Thursday, January 24, 2008

Banya5, the Russian spa

As I mentioned in a previous post, last Sunday we went to Banya5, a Russian Spa that is in Seattle. You can get yearly memberships or pay-per-use, and since I was still feeling too crappy to go do anything too taxing we went for a single pay-per-use to try it out. The Russian spa (a banya) is for relaxing, sweating, and freezing your booty off. That's right, the Russians (and many other cultures) strongly believe that it's good for the mind and body to make extreme transitions from hot to cold, so when you go there are several 'hot' options and several 'cold' options and a tepid saltwater jacuzzi to recover in between extremes.

We started with the steam room, which was fantastically steamy (and smelled like eucalyptus), then moved into the sauna, which they said was 230F (whoa!). The sauna was so hot that you had to sit on your towel so you didn't burn your butt on the wooden benches. Not only was the sauna super hot (actually it didn't feel too much hotter than your average sauna), there were crazy Russians in there doing this weird ritual, called venik, where they sort of slap each other with leafy birch branches. I'm not kidding. Leafy birch branches! First they dipped them in a pail of water and then they shook them around the sauna for a few minutes before slapping each other around. And it actually looked like a fun thing to do. If it wasn't so hot in there I might have tried it. After the sauna we jumped in a cold pool of water (55F) and shivered in there for two minutes (that's what they recommended but I wouldn't recommend it) before bolting out and into the tepid saltwater 'recovery pool' and starting over. After a few rounds of that you are cooked! We were so totally relaxed we could hardly drag ourselves around the third time and then at the end we dried off while we drank some of their divine tea. If the Packers-Giants game wasn't on that afternoon I probably just would have gone straight to bed when I got home.

So the take-home synopsis: Russian spas are fun! it was interesting, challenging, and relaxing.


Katy said...

So, uh, do you wear a swimsuit or is everyone naked for this little adventure? I noticed they have these Russian Spas in NYC and am tempted to try it out. However, the thought of seeing old naked Russian men may scar me for life.

J-Funk said...

Katy - I agree, it is a good idea to avoid seeing old naked Russian men at all costs. The spa we went to is co-ed (and everyone wears swimsuits) most of the time except for a few select times where it is gender-specific naked time. The website had all the details. I would be careful in NYC though, people seem to like being naked there more than here. I hear they have naked hot yoga there!!