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Written by Katryna Vecella

Gather Sauna House Brings the Sauna to You

Gather Sauna House

Deeply rooted in Northern Europe as a place for community gathering, socializing, healing, and even birthing over thousands of years, traditional saunas have evolved into an often out-of-reach luxury in the Western world. Halina Kowalski-Thompson is breaking through these limitations to bring Gather Sauna House to Central Oregonians using authentic fundamentals—connection to loved ones, community, nature and self.

Gather Sauna House
photo Jayde Silbernagel

Gather Sauna House is a mobile Baltic style wood-fired sauna, thoughtfully handcrafted by Kowalski-Thompson’s husband, Dorian Thompson, and made from locally-sourced juniper and other sustainable materials. The sauna is on wheels, for greater accessibility and also with the intention of relocating to different bodies of water and nature to employ the cold therapy aspect that often goes in tandem with a sauna. 

With a background in mental health, Kowalski-Thompson’s passion for sauna stems from her own Baltic roots and from its benefits, particularly those of the hot/cool contrast therapy she promotes. “I have always loved studying different ways of healing, and I have a voracious appetite for learning different cultural ways that people have healed throughout time,” she said. 

The hot/cool contrast therapy essentially acts as a pump for your lymphatic system, clearing out toxins while spreading around white blood cells and increasing immunity, Kowalski-Thompson said. She also listed off other benefits including improvements in cardiovascular health, metabolism, growth hormone pathways and athletic performance. It can cause a release of melatonin for improved sleep, can reduce the risk of dementia, and has positive effects on pain. Kowalski-Thompson also said sauna can mimic exercise, helping to reduce cortisol, lose weight and release endorphins. 

Gather Sauna House
photo Amber Holm

With the guided direction of Kowalski-Thompson, I sought to gain a few of these benefits in my first hot/cold session at the Coyote Den in Tumalo, where Gather Sauna House is often parked. In the sauna, I found myself completely disconnected from the outside world throughout the heating to hot cycle. Ten or fifteen minutes later—I lost track of time—I headed out into the snowy winter weather. Against all logic, I dumped a bucket of cold water over my head for the cold cycle and immediately felt an indescribable feeling of clarity and euphoria. During the rest and rehydrate cycle, I sat comfortably in a wet bathing suit in twenty-degree temps before heading back into the solitude and warmth of the sauna to repeat the cycle. I headed home feeling reset and revitalized by three rounds of hot to cold.

For a similar experience, guests can book a ninety-minute private session in the Covid-safe, sanitized sauna with up to four others at one of Gather Sauna House’s pop-up community events. The sessions include a knowledgeable sauna guide who will teach the traditional sauna methods, tend the fire, set up the cooling station, and provide complimentary herbal infused water, locally-sourced rehydrating tea, and house-made signature sauna body cream. Guests can also opt for a private, overnight experience where they can create their personal wellness retreat in the privacy of their home or selected location. The sauna is delivered and set up for use with a tutorial of best practices. 

Kowalski-Thompson’s creation of Gather Sauna House came at perfect timing for the mobile sauna movement that has swept over the United States and Europe. “It’s so well-timed because the things that sauna can impact are really the issues of our time, the physical and mental health issues that we’re dealing with. There’s a reason it’s survived as a basic healing practice. It’s been overlooked for all these years,” said Kowalski-Thompson.

Kowalski-Thompson’s vision is to create Gather Sauna House into a space for the community to feel held and supported. “I feel like on some level there’s magic in this, and I not only wanna pursue it for myself, but I want to share it,” she said. “I want to share this healing mechanism.” 

Learn more at gathersaunahouse.com. 

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