The Russian people are supposed to be strong and healthy, and for that reason, I am sure that the dampbad (banya) is of benefit.
-King of Prussia 1818
a winter treat i like to indulge in is a visit to my neighborhood russian bathhouse (banya). The banya is lovely in summer time, but takes on a certain charm in winter. the large frosted windows let in filtered light, and the sound of the raindrops hitting the glass soothes the soul while one sits in a warm burbling hot tub.
banya 5 is an urban russian bathhouse–and attracts an eclectic group of patrons. everyone from russian businessmen conducting business in the 250 degree sauna, girls celebrating bachelorett parties, men having a guy’s night out, to chic urban hipsters, to elderly men and women continuing a life long habit of using the banya. it is a supremely relaxing experience, though it can be a test of endurance as well.
when i go to banya 5, i usually start by rinsing off with the super-high pressure shower nozzles in the bathhouse. the shower of warm water is a great way to start the banya cycle. after that i park in the hot tub, and relax for as long as i feel necessary– in fact, the best way to navigate the banya is to move around when you “feel ready.” relaxing alone or with friends in the hot tub leads to the turkish steam room. sitting in the turkish steam room reminds me of drinking tea–but through my skin. the vents that let in the steam are lined with eucalyptus and scent the steam and air in the steam room–delicious. nasal airways open, head clears, and skin becomes delightfully hydrated. sitting in the steam room for as long as you “feel like it” or can bear it moves you right along into the russian sauna–up to 250 degrees!
there are a few fun accessories that go with the russian sauna (parilka). first, there are soaked branches, venik, that you can “beat” yourself with. it is meant to increase circulation and promote overall bodily health. also–get yourself a wool hat! the idea of sitting in the parilka is to bring your core body temperature up. while it seems counter-intuitive, wearing a wool or felt hat keeps your head a little cooler, and allows you to bear the sauna for a little longer. wear a hat that has an “air pocket” at the top–so not a hat that is fitted to your head tightly.
then the real test comes: the ice plunge. after sitting in the sauna–can you bring yourself to submerge yourself in an ice bath? if you can drum up the courage, it is amazing. while i always hesitate to jump in, i am always refreshed and invigorated afterwords–the tinge of cold water on your skin that doesn’t chill you because your body temperature is higher than normal is a wonderful, delicious juxiposition. supposedly, you are doing it right if you taste mint in your mouth while sitting in the ice bath. and! after jumping in the ice cold water, the tepid mineral/salt pool feels delightfully warm, until you are ready to go back into the hot tub.
i love to stop out, and head upstairs to the tea room. the entry fee entitles you to unlimited herbal teas with a jar of fresh, homemade jam for sweetening. after gulping ice cold lemon water, i drink cup after cup of wonderful tea with jam. i love to take the tea back down into the pools and rooms to drink while i enjoy what is a relaxing, but also healthy process to cleanse body and soul–and protect your emotional, mental, and physical health.
banya is a beautiful tradition–and banya 5 gives it a beautiful setting. it reminds me of the bathroom i always want to have in my home–but ridiculous none-the-less. the clean tile, exposed brick and wood, frosted windows. when i go, i feel my stressors, troubles, illness, aches, pains and cares wash away while i sit in the water or steam. i think about the rain falling outside and simply bask in the experience of the banya.
check out banya 5:
images borrowed from banya5.