The Wellness Trend that’s Taking Over Denmark

The Wellness Trend that’s Taking Over Denmark

exit the searingly hot 120-degree chamber door and step out,
delirious, into room temperature air, gasping for a cool breath. It
may sound like I’m describing an escape from a Central Line tube
carriage in high summer, but I’m on the north Danish coast at one
of the world’s most historic healing sanctuaries and I’m one of
three rounds into my first taste of saunagus therapy. Welcome to
the spine-tingling, life-changing antidote you never knew you
needed, said to remedy stress, toxins and the daily tedium that
plagues our weary digitally obsessed bodies.

At the end of the 19th century, having spent a considerable
amount of time practising in the
, esteemed physician Dr Carl Ottosen decided that
pharmaceutical medicine and surgery were no longer his bag; fresh
air, water, light, massage, gymnastics and a vegetarian diet were
the key to preventing and healing ill health. As a
, Ottosen was well aware of the damaging effects
that the dark and cold can have on one’s physical and mental
wellbeing so, after marrying a
nurse, he founded one of the first health sanatoriums
in the
region. It quickly became the go-to health resort du
jour for the Danish glitterati, from the royals to various cultural
figures of the 20th century. Today, the light-filled,
glass-panelled spa quarters of Kurhotel Skodsborg continue to
tantalise, thanks to a spruce up under the exacting direction of
Henning Larsen architects. Blending surefire Nordic traditions with
modernist touches, it’s an expansive (and expensive) labyrinth of
pools, grottos, treatment rooms and, of course, saunas.

I find relief under the rain shower in a twinkling grotto before
dunking my whole self into an icy plunge bucket. I have just
undergone 20 hardcore minutes of being blasted with essential oil
potions by toned, tanned Thilde, a certified “gusmester” (mist
master) and an undeniable poster girl for the benefits of saunagus.
She delicately pours her concoctions over a large cylindrical ice
cube resting on a hot stone, while Twin Peaks-esque music –
feverish, ethereal and somewhat eerie – plays softly from a
condensation-covered speaker in the far corner. I whisper my
curiosity to my companion who tells me it’s
ambient jazz by Bohren & der Club of Gore which she
often plays in her dark, smoky bar. We chuckle guiltily. We’re
hungover, naturally.

With no rest for the wicked, an elixir of basil and marjora – a
combination said to be good for blood circulation – signals to the
body to sweat (as if I wasn’t already). Thilde moves with the
steadiness of a jujitsu master. She’s a martial artist of the
sauna, later telling me about the Gus Championships held in Austria
each year: “People have their own style, own combinations, own
movements and music preferences.” I am both flabbergasted and
amused at the idea of a judging panel sitting in near-nudity in a
sauna with clipboards.

Next up is the blue camomile – “precious, expensive, more
difficult to come by” – and tea-tree oil, a scent I’ve felt
comforted by since the pubescent days of acne woe. While tea tree
is antiseptic on the skin, the camomile is anti-inflammatory
containing a powerful compound called azulene which is soothing and
gives it a blue hue. Like most of the oils Thilde has curated, it
is also rejuvenating. What follows is a replenishing cocktail of
flowers; geranium, lavender, patchouli, petitgrain and bergamot.
The final oil, which contains the skin-healing cicatrizant, was a
turning point for my companion who smiled and mumbled something
along the lines of “I love Earl Grey tea…” while in lotus position.
Breathing through my mouth, I discover, opens the senses beyond
what my nose can handle and it is, as my companion astutely
asserted, like a sweet cup of tea gently poured over my body and
down my oesophagus. That or lavender tea, which is apparently all
the rage among plant-based dieters these days.

Thilde leads us down to the ocean’s waters, just in front of the
gleaming white property. Far from freezing, it is still a cool
relief following round two’s intense detoxification process. Stage
one and two mix grapefruit and pine essence to stimulate the
gallbladder, juniper and cedar wood which activates the kidneys and
a powerful sandalwood-vetiver combination that engages the uric
bladder. Sure enough, I am a peeing machine that evening, despite
sweating gallons. “Be sure to hydrate plenty,” reminds Thilde as we
float in the blue waters on this cloudless summer’s day. I listen,
for she is the gusmester and I am her slave. Her mastery of the
non-intrusive detox is the most meditative I’ve experienced. The
sun beats down on us as we pat dry our refreshed bodies and make
our way back from the sea to the sauna for the final round.

As we enter round three I am a little high, extremely zen and
all together unintimidated by the notion of 20 extra minutes of
sweltering dry heat. I contemplate a life of gus for myself. I can
see myself artfully swishing the white towel and running through
healing agents with my favourite music playing.

Thilde tells us more about her training with a saunagus veteran
in Copenhagen’s Frederiksberg district: “A woman who’s practiced
for years and whose knowledge of essential oils goes as hard and
deep as the oils themselves during a proper gus session. She is die
hard about it. Completely devoted.” Is this part of a wider cult? I
begin to question. Are the oils I’m inhaling intoxicating,

The final round of the saunagus session is designed to cleanse
and close the body and I’m delighted to breathe in fennel – which
purifies the respiratory system – before a heady concoction of
herby sage, thyme, rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus and cajeput
(white tea-tree oil). Thilde informs us that these combinations are
antiseptic, antifungal, antibacterial and immune boosting. I feel
each and every ill-advised menthol cigarette being deleted from my
system with each breath.

As we enter the last stages, my body is comfortably familiar
with the process; I’m breathing deeply and calmly in perfect time.
Lemongrass wafts over me, signalling to the body to stop sweating.
A final dunk in the plunge pool, a paleo lunch and a rosé on the
terrace later and I’m reborn into the church of gus.

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