All you need to know about the Russian banya
The Russian banya is very different to a sauna but the closest relative of the Finnish banya. A real Russian banya isn’t for softies and can feel tough for the first time. However, it’s super relaxing and equals to a 40-minute cardio exercise in the gym. You will sweat out all your stress and worries and will feel rejuvenated.
If you are new to the Russian banya then you’d better get acquainted with all the aspects of this unforgettable experience. If you follow the below rules you will get through this at the blink of an eye and will be asking for more.
1 Prepare to be slapped all over with leafy branches
What differentiates the Russian banya from the Finnish banya is first of all the temperature. While in Finland the temperature reaches 120 degrees Celsius (248°F), in a Russian banya it’s slightly over 90 degrees (194°F). When you enter banya for the first time you just sit on the wooden interior benches and warm up. If you want to up the temperature just pour hot water over the stone, rocks or stove. The most fun part is to get a good spank with a bundle of leafy birch or oak branches. Just spread out on the bench and a Russian person will do it all for you.
2 It will get easier after a while
When you’ve entered the steam room for the first time, you will instantly feel slightly lightheaded. However, after the second and third time you will be begging for more. Every time it gets easier. Just don’t forget to cool down by jumping into the cold swimming pool right after each slapping session.
The important thing to remember is that you mustn’t go to banya too often. Too much of it can be harmful to your heart.
3 Don’t drink anything stronger than beer
It’s very traditional to drink beer or kvas and nibble on a dried fish. Please be aware that you should never attempt to drink strong alcohol such as vodka or cognac in a banya. Combining strong alcohol and the intense heat can cause dizziness and extremely low blood pressure. As a result, you might pass out and injure yourself.
4 You will get to wear a nice felt hat
You have to wear a special felt hat which is made of sheep wool. The main purpose of the felt hat is that It helps protect your head from such intense heat. They are very light and comfortable to wear.
5 Bring a few towels and a bed sheet
The interior wood gets so hot that it might be unbearable to sit on. Most Russian use towels, mats or bed sheets to sit and lie on. Women wrap up in bed sheets to cover their body. Not wearing a swimsuit is quite normal due to its synthetic fabric. I wouldn’t recommend wearing anything that has metal embellishments on it otherwise you’ll have a burn.
6 Prepare to speak a lot of Russian
Banya is a very social activity where people talk and drink. You will have loads of opportunities to engage in a conversation with a bunch of Russian people. It’s a very friendly environment and a good way to learn more about Russian culture.