at a time depending on how much they like each other.
Part of sauna is not just about the heat; it’s about the cool down. There’s a ritual involved. You sit on benches in the heat, in silence or talking with others, for ten to fifteen minutes, then you do a cool down and rest. That could be jumping in the water, or pouring a bucket of water over your head, or doing snow angels. And you do another two to three rounds.
Scientific studies talk about the benefits of sauna for cardiovascular health, helping with the lymphatic systems, healing arthritis, softening up tense muscles, and alleviating pain. Pro-athletes take sauna after sporting events. I find it’s a nice add-on for outdoor recreation – after kayaking, skiing, snowmobiling, or even a brisk walk on a fall day.
Sauna is intrinsically about the convergence of health and wellness and the natural world.
Tell me about the Little Red Sauna.
Most people think of sauna as a dirty box in the basement of a gym. Little Red Sauna isn’t that. It’s a cedar wood-fired sauna with windows and a changing room built into a refurbished horse trailer. It’s towable and can be brought just about anywhere – a lakeside camp or the beach.
When people rent it, sometimes they request a sauna host. This is someone who guides people through the process: stoking the fire, making sure the temperature is comfortable, sometimes saying a blessing on the sauna rocks, and often it means caring for those who are there and supporting them through the sauna ritual.
How has Peloton helped you?
I came here because of the community. Peloton has an excellent community of people: visionaries, artisans, entrepreneurs, and this place brings them together.
PelotonLabs is a coworking space in Bramhall Square in the West End of Portland, Maine with a mission to connect and encourage people to improve their lives and contribute to the world around them.