My Day at a Russian Spa

My Day at a Russian Spa

When life gets tough, a spa is where I go to relax and forget about life for a few hours.  Whether it’s having a swim in one of the pools, detoxifying in a steam room, or destressing with a full body massage, nothing beats a good spa day.  When I think of a spa, rarely do I imagine being hit with twigs, and having a bucket of ice water thrown over my head.  Well, that’s exactly what happened when I visited Banya No.1; a traditional Russian Spa, situated in Hoxton, London.

What sounds like the most tense experience ever, turned out to be incredibly invigorating, therapeutic, and weirdly addictive.

Originating in Russia, banya translates to ‘bathhouse’ and is similar to the more familiar sauna.  The key difference between the two is that a banya is slightly cooler (although still 70°C), making it more bearable than a normal sauna. Due to its wide range of health benefits, they remain very popular in Russian culture, with public bathing houses in towns and cities, and some families installing their own banyas into their homes.

Banya No.1 is the only banya in London, opening in 2013, and brings Russia’s oldest and most popular wellness traditions to the capital.

 

All you need is yourself and your swimsuit.  Upon arrival, you are provided with a gown and slippers, as well as a felt hat, which prevents your head from overheating, and stops your hair from being damaged.

I was invited by Love Pop Ups London to try out their signature treatment; The Parenie.

A Parenie is a traditional thermal treatment which involves bundles of leaves, birch, oak, or eucalyptus twigs being brushed over your body.  Unlike your usual massage, this treatment takes place in the banya, meaning all of this is going on in 70 degree heat! The purpose is to catch and guide the steam into your pores, which has incredible health benefits for both your mental and physical state.  It is split into three main parts; the massage, the bucket, and the plunge pool.

Part 1: The Massage

You are required to stay in the banya for 10 minutes prior to your treatment, to accustom your body to the intense heat. I’m not very good with saunas, and despite it being 10 degrees cooler, I found it difficult to breathe.

When I entered the banya for the second time for my treatment, it seemed a lot more bearable than my first.  I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to last the full duration, but as I lay down on the wooden bench, my banshik (the name given to a Russian masseuse), placed a bouquet of wet leaves over my head, which instantly cooled me down.

For around 10 minutes, the banshik passed the leaves up and down my body, working the steam into my pores. At some points, it feels like your skin is burning, but you can control the temperature, if it gets too hot. From our science classes, we know that heat rises, meaning the steam at the top of the banya is hotter than the steam near the ground.  If you’d like the parenie to be hotter, the banshik can reach higher up, shifting the hot steam into your skin, or they can capture the steam from lower down, if you’d prefer a cooler experience.

Benefits: During the treatment, the banya makes you sweat profusely, which cleans out your pores, stimulates blood circulation, improves metabolism, and relieves joint pain.  The plants used during the massage release essential oils that are said to boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure, and prevent premature ageing.

Part 2: The Ice Buckets

Once your parenie is over, it’s time to venture back in time, to the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ of 2015. As you exit the banya, you are immediately placed under one of the buckets that line the ceiling.  Pulling on the rope, the bucket tips cold water of your head, instantly cooling you down.

Part 3: The Plunge Pool

Once you’ve emptied the bucket of water over yourself, it is time for the Plunge Pool.  As I lowered myself into the ice-cold water, I felt a strange euphoria, as my body went into mild hypovolemic shock.  Following the instructions of the banshik, I completely submerged my entire body into the freezing water, releasing a surge of adrenaline in the process.  Climbing out, I was slightly light-headed, and was provided with a large bath towel to wrap around me while I waited for the effects to pass. How can this be good for you, you ask?

Benefits: During the treatment, the banya makes you sweat profusely, which cleans out your pores, stimulates blood circulation, improves metabolism, and relieves joint pain.  The plants used during the massage release essential oils that are said to boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure, and prevent premature ageing.

Other Treatments

Although their signature treatment is the Parenie, there are a whole host of other wellness and spa treatments to try out.  These include a Honey & Salt Scrub, a Coffee Scrub, a Body Wash, an Aloe Vera Body Mask, a Mud Wrap and a Russian Healing Massage.

There is also a menu, from which you can order traditional Russian food, including dumplings, pickles, potatoes, ham, and fish, as well as beer, tea and even vodka. All of the food and products used at Banya No. 1 are natural, organic, and where possible, made on premises.

With lots of new and unique treatments to try, Banya No. 1 is definitely worth a visit.  If you’re brave enough to throw yourself into the full experience, then I’d definitely recommend the Parenie. There’s nothing like it elsewhere in London!

For more info and how to book, see their website: Banya Russian Spa

Disclaimer*
I received a complimentary experience when visiting Banya No.1 in exchange for this review. Views are my own.

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1 Comment

  1. October 10, 2019 / 2:58 am

    Interesting massage lol ! It’s a new one I have never heard of . I’m a massage therapist and I will look here in the USA to see if this is available anywhere near me. Thank you for sharing your information! 😁

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