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What is a Banya?

13. May 2010 by Christy 0 Comments

The Russian word “banya” usually refers to the Russian type of sauna, but it can also mean any type of steam bath. Banyas can be big or small, but they typically have three rooms or areas: a steam room, a washing room, and an entrance room. The entrance room is where people enter and remove their clothes, and the steam room, or parilka, is the main room where visitors relax and soak up the steam. When people need to wash or cool off they may use the washing room’s showers or pool.


To produce steam, bathers ladle hot water over a large stove full of smoldering stones. The resulting steam is hot and dense and visitors begin sweating almost immediately. After working up a good sweat, banya visitors cool off by taking a cold shower of taking a quick dip in the pool. More adventurous bathers may choose to roll around naked in the snow or jump into the cold water of a river or lake. This hot/cold contrast is an important part of a banya visit and bathers typically repeat the heating up/cooling off process several times a visit.  


About halfway through a banya visit, it’s traditional for bathers to begin hitting themselves with a bundle of birch leaves known as venik. Though this practice seems strange to foreigners, Russians believe it improves circulation. Visitors to a banya may add also popular herbs to the water in order to supplement the experience.


Banya temperatures often exceed 200 degrees, and the high temperature is thought to have many health benefits. Benfits include improved blood supply to the skin, muscles, and joints; increased metabolism; a rise in the number of red blood cells; and the elimination of toxins. Many women visit the banya to look more youthful as the steam is thought to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and improve elasticity in the skin.


Banyas are an important part of Russian culture and a must for every tourist visiting the country. Banyas are also creeping up outside of Russia, so curious individuals may be able to visit a banya in their own hometown. A reporter from the Los Angeles Times recently described her experience at a banya facility in West Hollywood.

 

Here are a few pictures of Russian banyas.