From where to go to why to try it…
Russian banyas are undoubtedly one of the most Instagrammable spa trends out there, with countless influencers recommending the ‘Parenie’ treatment for its health benefits as well as the photo opportunities, but what does it actually entail?
Looking up Russian bath houses in London, l landed on Banya No.1, a celeb favourite in Hoxton, boasting rave reviews from Kate Moss, Emilia Clarke and Justin Bieber to name a few, and offering all the traditional treatments I was after – namely, the Parenie.
So off I went to see what all the fuss was about, not knowing that I was in for the most intense spa experience of my life.
I went on ‘ladies day’, instructed on arrival to unrobe, don a strange wool felt hat (‘to keep your head at a constant temperature’, they told me) and to get into the sauna to get accustomed to the heat before my treatment.
Then after a herbal tea, it was my turn.
What is the Parenie treatment?
The Parenie treatment has three stages to it, a 10-minute invigorating beating by birch, oak and eucalyptus leaves in a 70°C traditional steam room, a cold bucket shower and then an ice plunge pool.
The key part of the treatment is the Parenie, a thermal massage using leafy and fragrant bundles of birch, oak and eucalyptus twigs. You are laid face-down on a wooden bench in the sauna, with your face covered in wet leaves to cool you down. Then two men take it in turns to beat up and down your body with bundles of twigs for 10 minutes. The treatment is so intense in fact that the therapists actually have to swap halfway through. I expected it to be painful, something it wasn’t at all. Instead it was just very, very hot. The movement of the twigs burn on the body and coupled with the humidity of the sauna, it can make for a bit of light headedness as you sweat out your toxins.
The bucket showers are as they sound – wall mounted oak buckets full of fresh water (a surprisingly large amount), splashing you from a great height at the pull of the rope. Coming straight after the hot steam room and the drowsy feeling I had got from the beating, the bucket showers literally took my breath away. And while they succeeded in waking me up, they are certainly not for the faint-hearted.
Ice plunge pool:
The final stage of the Parenie treatment is the plunge pool, with the chilling 7-10°C counteracting the heat of the steam room. As I was led over to the pool after the shock of the bucket showers, my therapist told me to climb into the pool (similar to an ice bath) and dunk my head below the surface. The sudden change of temperature made me gasp as I came up, with my therapist telling me, ‘In Russia, people just jump into the snow outside instead of an ice bath’. He also told me its benefits as I sat warming up, explaining how my toxins had been released, before a woman came a led me away – teeth still chattering – for my salt scrub.
For my salt scrub treatment, I was laid on a hot stone and covered in an organic exfoliating honey and salt scrub, promising to improve my skin’s texture and tone (which it did), but what I really needed it for was to give myself a 10 minute lie-down to process my Parenie experience.
What are the benefits of a Parenie treatment?
While the Parenie treatment is intense, it does offer a lot of benefits – it’s hardly surprising given that it’s one of Russia’s oldest and most popular wellness traditions. According to No 1 Banya, the contrast in temperature releases adrenalin and stress hormones, as well as boosting your blood circulation and relieving tension and stress – something I can vouch for.
This is not your typical spa experience. In fact it is safe to say that all further treatments will be a walk in the park in comparison, but would I recommend a Parenie treatment? Yes, for the experience, but only if you’re feeling daring enough. If you just want to relax, this might not be the one for you. But if you feel like trying something different and feel amazing afterwards, look no further.