Russian banya - a piece of true Russian culture in the modern high-tech life.
I am afraid that describing banya experience is a kind of "impossible mission". From the other side I am glad and proud to share with you the passion of my life.
Banya is a house specially designed for the washing / body & soul relaxation. As people walk naked inside women and men banya's sections are separated, though sometimes family or bunch of friends who feel free with each other can rent a whole place and enjoy staying there together. The process of washing in it consists of:
staying in a very hot damp steam room waiting till your body sweats. This process should be preferably accompanied by the massage done by somebody experienced in the matter. It's speciality is that the banya man massages you not with hands but with the "venik"s i.e. the wisps of dry but soaked birch twigs with leaves. Great thing in the hands of master. The process looks like a harsh beating but feels like an unusual aromatic massage. Once your body sweated for a while and got massaged you go out ...
- ... to jump into the small swimming pool with the icy cold water or directly in the snow-drift if banya is located in the countryside.
- After this contrast of temperatures you are supposed to rest. Depending on the banya you visit you can go for swimming in the warm swimming pool or just staying in the regular temperature space drinking beer / soft drinks or hot tea. After some pause you repeat the algorithm.
It is almost impossible to provide any banya pictures for many reasons. The Banya is a rather dark place so the pictures do not turn out. Naked people do not fancy the idea that their less than perfect bodies will be exposed on the Internet etc...
By the way for me as a woman banya is a very encouraging place. You know, after the shine of extremely beautiful women bodies on the magazines front pages you go to banya and see there a dozen of real women of different ages. It sobers up.
Considering how life urbanized and changed due to the technical progress in the last century it is surprising how banya survived and successfully coexist with the one and all mobile phones distribution or plastic surgery miracles. The reason is that banya is much more for Russians that the hygiene procedure. Having a shower and/or a bath at homes they still continue to go to banya's - you can find one in every city district. If you ask anybody about banya - be prepared to listen to the rather vague but long and enthusiastic panegyrics with the refrain: "You should experience it!"
I think that banya is a piece of authentic, real Russian peasant culture (do not forget that up to the 1930s Russia had been for ages a peasant country). From one side going to banya helps the megapolis citizens still sense their national identity - in spite of the fact that they wear clothes made in China, watch Hollywood films and eat prepared food of suspicious origin. But that is not all. Russians believe that together with the sweat one looses in banya the psychological weight - stresses, disappointments, disillusions. Do not ask me how it works. But I know that when I leave banya I feel somehow ... easier. Relaxed and calm.
The official medicine has accepted banya long ago. To put it briefly it trains your blood vessels and makes them elastic and cleans the skin all over your body. I do not retain more details as this is probably the least interesting aspect for me. But in general it is a kind of rejuvenescence procedure.
For me banya reminds the fairy-tales - you know, to become a king the hero should pass certain tests. In some Russian fairy-tales the hero is to jump first into the boiling water and then into the ice cold one. In spite of the evil enemy expectations he does not die but gets youth and physical attractiveness having passed through it. But when a bad man follows his sample he dies. I can give you a sample from my own practice: once I brought 2 friends to banya (both Italians).
- "It was great - now my skin is like the newborn child one - so tender and smooth," - said the first one.
- "It was like the 3rd world war, - said the other one.
So as you see not everyone appreciates it (is there anything liked by everybody?). Still I can not name a more Russian
experience you can get within your trip to Russia.
If you are interested in including a visit to a traditional Russian banya on one of my tours then please email me.