The traditional Russian treatment is making waves on the London spa scene, but are you brave enough to do it?
If you haven’t heard of a Banya, then listen up because it is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after spa experiences in the capital.
What is a Banya?
Originating in Russia, the Banya is a bit like a sauna, but slightly cooler and the steam is much wetter, making it easier to stand and therefore more hydrating and detoxifying. It is also much healthier because it won’t dry your throat out.
Banyas have been around for centuries and remain very popular in Russian culture. As well as public bathing houses in towns and cities, some families will have a Banya installed into their summer cottages and will visit as a group where they alternate between sitting in the heat and relaxing in another room. There you will eat traditional Russian food, such as dumplings or pickles, as well as drinking beer, tea and even vodka.
How does it work?
You treat the Banya in a similar way to how you’d have a steam or a sauna, but will be able to withstand the slightly lower 70-degree heat a little longer. As well as your swimwear, you’ll don a felt hat, which helps to prevent your head from getting too hot, as it usually heats up far more quickly than the rest of your body does. Not only will the hat keep your head dry and cool, it will prevent your hair from being damaged by the heat.
Once you are starting to feel overheated, you will leave the room and stand under an ice-cold shower or take a dip in an icy plunge pool, which will help boost your circulation. From there, you go and relax, eat and drink in the social area, before heading back into the Banya when you’re ready. Typically, you’ll visit for around three hours.
You can visit the Banya and simply enjoy the sauna and social experience, but you can also undergo a number of different treatments.
The parenie massage
Parenie is a traditional and invigorating thermal treatment which involves a leafy bundle of birch, oak or eucalyptus twigs (called venik) being brushed over your body. It essentially heightens the Banya experience by shifting the steam onto your skin to make you sweat profusely, while the plants release essential oils. Once your treatment is over, you’ll jump back into that icy plunge pool.
Although it can be an overwhelming experience if you haven’t done it before, the results are well worth it. The shock change of temperatures has the duo effect of at first waking your entire body, before leaving you feeling incredibly relaxed.
Ultimately, the result is a boost of circulation that will help relieve muscle tension, stress and joint pain. The oils also have an anti-inflammatory effect, are said to calm the nervous system and will help to reduce high blood pressure.
A normal parenie is done by one masseuse, but for a more intense experience, you can have two. We wouldn’t recommend this if it’s your first experience though.
The honey and salt scrub
The perfect way to finish off a trip to the Banya is with an invigorating honey and salt all-over body scrub, which will help remove dead skin cells, cleanse your skin, while moisturising at the same time. Not only is it an unbelievably relaxing experience, your skin will never have felt softer.
Where can I do it?
Banya No. 1 in Shoreditch is London’s first Russian bathing club, boasting a number of celebrities fans, including Justin Bieber. The spa has men-only, women-only and mixed days, as well as a private spa, which you can book out for up to 15 guests.