Featuring…the Banya

So, now that you’ve read the title, it is natural for you to want to read some sort of explanation in the blog. Don’t worry, the confusion was expected, since the word banya is actually a Russian word, and not one that is commonly known by the English speaking public.

Banya is literally translated as “bathhouse.” It is a place constructed of steam rooms and/or saunas that developed in Russian communities and turned into a unique cultural tradition of sweat baths. Historically, the oldest mention of banya is probably at the beginning of the 12th century, according to The History of the Great Russian Bath. The creation of them is attributed to the bitter cold Russian winters and reliance on folklore to treat ailments. It gained a lot of popularity in the early 20th century when the political veil of Russia was lifted and foreigners began to try to demystify Russian culture.

The Russian bathhouse intrigued a lot of foreigners and became one of the exotic features making tourism exciting. The whole process and focus on cleansing the body by literally sweating out toxins was interesting to the outside world. Moreover, Russians also had the tradition of extreme temperature changes in order to stimulate and strengthen the immune system. It was believed that rapid changes in the blood temperature would help circulation, etc. Therefore, it was not uncommon to find people jumping into a foot of snow after exposing their body to extreme heat and profuse sweating in a steam bath.

Such a tradition was too precious to leave to Russia alone. Therefore, as immigrants traveled abroad, they took this practice with them. In New York, there are currently multiple establishments that function as steam baths in the Russian style. It is a different experience of being treated at a spa. It is more social and versatile, consisting not only of treatments, masks and massages, but of a whole range of options involving the cleansing of your body and circulation of your blood.

I’ve been to the Russian banya before, and it’s a really unique experience. I think it is worthwhile to try new exotic things, and I would be interested in writing a feature article profiling a local Russian style bathhouse. I think it is something that would be enjoyable for an audience who hasn’t been to such an establishment, and will serve to inform them of something they never heard of before.

I plan to research the history of the entire process and establishment of a banya, as well as the traditional treatments it offers. For example, there is a tradition of using a venik (in Russian, literally means broom or bushel), or platza, a word adopted into the American language from the Yiddish word for a bushel of leaves and twigs that are bundled into what looks like a broom. Such a platza is used inside the sauna as a kind of massage and is considered to stimulate the blood and have therapeutical benefits.

A lot of people would consider a spa, or in this case banya, as a kind of haven. It allows them to relax in an atmosphere away from everything yet not a solitary kind of meditation. These places are usually where groups of people gather and have the time to collect their thoughts together as well as share them and even gossip with their friends. Usually a group of guys would go to the steam room, or a group of girls. It is a place of reflection and stimulation not only physically but mentally and socially.



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