You Gotta Go to a Russian Sauna (Banya)! Here is Why (Includes NYC Locations)
Authentic Russian saunas, also known as Russian bathhouses or "banya" in Russian have really been growing in popularity in recent years. At least in NYC they have! There was a time that only Russians frequented these spas to sweat their faces off, but recently with Groupon offering deals to these fabulous venues, everyone have been venturing to them as well... and coming back for more!
Traditional Russian bathhouses have been part of Russian culture since medieval times and nowadays they can be found in any city around the world with a large Russian community.
Typical Russian saunas in the United States have a variety of different rooms within them where bathers go into each one, sit down, and literally sweat their faces off. These include a:
- Steam room made of wooden planks
- Steam room made of bricks
- Turkish steam room decorated with ceramic tiles
- Dry room
Following each of the rooms, it's customary to plunge into an ice cold pool into which an ice machine shoots ice cubes (really, it's that cold!). Then you do the routine over and over, as well as go to the lounge area for a break and perhaps a shot of vodka with your friends.
This guide will explain what Russian saunas are, their health benefits, and what to expect when you go to one.
Health Benefits of Saunas and Steam Rooms
A sauna is essentially a heated room that makes you really sweat and feel relaxed when you sit or lay down in it.
A major part of Russian saunas are steam rooms.
Relaxing inside a steam room has the following benefits:
- Relaxing sore muscles
- Cleansing pores
- Detoxifying you from toxins that lie below the skin
- Exfoliating skin
- Controlling blood pressure
What to Expect at a Russian Bathhouse
What should you expect at a Russian bathhouse? Definitely lots of sweating, steaming, soaking and eating! Sounds enticing? Oh it is! Once you go, you'll probably want to come back for more - it's that good! My friends and I now do regular get-togethers at a Russian spa we've come to love in Brooklyn, NY.
When you enter a Russian sauna, you'll need to check in your valuables and in return, you'll be given a key to the locker room. Then you head to either the men's or women's changing room where you change into your bathing suit and leave your things at your locker. Afterwards, you use another door to enter the interior of the sauna where the different bathing rooms are located and both men and women get reunited.
Here's what you'll find at a Russian sauna:
- Several different steam rooms and a dry room
- A jacuzzi
- Spa services such as different massages and "venik" treatment (for an extra fee)
- A restaurant featuring Russian fare, including specialties like crepes with Salmon caviar, dried fish and draft Russian beer
- A very relaxing atmosphere!
Admission fees (around $35 in NYC) usually include access to the steam rooms, a dry room, a jacuzzi, an ice cold pool, access to an outdoor deck, and a relaxing lounge that doubles as a restaurant. At the lounge, you'll be able to order authentic Russian cuisine or just lounge around if you wish.
What to Bring to a Russian Banya
Wondering what to bring to a Russian spa? Definitely bring your bathing suit and flip flops (although really tacky flip flops are provided complementary, I like to bring my own because I don't want to put my feet into flip flops that have been previously worn). Also bring something comfy to wear for the lounge area that you can easily get in and out of. I personally bring a cute short sauna robe. And since your hair will get wet, bring shampoo (although complementary shampoo is provided) and conditioner. Also, many bathers wear special sauna hats (they're wool) and help maintain body temperature. Many women also bring facial cleansers and other beauty products for the skin.
Have you been to a Russian sauna?
A "venik" treatment is a traditional part of the Russian sauna experience. A venik is a bundle of leafy twigs usually made from birch or oak trees (sometimes eucalyptus, lime tree, or fir trees are used).
A venik is used to massage and warm up the body. It's also said to have many health benefits including:
- Improving blood circulation
- Intensifying skin's capillary activities
- Improving your metabolism system
- Preventing premature aging of skin
Each type of venik has different benefits.
A birch venik helps with muscle and joint pain, helps clear up skin, accelerates healing of wounds and scratches, and smells really nice! It's said that dunking your head in a bucket that was infused with a birch venik will strengthen your hair and will get rid of dandruff (if you have any).
An oak venik is the best option for people with oily skin. It is said to make skin smooth and to have a strong anti-inflammatory effect. The smell of this type of venik removes stress.
There's usually an additional fee for a venik treatment at a Russian sauna. You can also bring your own venik which can be bought online or on-site at the spa. To use a venik, you will need to soak it for 20 minutes in warm water (buckets with warm water are provided at the sauna). You will know that the venik is ready when the leaves are soft. A venik usually lasts several sessions but if it's already missing lots of leaves or has bare ends, it's time to part with it.
Russian Saunas in New York
My personal favorite sauna - located in Brooklyn