Sweat bathing the Banya way ….

Banya stove - Photo by Vlad Chorazy

Banya stove – Photo by Vlad Chorazy

A variation on the traditional sauna bathing practice is the Russian Banya.   The Russians have long understood the concept of health and water and sweat bathing is now part of everyday life for most Russians, because of the many health benefits as well as for relaxation.

The basic concept of true Banya bathing is to sit in an extremely hot sauna for 10-15 minutes (or as long as you feel comfortable), cool off in cold water, return to the sauna for an invigorating Venik massage then cool off again as before.  This ritual can be repeated as often as required and a refreshing drink (water or herbal tea) should be incorporated into each cooling down procedure.

The temperature within the Banya should always exceed 90 degrees Centigrade.   The heaters are wood burning stoves or ovens with stones on top.  Once the stones are hot enough, the smoke from the wood is let out either through the door (in a ‘Black’ banya) or the chimney (in a more modern ‘White’ banya).  Then water is poured onto the hot stones to produce the steam and increase the humidity in the room.     DROM_022

As the head heats up quicker than the rest of the body, it is advisable to wear a felt sauna hat.  This can be dipped into cool water beforehand, enabling the bather to stay in the Banya longer for optimum benefit.

The steam and heat of the Banya opens the pores, improves blood circulation, eliminates toxins through the skin, increases metabolism and increases the oxygen level of the cells.   The heat also creates artificial fever conditions within the body which boosts the immune system.

Once the bather is sweating profusely, it is time to cool off.  Most Russians throw themselves into the snow or an icy lake, but in the absence of these a quick dip into a plunge pool or ice bath is just as beneficial!     Watch out for future blogs on the best way to refresh after sauna bathing.

Then it is back to the Banya.   Again, water is sprinkled onto the stones to create more steam.   It is common to enhance the bathing experience by adding essential oils, eucalyptus leaves or mint to the water, as different fragrances can either aid relaxation, reinvigorate you or de-stress you.

Once the steam has disappeared and the sauna is bearably hot, it is time for a Venik massage.  A venik is a fragrant bundle of twigs tied together which is used to stroke and lash the body to improve blood circulation and metabolism.    The most common veniks are made from birch twigs, but eucalyptus and oak are also widely used.

There are several ways to use a Venik, including waggling, compressing, stroking and lashing massage techniques.   It is best to use these techniques one after the other.

IMG_7116Waggle – flutter the Venik just above the body to create an air flow that warms the body up for more intense procedures.

Stroke – gently press the Venik against the body and draw it from head to toe and back again.                                            

Compress – raise the Venik up to the warmer air, shake it to gather the heat, then press firmly against the body for 2-3 seconds.

Lash – Light sliding hits with the Venik.

Alternate the stroking and lashing, then combine compressing and lashing – lash the body two or three times and then press against the body for 2-3 seconds.  This stimulates blood flow to the outer layers of skin which helps draw waste out through the open pores.

To get the best out of Banya bathing, repeat the hot, cold and massage rituals several times.   Take your time and enjoy all the wellbeing benefits this particular form of sauna bathing can offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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