A Russian banya is a type of a steam sauna that is usually heated in a stove. An old tradition that has existed in Russia for centuries, steam bathing is considered to be good for relaxation and health, as well as a way to spend time with friends, family, or even colleagues. It is still very popular in Russia.
Russian banya culture has old traditions a lot of which are still followed nowadays. The traditional Russian banya consists of three rooms:
- A predbannikis a room where people can change and leave their clothes, as well as they can have rest between going into the steam room.
- A washing room is a room where people can wash.
- A steam room (parilka) is a rather small room with a high temperature. There are also hot stones in parilkaon which you splash water in order to get hot steam.
- The temperature in the steam room (parilka) is very high – about +70 – +80°C, therefore you need to take off all metal jewelry and not to wear any clothes with metal elements.
- If you are ill, or just don’t feel well, you shouldn’t go to parilka. Doctors don’t recommend it. You should first consult your doctor if you have any type of chronic disease.
- If you feel sick or a little dizzy, go out of the parilka and have some rest.
- As the banya is a place for washing, remember to bring a towel (better two towels), a washing gel, a shower puff, etc. All other banya accessories – veniki, water scoops, banya hats, etc. are usually provided by the host.
Visitors take a hot shower and dry their skin completely before entering the steam room. Felt hats are used to prevent the head and hair from overheating. After 5-10 minutes and once the body is hot, you can cool off in the washroom using cold water, then go back into the heat. Visitors usually repeat this several times until they feel fully relaxed. When your body gets warm and relaxes you can start steaming with a venik. A venik is a must-have at banya. The banya host usually makes veniki. He cuts out young birch twigs, binds them together and leaves them to dry. A classic Russian venik is made from birch twigs, but other kinds of trees such as oak or linden can be also used.
To steam with a venik doesn’t mean beating each other. It’s similar to massage and it shouldn’t be painful but it should help you relax and release the muscle tension.
Modern Russian Public banyas are divided into men and women areas. Swimwear is not used and everyone gets completely naked, wrapping themselves with towels instead.
It is customary to exchange light lashings with friends or other guests using the veniks unless there is a professional banya worker—who takes that responsibility.
You shouldn’t stay in the parilka more than 10-15 minutes. After you have left the parilka you need to cool your body down with some cold water. You can pour cold water from a tub on yourself, or jump into the pool or pond. In the winter you can jump into the snow or swim in the ice-hole. Don’t be afraid, you can’t become too cold. Cold water gives you a real pleasure and relaxation. You can also just sit in the cool predbannik and chat with your friends.
You can repeat the whole procedure 3-4times. The last time should be calm and relaxing. After that you can start washing.
During the cold months (private banyas), people come out of the heat straight into the snow and rub it on their skin to cool themselves down before going back in. Banyas are often built on a riverbank so that bathers could jump into the water to cool down.
After banya people usually drink tea and eat light dinner.