You will never understand the Russian Soul if you don’t experience a Russian banya (баня)! It is one of the oldest Russian traditions that is popular even today. There’s no Russian who has never been to the banya. The banya is a Russian version of a sauna. Lots of countries have their own bathing traditions (remember a Finnish sauna or a Turkish hammam) but the Russian banya is supposed to be the most extreme one. What else would you expect from the rough Russians? Here are a few facts about Russian bathing tradition.
Traditionally built as a small room or a separate structure the banya is used for experiencing wet or dry heat sessions. One of the main attributes to the bathing ritual is a venik (веник) – a broom made of birch or oak branches that secrets aromatic oils. The temperatures in the banya can exceed 90 degrees Celsius (194 Fahrenheit) – quite a contrast to the weather outside in winter, huh? Don’t forget to take a felt hat to the banya! Our heads tend to heat up faster than our bodies so its highly essential to cover your head with something in the banya for protection, otherwise you can get overheated. Good news for ladies – the felt hats also protect the hair from the heat damage! Great!
The Russian banya traditions have been formed for centuries. First banyas appeared in Russia in the 5th century! Since the ancient times the banya is supposed to have healing effect on human health. Hot steam opens the pores, cleans and hydrates the skin, and makes it smooth and soft.
After experiencing the first steaming it’s time to get out and cool off. People take cold showers or jump into cool pools. Some Russians even dip straight into the fresh winter snow or take a swim in prorub’ – an ice-hole in frozen rivers or lakes made for diving. Then the banya is the-entered and the time for veniks comes. People use veniks for hitting themselves or others to massage different body parts – the best spa ever! To get the best effect from the massage session follow a few simple rules:
After each steaming it’s nice to take a break from the hot temperatures in a predbannik (предбанник) – an antechamber before the steam room. It’s highly essential to rehydrate yourself since the body loses a lot of water during the steam session. That’s when the Russian tea comes into play. All of the bathers gather around a table in the predbannik and have drinks and beverages. The most traditional ones are Russian herbal teas and kvas (квас) – a drink made from brown bread. The Banya is meant to be social. Break out the games and chat about life and other fun winter activities.