“Drowning, in the sea of love,” Stevie Nicks sang in the background as 16 other naked adults and I watched our sauna master, Adrian, dump three buckets of water onto a bed of rocks filled with lavender oil. The stones sizzled. We started to sweat. Adrian waved a wet towel around the room like a professional sign spinner, dispersing the heat like a July Death Valley breeze.
“Are you ready? It’s going to be hot,” he said with a smile. The doors fogged up, obscuring the emerald green Großarl Mountains that surrounded the sauna. Adrian added more oil and spread the heat again with a giant wooden fan that resembles the “big dark wing” Nicks sang about just then. Afterwards, he gave us an ice bucket to pass around and cool ourselves down. Over the next fifteen minutes, the temperature rose from about 140 degrees to 176.
This 15-minute sauna ritual—called an Aufguss—was the highlight of my recent stay at Das Edelweiss, a five-star resort outside Salzburg, Austria. I returned for the next Aufguss an hour later, which featured a lively rendition of ABBA’s Dancing Queen and a peppermint infusion. Après-Aufguss, attendees sipped a round of Steigl GoldBräu beers, jumped into the adjacent cold plunge pool or headed to the Vogelfrei relaxation room with its plush blanket canopy to soak in their euphoria.
What exactly is an Aufguss? Simply put, it’s a sauna experience elevated to art form. There are different types of ceremonies to choose from. Some follow a classic Aufguss style (like mine), with essential oils and music, led by an Aufgussmeister who rhythmically diffuses hot steam with a wet towel, while others also include storytelling, sound bowls and dancing. to make it unique and memorable.
Travis Talmadge, owner of the Bathhouse in Williamsburg, New York, which began offering Aufguss in 2022, told me that at the World Aufguss Championships (yes, there are championships), sauna masters perform Aufguss themed with costumes and stories, starting with from Pinocchio to pirates, Avatar, and even sentimental stories about personal experiences. In Das Edelweiss, Adrian also sings and plays the guitar. Such craftsmanship got me thinking about how SoulCycle transformed workout routines into a combination of a dramatic, soulful, and nightclub-like experience. (It’s worth noting that sauna masters can sometimes be just as intimidating as SoulCycle instructors.)
The health benefits of Aufguss go beyond the euphoric release of adrenaline that people feel after sweating. One last one 20-year study found that more time in the sauna extends life expectancy and that people who visited a sauna 2-3 times a week had a 24% lower death rate. Believers fare even better: those who sauna 4-7 times a week show a 40% drop in mortality.
And while Aufguss is more prevalent in countries like Germany and Austria, it’s gaining steam in North America. On a recent afternoon, Bathhouse Williamsburg held an Aufguss that Talmadge described as vibey and laid-back, with music from Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi and Melvitto & Gabzy. For the infusions, the sauna master used snowballs filled with oils such as cambava leaf, Peru balsam, spearmint, vanilla and cinnamon.
At the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis, where Aufguss takes place twice a month on the rooftop sauna atop the city’s historic North Loop neighborhood, guests can experience a similar functional Aufguss focused on breath, connection and an embodied state of bliss. John Pederson, who runs the program here through his company, Thermaculture, says many of their instructors are also yoga teachers. A recent playlist included Brazilian reggae, German chillout and a remix of Marvin Gaye’s “Sunny.”
On the more theatrical side, Sin City naturally leads the charge. At the brand new Lapis Spa & Wellness at Fontainebleau Las Vegas, you’ll find an immersive experience co-produced by Aufguss with sauna, aromatherapy steam and a choreographed music, video and light show, offered four times a day. There’s also the Awana Spa and Wellness at Resorts World, where the dance moves might look ripped right out of Cirque du Soleil (the spa hires dancers to be sauna masters). Even at the Bathhouse, Talmadge says they now almost exclusively recruit trained dancers as sauna master candidates. Oddly enough, Aufguss has yet to make it to Los Angeles, the movie capital of the world – and the birthplace of Erewhon and Goop (but imagine the possibilities!).
Still, when it comes to a truly authentic Aufguss, it can be hard to stick to the OGs in Europe — there, bathing suits are optional.