Banya feels amazing, because bathing, East European-style, is about far more than being clean. The Bath House is also a place to eat, drink, do business, or relax with friends. And these are not the only reasons why you will leave us feeling physically and mentally refreshed.
In fact, they used to call banya the ‘people’s first doctor’ (vodka was the second, raw garlic, the third). Now science is catching up with what makes it so restorative to body and soul. For example, a 2016 study followed 2,315 men in Finland over 30 years and found that more sauna sessions corresponded with reduced risk of heart attacks, cardiovascular disease and sudden death. ‘Basically, more saunas equated to longer lifespan,’ concluded Dr Adam Rindfleisch.
We like it hot-cold-hot
You can’t beat heat. As your body temperature rises, your heart beats faster, increasing blood flow. If you then immerse yourself in our icy plunge pool, or shower under the cold-water buckets – preferably both – your heart rate decreases, and so will the flow of blood around your body, bringing more oxygen to your tissue. These rapid changes in temperature strengthen both blood vessels and the cardiovascular system, improving all-round health. In other words, heat therapy is similar to exercise. What is more, exposure to contrasting temperatures can train your body’s thermoregulatory system to adapt more efficiently and maintain a stable temperature.
Banya stimulates the release of endorphins, which make you feel calm. Share the experience with others and relaxation is magnified by social connection.
Increased blood flow enhances oxygenation of your body’s tissues. This aids cellular energy production, by enabling cells to convert glucose into energy – great news for muscle growth, healing and the regeneration of damaged cells.
Heat benefits muscles, joints and bones by improving circulation, which aids the removal of lactic acid, salt and urea from the body and makes it easier to absorb nutrition. Joints and muscles also become more flexible and elastic – great for those with issues such as arthritis and rheumatism, or suffering injuries. Reducing lactic acid build-up – the cause of muscle cramp, and a particular problem after intense exercise – can contribute to faster recovery, alleviating pain and stiffness. This is why so many athletes incorporate steam and ice baths into their training regime.
Skin deeper detox
Steam may help to banish mental fog. This is because your brain is sensitive to changes in oxygen levels, and this is thought to aid cognition, in particular improving memory function, concentration and decision making.
Steam helps to unblock the sinuses and improves your ability breathe freely. This effect is particularly powerful during the aromatic parenie leaf ritual, when the steam is delivered through the veniks (bound leaves). Good news especially for those suffering asthma or bronchitis.
By raising your temperature, the heat of banya creates an artificial fever in the body, and this stimulates your immune system, boosting your defences against common colds, viruses, laryngitis and asthma. Contrasting temperatures also increase the release of adrenaline, the neurotransmitter behind your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. This is good news for energy levels, mental alertness, pain reduction and more. And of course viruses do not survive the high temperatures of our parilka (another term for the banya’s hot room).
More than a sauna
Our parilka (hot room) is at a lower temperature than a typical sauna, because the steam brings such benefits to skin and respiration. Your body loses less water in the banya than in a sauna, and the combination of lower temperature and steam is thought to help your body eliminate toxins more efficiently.