Russia – The Banya, or Russian / Finnish bath, is a traditional health and beauty ritual still practiced widely today – and not just in Russia!
During this highly detoxifying and invigorating treatment, one would take turns in a hot sauna (which traditionally would be a tiny steam house heated by coals or a wood fire outside in the snow) and the cold snow (in many modern banya’s the cold snow is replaced by a cold pool plunge or ice cold shower…brrr.) In the sauna, you sweat out toxins, sip on cucumber or lemon water, and breathe in aromatic steam fragranced with eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, or other wonderful essential oils, while a therapist gently beats you with birch branches (eucalyptus leaves are commonly used in the U.S. instead as they are much softer to the touch.) This increases heat in the body and dilates the capillaries, bringing nourishment and oxygen to the skin.
When it’s time to switch, originally you would run out of the sauna, jump outside into the snow and roll around to immediately cool off. Again, if snow is unavailable, you jump into a freezing cold pool outside the sauna, or go into a cold shower where you may be asked to pour a bucket of ice water over your head.) In doing this, the capillaries immediately contract, which aids the circulatory and lymphatic systems in eliminating toxic build up and waste proteins. It is also quite a wake-up call for your body!
Sometimes this banya is completed with a mini full-body massage to ensure relaxation and skin nourishment.
While this treatment is not for the faint of heart (there are some heart and pregnancy related contraindications,) it is one of the most therapeutic spa treatments available now. Just don’t plan on booking yourself a full day’s schedule afterward (you will be wiped out – in a good way!)