The Russian Banya is a particular type of local sauna, usually comprised of three rooms: a steam room, a washing room and an entrance room. The entrance room, called a predbannik or pre-bath, has pegs to hang clothing upon and benches to rest on. The washing room has a hot water tap, which uses water heated by the steam room stove and a vessel or tap for cold water to mix water of a comfortable temperature for washing. Water is poured from a bucket onto heated rocks; getting a good sweat is thought to protect and condition the skin from the steam.
Banya temperatures often will exceed 93 degrees Celsius. Some prefer to sit on a small mat brought into the banya to protect bare skin from the dry, hot wood of the interior benches. In Russia, special felt hats (worn to protect the head from this intense heat) are commonly sold in sets with felt mitts, along with aromatherapy extracts for inclusion into the steam water. (For your own aromatherapy, try our essential oils!)
People often massage themselves or others with bunches of dried branches and leaves from white birch, oak or eucalyptus in order to improve the circulation. The dried branches — called venik — are moistened with very hot water before use. Sometimes in summer, fresh branches are used instead. After the first good sweat is induced, it is customary to cool off in the breeze outdoors or splash around in cold water, sometimes in a lake or river. In the winter, people may roll in the snow or dip in lakes where holes have been cut into the ice. Then the banya is re-entered and small amounts of water are splashed on the rocks. Most people wait until this second sweat to wave the venik, causing convective heat, but some people wait until the third session. After each sweat, cooling off is repeated and patrons use the break to drink beverages, play games, or relax in good company.