Russian Banya

For centuries sauna has been a part of culture for many nations, but Russian banya for Russians is something special. It always has been a special place where purification happens not only on physical level but also on the spiritual level. Let’s take a deeper insight on what Russian banya is and why does it have such a significant meaning in Russian culture.

     Banya is not just a place where to wash yourself. Everybody has a bathtub or a shower where they can wash themselves, but they can not clean their souls there. That is what Russian banya is for. It has relaxing and calm atmosphere. It is specially built in a way to make it quite, comfortable and warm( very warm).

Everybody has a bathtub or a shower where they can wash themselves, but they can not clean their souls there.

     When body is exposed to heat in such a room, it automatically responds in a different way- your mind becomes quite, your thoughts become clear and you forget negative thoughts, worries and problems. You are being charged with positive emotions and empathy. It builds the resistance for diseases, increases immunity, vitality and makes your skin elastic and smooth as a velvet. But, it is only possible if correct procedure and rules are followed.

What is the procedure?

     Firstly, the temperature. It can be even up to 110 degrees in celsius, but what you should keep in mind is that the level of humidity in room should be below 10%. This way it will be easier to withstand the extreme heat and it will be easier to breathe. It is important to heat up the seats, walls, floor (everything inside) well enough prior starting the session so there are no unwanted heat losses. The best way to warm up entire room is to leave the air circulation vents (one close to the floor and second right next to ceiling) open in warming up process. When it is done, remember to close them.

     When the room has been heated up, everybody goes in for 5-10 minutes (repeated 2 or more times as desired). It is a warm up session that will preheat  the body and prepare it for longer heat exposure. Hot steam and air always goes upwards, so higher you sit hotter it will be. to even out the temperature you can use towels or venik (broom made of a bunch of dried tiny branches tied together) to circulate and even out the temperature. After warm up sessions the massage with venik can start.

     You can do this massage by yourself or on other participant. It all starts with creating decent amount of hot steam by adding water on the stones.  When the steam wave has raised up and “calmed down”, lashing with veniks can start. There is no follow up guide on how to use them, because everybody is different- some like hard beating, some like gentle brushing. It is up to every individual, so communication at this stage is important. The main meaning of this part is to make yourself or the participant feel comfortable and to warm up all the joints and muscles from inside by pressing, lashing and brushing the hot venik against the body. There is a whole new science on how to use veniks but the most general and common uses are as following-

  • take the hot air from the ceiling and gently disperse it on the body.
  • Soak  the venik inside the water and shake it above the body.
  • Create a nice aroma inside by shaking wet venik above the stones.
  • Heat up particular muscle or joint by gently pressing up hot venik on this point.
  • Circulate the air by rotating veniks for more even heat in the room or to heat up the body from all around.   

     Mostly birch, oak and fir trees are being used for venik, because these trees has a special impact on the skin. They stimulate the flow of blood to the outer layers of skin, thus massaging it and helping to draw waste out through the pores. 

     To enhance the relaxing and healthy atmosphere inside, plants like mint, chamomilee, eucalyptus, natural essential oils or even beer can be thrown on the walls or stones. Correct use of natural plants will create great aromatherapy effect that will clean your respiratory system and will create a specific mood depending on what is being used.

 At the end of session participants have a “swim” in the snow or a frozen lake. The contrast from hot to cold feels very stimulating (advised only for people with good health). Blood vessels expand and contract, therefore regular use helps to keep them elastic and healthy. Head is always protected from extreme temperatures with a specific hat made from wool or felt.

Russian black (smoke) banya

     Black Russian bath can be safely called as one of the oldest types of bath. Historically, these types of saunas have been found in Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Finland… The main factor that differs black sauna from white/casual sauna is the construction of the stove. The heating element is very basic and simple- firewood is burnt underneath a pile of stones. The main difference is that this type of sauna does not have a chimney. During the firing process, smoke from the sauna is ventilated through window, door or specially designed ventilation vents. As a result, the whole sauna room smells like smoke and the whole inside is colored black (this is how it got its name).

     Smoke is a great disinfectant and soot is an irreplaceable absorbent, therefore the environment inside is sterile. The water in such baths is carried with buckets and the hot water is heated in a boiler placed on a stove rack. For lighting, candle or kerosene lamp is being used.

Banya as a part of culture

     It has been mentioned and showed in many illustrations, movies, songs, folklore and literature, basically everywhere. This only shows that banya has played and still pays a big role in everybody’s daily lives and situations. It helps to bond people together, develope peace and love and even solve some serious business issues by having honest and clear conversations. Culture around banya is so strong, that there are even many different beliefs and sayings that are used in daily situations no matter whether it is related to sauna or not:

  • Ба́ня здоровит, разгово́р весели́т.
    The banya makes you healthy, it stimulates conversation.

  • Ба́ня – мать втора́я.
    The banya is like a second mother.

  • В ба́не помы́лся — за́ново роди́лся.
    Washing up in the banya is like being born again.

  • Вы́лечился Ва́ня — помогла́ ему́ ба́ня.
    Vanya has recovered from sicknesses – thanks to the banya.

  • Приста́л, как ба́нный лист!
    Stuck like a limpet! (literally: Stuck like a banya’s leaf.)

  • В ба́не ве́ник доро́же де́нег.
    A bath-broom in the banya is worth more than money.

  • If a patient did not recover after banya, then nothing will help him
  • A day in banya adds a day in your life

     It is not just a coincidence why such a huge culture has been built up around Russian banya. It is simply because it feels very good, it is a place where to spend quality time with friends, family, colleagues or even people you don’t know, it has strong positive effects on your health and mind and it is fun! So, if you haven’t been in one then definitely add it in your bucket list! 🙂

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