A Russian Banya

I took the kids to the Red Rock Hammon and Spa last night for their first Russian баня banya experience. My friend the general manager of the resort gave us a complementary visit to the recently opened spa. The Russian banya is similar to a Finnish sauna. It is a wooden room (парная) with benches and a large, wood-heated stove in the corner. The banya master (ба́нщик) threw water on the stove to create hot steam. We wore traditional, elf-like bell-shaped felt hats. The felt cap is traditional and insulates the head from heating up faster than the body. The banya master, a Russian guy, waived bundles of oak or birch branches call ве́ник (venik) to push hot air on us while we sat on benches in the steam room. He later gave us massages with the leaves, gently hitting our legs, arms and torso. He also pushed the leaves against our skin and gave a nice massage. The leaves are supposed to improve circulation, metabolism and make the skin softer.

After the massage, we went outside an dipped ourselves in a cold pool (ушат) to cool off. Then it was back in for a sprinkle and waive from the venik. It reminded me of my adopted mother’s stories of swatting their backs with birch branches in the Finnish sauna when she was a child. The experience reminded me of the Japanese onsen or the spas of the Baltics. It was really relaxing and we talked quite a bit on the grounds, drinking tea and listening to New Age relaxation music. It is such a nice social experience going to the baths. I read where they are making a comeback in the USA. Public baths are great for building community. In Japan we used to go with friends often and it is usually followed by beers and a meal. I am a big fan of the experience.

A “boogy” ride to the spa

LearnRussian.com has a list of proverbs about the banya that I now understand better after the experience:

Ба́ня здоровит, разгово́р весели́т.
The banya makes you healthy, it stimulates conversation.

Ба́ня – мать втора́я.
The banya is like a second mother.

В ба́не помы́лся — за́ново роди́лся.
Washing up in the banya is like being born again.

Вы́лечился Ва́ня — помогла́ ему́ ба́ня.
Vanya has recovered from sicknesses – thanks to the banya.

Приста́л, как ба́нный лист!
Stuck like a limpet! (literally: Stuck like a banya’s leaf.)

В ба́не ве́ник доро́же де́нег.
A bath-broom in the banya is worth more than money.

“The day you spend in the banya is the day you do not age.” (В кото́рый день па́ришься, тот день не ста́ришься.)

Russian Banya Vocabulary

ба́ня – banya (Russian sauna and steam bath)
парна́я – a steam room
ве́ник – a bath-broom (bunches of dried or fresh branches and leaves)
уша́т – tub
предба́нник – the entrance room
ба́нщик – a banya’s service person
пар – steam
вода́ – water
здоро́вье – health

I will definitely go back again, especially in the winter. I see the appeal and after day on the slopes, a hot steam bath and relaxing with friends will be the perfect ending for a day of winter activity. I was proud of my daughter Ocean who was apprehensive of the experience but fought through her fears and did the whole experience with me. Thanks to Inaki for the kind gesture!

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