Why the Russian Sauna (aka: Banya) is One of the Best Things You Can Do For Your Health

One of our favorite monthly “treats”  is attending the Russian sauna (aka: Banya). Alternating between super-hot saunas that get up to 140-210F, and an ice plunge that’s 45F – this ritual helps to invigorate, detox, and revitalize.

The history of the Banya practice dates back 1000’s of years! According to Downtown Banya:

A Little History…

Apostle Andrew wrote in 11:13: “Wondrous to relate, I saw the land of the Slavs, and while I was among them, I noticed their wooden bath-houses. They warm themselves to extreme heat, then undress, and after anointing themselves with tallow, take young reeds and lash their bodies. They actually lash themselves so violently that they barely escape alive. They then drench themselves with cold water, and thus are revived. They think nothing of doing this every day and actually inflict such voluntary torture upon themselves. They make of the act not a mere washing but a veritable torment.”

Going to the banya is a well-aged Russian custom. Even during the medieval times it was seen as a universally popular and national past-time. To not bathe in a banya at least three times a week was practically taken as sheer evidence of foreign origins.

Most villagers in Russia had a bathhouse (also known as a sauna in today’s world) and every noble household had its own steam house as well. Another important even called a communal bath was held at many towns and villages where men and women sat steaming themselves, beating one another with veniks (bundled twigs) and rolling around together in the snow. Peter the Great attempted to stamp out the banya as a relic of medieval Russia and encouraged the building of Western bathrooms in the palaces and mansions of St. Petersburg. Despite heavy taxes placed on the traditional Russian Sauna, noblemen continued to prefer the elder, well aged Russian bath and by the end of the eighteenth century, nearly every palace in St. Petersburg had one.

Going to the bathhouse often was regarded as a way of getting rid of many illnesses. It was called the “people’s first doctor” (vodka was the second, raw garlic the third). There were also a variety of magical beliefs associated with it in folklore. To go to the banya was to give both your body and your soul a good cleaning and it was the custom to perform this purge as a part of important rituals. The bathhouse was the place for the ritual pre-marriage bathe as well as for the delivery of babies. It was warm and clean and private, in a series of bathing rituals that lasted forty days, it purified the mother from the bleeding of birth.

The banya’s role in prenuptial rituals was also to ensure the woman’s purity: the bride was washed in the banya by her maids on the eve of her wedding. It was a custom in some places for the bride and the groom to go to the bath house before their wedding night. These were not just peasant rituals however; they were shared by the provincial nobility and even by the court in the final decades of the seventeenth century. This intermingling of pagan bathing rites with Christian rituals was equally pronounced as the “Clean Monday”. On these holy days it was customary for the Russian family to clean the house, washing all the floors, clearing out the cupboards, purging the establishment of any rotten or unholy foods, and then, when this was all done, to visit the bath house and clean the body.

During the next few hundred years that led into the modern times, almost all of the old rituals and traditions have died out. However, one thing remains true: banya is as popular as ever. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the proof of health benefits of steam bathing, the banya steadily and continually makes its way into the Western Culture and is a highly desirable form of a sauna.

More information about the history of Banya is available athttp://www.cyberbohemia.com/Pages/russianbaniahistory.htm

William Tooke, a British member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg, observed: “In general, the common Russian uses but few medicines; supplying their place in all cases by the sweating bath, a practice so universal among them, and which has so decided an influence on the whole physical state of the people…”

The concept of “health through water” is thousands of years old. Many cultures have found respite from the rigors of daily life in community bathing. Whenever people have sought relaxation and relief from pain and disease, they’ve gone to baths. In Russia the tradition is nearly sacred and the bath (banya) is the place to go for health and fellowship. Now Americans of all backgrounds can enjoy the live-giving benefit of the Russian bath at Downtown Banya.


A banya is about health as much as relaxation. Below are a few facts about the benefits of using our sauna.

Simply put: the banya relaxes your entire body. Stress creates tension and manifests as aches and pains and reduced mental function. The heat and humidity of our sauna relaxes muscles and promotes the release of stress-caused tension. Your body will sigh in delight as your muscles unwind and pain subsides.

Weight loss
A good sauna session is similar to mild exercise – expect to burn as much as 300 calories with no effort at all. Regular sauna treatments combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise may help you maintain a healthy weight.

The banya increases blood circulation helping to detoxify the body, particularly in difficult areas like the teeth, bone and sinuses. The steam opens your pores and promotes cleansing for cleaner, healthier skin.

Improved immune system
The heat from the banya creates an artificial “fever” ramping up your immune system. Regular use of our sauna helps fight illness, particularly during the wet Northwest seasons.

For those of you located in the tri-state area looking to experience the Banya for yourself, our FAVORITE spot Bear and Birch is just $25 on weekdays (Mon – Thur), and $35 Weekends (Fri – Sun and Holidays). One full banya day includes unlimited use of all facilities including steam rooms, jacuzzi, cold plunge and complimentary towels and slippers.


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