Are Russian Banyas the new way to detox? Hip & Healthy’s Sadie Reid reviews this unique wellness experience.

I was recently invited to try a Banya – and since they are increasingly becoming, quite literally, one of the hottest wellness trends in London, I thought it was about time I experienced one. Although the concept of Banya is relatively new to London it is an ancient cultural tradition amongst Russians who experience Banyas from the incredibly ornate and luxurious level to makeshift Banyas in people’s back gardens.

What is a Banya?
Banya is a slightly cooler, slightly wetter version of a sauna. Built in the same way with wooden seats and heated coals, the idea is to heat the body up to the point where you are sweating. You then leave the Banya to immerse yourself in a cold water shower or ice bucket to instantly reduce your temperature and boost your circulation. You then head to the cafe area, which serves typical Russian food, to relax before you feel ready to take on the whole process again. It can be a really social occasion as Russian’s tend to do this with friends or family and you are encouraged to spend a few hours there.

I visited The Bath House in Victoria, situated opposite Buckingham Palace on a ladies-only day. After checking in at the desk I was taken down to get changed and head to the relaxation area to have herbal tea before heading into the Banya. I would say at this point it is important to make sure you are well-hydrated as you are about to get very sweaty! The Banya is designed with a beautiful mosaic and Russian aristocratic fireplace. Before entering you are asked to wear a felt hat worn to protect the head and hair from this intense heat. At 60 degrees celcius with a humidity of 80-100%, the Banya itself did not feel too hot – in fact I really love heat and it felt so good for my body to feel warm at its core in the middle of winter! 

Then for the ice bucket, which was instantly refreshing and very welcome after the heat of the Banya. After relaxing for about half an hour I then went on to have a Perenie Treatment…

What is Perenie?
No trip to a Banya is complete with a Perenie treatment. Although this was definitely on the stranger side of wellness experiences I have had, I noticed its benefits almost straight away. The Perenie treatment takes place in a hot steamy room. The Bath House currently only has men who are trained to give this treatment, known as Banshiks, but are currently training women up. The Banshik guides you to a table, where you are asked to lie down on your stomach and immerse your face into a bed of leaves or herb branches. In my case I am pretty sure they were eucalyptus and the scent was extraordinary. The back of my head was then also covered with leaves – stay with me – which was incredibly effective at not only helping me breath well in the steam room but also keeping my head cool. After a foot massage, I was then gently whipped (the only word i can think of to describe the action but rest assured it was not in any way painful) with branches of leaves. 

This can be an overwhelming experience, due to the heat and the “your head is in a pile of leaves part”,  whilst also being “whipped” by branches, so I would recommend that anyone who at any point feels uncomfortable just tell their Banshik right away. After about 20 minutes – I felt like I wanted to cool down and so asked my Banshik if we could finish the treatment there – he couldn’t have been nicer and as soon as he got me into the ice plunge pool (the best feeling ever) he explained to me that it is best to approach the treatment as gently as you want, building on time and intensity as you become more experienced.

The Health Benefits of Russian Banyas
Despite me reducing the treatment time, the positive effects of my time in the Banya were undeniable. I felt energetic, clear headed and positive. My skin had a rosy glow and I just felt so well afterwards. Other benefits include aiding recovery after exercise, relieving stress and improving circulation (that would explain the rosy skin glow). It is also said that due to the temperature changes that you put your body through, the immune system is also strengthened.

Where to go: The Bath House

Banya Sessions and Opening Times
Ladies – Monday’s & Thursday’s, 10am – 11pm
Mixed – Wednesdays & Saturday’s, 10am – 11pm and Sunday’s, 10am – 10pm

words by Sadie Reid

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