Winter in Russia – banya tradition (sauna)

Traditional Russian sauna is called banya (баня) and is a great way to socialize and to know the real inner being of Russian people. Sauna, hot branches and ice are the basic elements (water and fire).

If you are planning a trip to Russia you must try Banya. Better in some village in countryside and of course with locals. My experience was in Chusovskoy (Чусовской), a really small village in the county of Čeljabinsk.
Here you can fine the place:

What is Banya

Banya is the Russian traditional sauna. Consist in warming up your body in the sauna as usual, than jump in iced water or snow to cool off and warm again in sauna. All the process is stressful for body of course but Russians say that is extremely healthy!
In Banya there could be three different room. First is the changing room, to change clothes and to relax after sauna or cold water. Second room is the showers. Where is good to wash yourself before and after sauna. Third room is the sauna. Temperature could be 90°C and the difference between finnish sauna is the humidity. Water is part of the game. There is a stove inside when periodically a bowl of water is launched inside and this create a wave of extremely hot steam. You will feel! The basic concept of Banya are the extremes. Constantly changing hot and cold. Outside it was -25°C, more than 100°C of difference.

Improve blood circulation

Going through Sahara and Siberia in few seconds is not enough to improve your blood circulation. There is another traditional way: banny venik, банный веник. It can be from white birch, oak or eucalyptus. It depends of the trees outside. I did with birches. The dried branches are moistened with very hot water before use. Someone have to massage your body with those branches with two different temperature: hot and cold. Under your feet, back or belly, there is no part of your body can be saved from banny venik!

Ice water

The perfect ending after sauna is, of course, a deep bath in iced lake or snow. Not one or two but three times and with your head under the water. If you have to do, you must do the real one. After this cold bath you shoould stay few seconds outside in the snow to feel your body and I promise you, you will feel everything.

At the end I really enjoyed banya and is more than just sauna. Is a tradition for socializing, keep friendship strong and is an great way to get in touch with locals. All those traditions will let you to understand better what does it mean family and friendship in Russia.


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