Before I go into the nitty gritty about what’s so good about banya, I better explain exactly what it is. Banya is a traditional Russian well-being experience, which at first glance, looks just like most other saunas that you may have visited, but there are a few stark differences with these…
Inside the banya, water is splashed onto a tonne of cast iron that is heated up to a whopping 700ºC, this generates high levels of steam. The increased heat and steam encourage your body to sweat more profusely and to help you to get rid of the toxins etc. It seems to take the best bits of both a sauna and steam room and blend them.
Traditionally in Russia, banya is quite a relaxed experience and a typical session will last around 3 hours. Before you start to panic, that doesn’t involve 3 hours inside the sauna itself. The idea is that you go between the heat of the banya, the cold plunge pool and the bar to rehydrate and enjoy some food.
Most sessions are single-sex, so clothing is optional (but discouraged), the only thing that you must wear inside is a little felt hat. These look completely random, but there is a reason for them as they help to regulate your body temperature.
To get the real effect of the banya though, you have to try a paranie massage. This is a thermal treatment that uses a venik (fragrant bunch of leafy twigs) and is said to boost blood circulation and relieve tension and stress. These are brushed quite intensely all over your body and push the steam and into your skin. Once the massage is complete you are led to the super cold plunge pool which is such a contrast to the heat from the banya. It’s a weird feeling at first but I really enjoyed it and as it finished I felt relaxed but also energised. It’s also said to be good for your immune system.
It can all seem a bit wacky at first, but you just have to go with it and I’m sure that you will soon grow to love it – just like I did!
For more information or to book a session, check out Gobanya.co.uk.
Banya No 1 invited me along for a complimentary taster session for the purpose of this review but all of the words and opinions are my own.