Natural healing, Russian style: Banya No.1

Review from The Naturalista

Hanging out at a Rainbo event a few months ago my beautiful friend Alice told me she and her husband Pete were going on a hot date that evening to a Russian spa “where you wear and felt hat and they beat you with birch leaves”.

Sign me up! I cried, and the next week I was there. Funny how my crazy summer diary magically opens up for things like this. I have since been back twice.

In the city it can be hard to find a little genuine one-on-one natural relaxation and invigoration without burning a massive hole in your pocket, but Banya No.1 gives you all of the above for a reasonable price and the treatments are age-old and as stripped back as you can get. Natural healing ingredients are untampered with and left to their own devices to heal and repair. Residing under a smart modern apartment block behind Old Street, it is as unassuming as London spas go, but once down the steps and through the big wooden doors you’re in for a pretty noticeable resurrection.

Firstly, there is a super steam sauna. It creates steam at a much higher pressure than normal saunas which means you can withstand higher temperatures more easily, and even with the traditional felt hat (apparently to protect hair and ears) it’s a good heat to wallow in, and the detox sweating comes fast.

Then there are the buckets of freezing water you pour over yourself and the ice cold plunge pool that takes your breath far, far away and knocks you into another dimension. It is ace.

Then you have a choice: you can either float back into the sauna ready for another round, or go to your assigned booth and drink herbal tea with wild honey and perhaps nibble a little pickled cucumber and salmon while you’re at it. Or, you can hunt down German, an enormous kind hearted Latvian with guns of steel and a felt hat to match, and get him to scrub you with natural anti-cellulite coffee and honey scrub (recreated at home on a weekly basis) or beat hot air over you in the sauna with young aromatic and deeply healing birch leaves which smell like a Russian forest at equinox and release essential oils onto your boiling hot skin. I say, do all three.

And then go back for more.

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