History of Dry Russian Sauna
In places such as Russia, sweating has historically been closely related to the curing of diseases. Even today, many rural folk believe that steam baths, or ‘banyas’, can cure most diseases. The history of the dry Russian banya is long and detailed, and it spans a long period of time.
In historical times, the banya was not only a venue for bathing, but also a place for social interaction. Most villages in historical times had their own bathhouses, and many still do. The banya, therefore, became the equivalent of a place were friends could meet and catch up on each other’s lives. They were used by both genders and except in mixed family banyas, bath timings were different for men and women.
As mentioned before, bathing in a banya was a very elaborate and important ritual. One would enter the baths wearing a special type of a hat mad of felt. The hat was meant to protect one’s head from the extreme heat. Later, people would hit or massage themselves with dried-up branches of specific plants. These branches were typically moistened with hot water before use. The reason for the ‘flogging’ was to improve blood circulation .The bathers would usually cool themselves off by rolling in snow, or in a cool river or lake after each sweat and then re-enter the steam room.
Banyas have been mentioned many times in historical books. According to ‘The Tale of Bygone Years’, the Apostle Andrew visited the area that would later become Russia. In the book, Andrew is surprised at the long ritual of bathing the Russians have, and he is especially shocked at the practice that the people had of hitting themselves. He describes the process as ‘veritable torture’. The banya also comes up in several other texts, including Russian historical and mythological texts.
Banyas were used for both curative and preventive purposes. It was believed that visiting the bathhouse often would improve a person’s health and make the person less susceptible to diseases. Specific herbs and plants were, and still are, used in the banyas to make the experience more physically beneficial.
Although there has been a certain amount of controversy about the health benefits of these places, it cannot be denied that they have at least a few advantages. Their history and wide area of usage points to this fact, as do several testimonials from bathers. Therefore, we can conclude that banyas are very important, and in more ways than one.
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