We’re just going to go ahead and say it.
It’s been too long since somebody last thrashed your naked body with a bunch of twigs.
For 900 years, Siberians have used the invigorating powers of parenie (a steam room massage using these bundles of branches, or venik) to revitalise themselves, de-stress, and even talk over business. Describing the treatments here as all pleasure might be a touch optimistic, but while surreal and, at times, a total assault on the senses, it’s an amazingly exhilarating experience, and unlike anything you’ll have done before. Unless, of course, you’ve done it before.
After changing into your swimmers, you’ll be led to the lounge area, where you can have a small Russian snack, from borscht and cold kefir soup to salted herring, dumplings and gherkins, and drinks. You’re about to enter a room that’ll induce Niagara Falls to sweat out of your body, so best to hydrate yourself (read: drink vodka) now.
You’ll then be handed a small, felt cap to protect your head from the intense heat, and head into the banya itself. It’s intensely hot. A cast iron slab in a 700° C oven, regularly doused in water, keeps the room at around 80° C, with humidity levels of around 70%. As we said, expect to get sweaty.
As the toxins start to escape your body under the intense heat, as well as perhaps some aspects of your balance and/or vision, you’ll be invited to lie down on a long wooden slab. This is where the branches get involved. Typically, they’ll be bundles of oak, birch, or fragrant eucalyptus, that will be used to pummel your flesh and give your blood circulation a boost. It starts off as a soft brushing before crescendoing into a full-powered drum roll – and if you really want to up the ante, you can opt for the ‘four hands’ package, which’ll double the impact.
After this, it’s time for an ice bucket challenge-style shower, before a quick dip in a tub full of 8° C water. If you’re not used to it, it can be a relatively alarming sensation, but it’s said to keep the heart healthy. Then, it’s time for a leisurely post-banya meal, or you can indulge in any of the other spa treatments available, from mud wraps and massages to full-body coffee scrub downs.
And while it might not immediately feel like it, your body is about to feel so much better.
It might just take you a while to twig.