If you have any doubts about
the state of your health
or stamina, seek medical advice before going to a banya.
Banyas are not recommended
for people suffering from
a cardiovascular condition, bronchial asthma, respiratory problems or allergies.
Finns are crazy about sauna, the Japanese praise "sento" and Orientals boast about Turkish baths. Russians have their own national pride - "Russkaya banya" or the Russian steam bath.
Many Russians, specifically rural residents and dacha owners, have their own steam baths in outhouses, to which they invite their friends. But we will concentrate on the public ones. A Russian public bath consists of single sex sections, each including a cloakroom, predbannik (a kind of recreation room), washroom (a large room with washstands and shower units) and, of course, a steam room. The latter, connoisseurs say, is the most important part in determining each banya's rating and quality.
To get the most out of a banya, it is essential that the steam room is properly prepared. A traditional Russian way of "making steam" is to splash water onto the heated walls - as harshly and abruptly as possible, but the amount of water should be small. After that, you climb to a desired bench (benches in a Russian bath are on several levels - the higher the hotter). It is best to enjoy short bursts of steam, 5 or 10 minutes at a time, before taking a cold shower. Those who stay longer, as is often the case in movies, fool around in the snow or dive into an ice-hole afterwards! However, this is not possible in a public bath.
After chilling out, you can return to the steam chamber, this time with a specially prepared bundle of branches, called a venik. This is a necessary accessory, used to whip or lash yourself, or each other, in the steam room. Outwardly, this may appear to be a rather sado-masochistic hobby, but actually, there is no pain at all, only pleasure. Venik can be made of birch, oak, lime-tree, juniper, nettle and even eucalyptus. Oak is excellent for cleaning and for a massaging effect, birch is effective for curing spinal pain and back-aches, nettle is a good cure for rheumatism, whilst eucalyptus has an unrivalled aroma. Before using venik be sure to soak it for a while in hot water.
"Predbannik" is the place to go for famous banya tea or beer parties. It is strongly advised not to indulge in alcohol in a banya. You can, however, have a glass of beer, in the predbannik but be careful not to catch a chill. Put on a gown or wrap yourself in a sheet as you leave the steam chamber. The predbannik is also a sort of club, with a very friendly atmosphere where you will hear a lot of jokes and receive much advice.
Most of Moscow's banyas have snack bars, massage salons and some even have hairdressers.
NECESSARY ITEMS FOR A BANYA:
1. Rubber shoes
2. Felt or woolen hat
3. Gown or sheet
4. Rug (to sit on in the steam chamber)
7. Soap and shampoo