How a sauna is just like prayer

I love saunas. They are a treat – something I love which I only have access to occasionally. I love their warmth. I hate steam rooms – they make me cough and feel as though I can’t breathe, but saunas make me feel GOOD! Last year we took a walking holiday and every evening I made for the sauna. My tired muscles relaxed and the chronic back pain which I have  would ease just a little and I slept better than ever.

You can imagine my delight recently when I started attending a Hot Yoga class and found that a door in the women’s changing rooms opened into a sauna. Every Sunday morning I anticipate the loveliness of stretching and balancing followed by thirty minutes of quiet warmth as I let my body relax fully in the sauna. It’s worth getting up early for.

The extraordinary thing is that for two years I have been a member of a leisure centre, where I swim and use the gym and go to classes, and IT HAS A SAUNA, BUT I’VE NEVER ONCE USED IT.

I know. It makes no sense, given what I’ve told you already.

This morning I decided to give it a go. It was just as lovely as saunas are. I went before and after my very low impact exercise because my back is playing up a bit and I figured extra heat would help.

And as I sat there, wondering why it has taken me two years to do this, I realised it’s a lot like the way I think about prayer. 

I resisted taking ‘pray’ as my word for this year. I was sure that I don’t do it well enough or often enough and I have no idea really what prayer even is or does. How does it work ? What if I get it wrong?

And yet, I know that when I have spent time in God’s presence – like the 36 hour retreat I took 18 months ago, or Saturday mornings when I sit in bed with my bible and notebook and just slowly let his love soak in, I love it. I feel so good afterwards. But somehow I’ve been thinking of that as just for a treat. For special times. For holidays or slow time. I haven’t thought that actually that stretching out in God’s presence and enjoying the warmth is for every day.

I didn’t use the sauna at the gym until today for a number of reasons. Firstly,  I thought I’d have to put on a swimsuit and I couldn’t be bothered. In fact, when I thought about it the swimsuit rule actually means ‘please make sure your body is appropriately covered’, so I can wear my yoga pants and shirt. No effort required. I’m already ready. Secondly, I felt awkward about it. What if someone I know is there ? What if I can’t open the door to the sauna? What if I don’t like it?  I agree. Entirely unnecessary awkwardness and completely lame worries. If someone I know is there I will say ‘hello’. If I push the door and it doesn’t open I will pull it. I’ve learned about doors. If I don’t like it I will leave, but I love saunas so that is unlikely.  Thirdly I didn’t think I had the time to be there. How could I justify even 20 minutes of sitting still in an overheated room? eh, maybe because it’s good for me? My back hurts less now than it did before I went. In terms of my overall wellbeing sitting in a sauna is a really good use of my time and should be something I do as often.

As I sat in the sauna this morning, recognising my foolishness, I realised that maybe I’ve felt the same way about prayer. I’ve had access to the presence of God for a long time. It’s always available to me. It doesn’t need to be saved as a treat or for special occasions. And when I’m there I relax and feel the warmth. It doesn’t for a second feel like a waste of time. I stretch out the bit of me that are tightened up. I allow the heat to penetrate the deepest knots. This morning as I sat in the sauna I found myself talking to God about sex. Like I say, God’s presence goes right to the deepest parts of me.

So in this year of ‘pray’ I want to try to remember that being in God’s presence is for every day; for the ordinary times. I am already ready to be there,and it will never be a waste of my time.


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