The Culture of ‘Pareniye’
In this article, we do our best to answer the question: How do you get the best from your steam room? Every individual gradually develops their own style, which may depend on age, the amount of free time a person has, their health and habits. The recommendations given here are intended to help everyone get the maximum health benefits and feel good factor from 'pareniye', the thermal procedures of a Russian banya. The experience of a Russian 'banya' goes beyond that of a conventional sauna. It's a little piece of heaven and the glowing health that results from the positive experience of a Russian sauna.
Note: By Russian sauna, we mean an authentic Russian ‘banya’ fitted with a traditional, masonry stove proven to generate the light steam and soft heat so valued by sauna connoisseurs. In our opinion, modern style saunas, electric heaters and other 'misconceptions' as we call them, are detrimental to one's health. Furnace Art Engineering specialises in creating classical sauna stoves and steam rooms. Our stoves are designed with a unique, integrated feature which enables them to ventilate the steam room.
In terms of climate, the Russian banya is characterised by an air temperature of 60-110°C and light steam. Light steam makes it easy to breathe in the steam room and the traditional masonry stove does not dry out the air. It heats the steam room and the bodies inside it with a radiant heat keeping air circulation to an absolute minimum. A conventional sauna is incapable of producing these two factors but they serve as the essential defining characteristics of a Russian banya. You can find detailed information on the Russian banya microclimate on the Sauna Stoves for the Home page.
A person burns as many calories during sauna procedures as they do in roughly one hour and a half to two hours of training in a fitness centre. Of course, such a high demand on the body's resources should be regulated to manageable doses otherwise, instead of reaping the benefits, the body will struggle. We split the steam room session into several exposures and each exposure has its own goal and results. Let's look at each in turn.
'Veniks' A banya 'venik; is a tied bunch of dried or fresh leafy, aromatic twigs of various kinds of plant. An oak venik strengthens the skin, and improves skin tone and elasticity due to the tannin substances it contains. A birch venik cleanses the skin and has a repairing effect and can also be used to wash the body together with coal tar soap. Spruce and juniper veniks are good for the nerves, relieving irritability and reestablishing natural sleep patterns. Veniks made from nettle are excellent for those with radiculitis. Eucalyptus and linden improve breathing and help in the relief of colds.
Before a sauna session, the venik is completely immersed in cold water for 15 minutes. Immediately prior to use the venik is dipped in warm water and if necessary re-tied. This keeps the venik soft and retains its healing qualities. We don't recommend soaking your venik in hot water as this makes the venik lose all its valuable substances. The leaves drop off and break and the instead of a venik, you end up with something more resembling twigs or a rod. Don't steam the venik. Once the venik is ready keep the handle in the water but make sure that the leaves are open to the air. When the veniks are properly prepared, two is sufficient for the entire sauna session.
Preparing for the banya We recommend leaving two hours between your last meal and the commencing the banya session. For reap the full advantages of the bath house session, plan for an interval of two to three hours. Some people prefer to arrange their sauna session in the morning, others prefer to enjoy a sauna in the evening before going to bed. The banya and alcohol, especially spirits, don't mix. There can be serious negative consequences from drinking alcohol during a sauna session. That said, a banya session of 2-3 sittings will completely relieve a hangover!
What to take with you to the banya: veniks, clean clothing, felt hat, large sauna towel, massage glove, shower gel and slippers. Don't forget to take either a special board or medium-sized towel you can use to sit on in the steam room in case the benches feel too hot. In addition, you could also take ingredients to make your own scrub and mask for the face and body, fragrant herbs to give the steam a pleasant aroma (oregano, sweet clover, sagebrush, garlic or horseradish roots and leaves), spirit-based scented essences that can be lightly sprinkled onto the walls of the steam room. You will want something to eat and drink whilst you are at the sauna: prepare some tea or a fresh berry compote, take some still mineral water, and a very light snack such as a fruit salad or mini sandwiches.
Just before entering the steam room, take a warm shower lasting 3-5 minutes being careful not to get your hair wet. If your hair is wet after the shower, dry it with a towel first.
The most important thing about the sauna is not to rush things. All in good time. The session will involve at least 3 sittings in the steam room, 'pareniye', a special thermal massage using a 'venik', leafy, aromatic sauna switch and a massage. Before entering the steam room drink a little mineral water, tea, fresh berry compote or fermented kvass drink.
Don't forget to wear your felt hat in the steam room too. Remove all metal jewellery you might be wearing otherwise you may suffer skin burns. Take a small, dry towel to sit on or a wooden board specially for this purpose.
Light steam is generated from the glowing hot stones of the sauna stove, cast iron core. The core is heated to a temperature of at least 500°C. Steam is generated by splashing hot, clean water (60°C) onto the stones at the core. When light steam is formed it makes a characteristic sound like the flap of the wings of a large bird. The steam rushes upwards towards the ceiling of the steam room and gradually descends towards the floor. The process can be accelerated by gently, slowly waving a towel or fan in movements as if scooping the steam upwards towards the people sitting on the benches.
The quality of steam depends first and foremost on the stove. Sauna stoves created by Furnace Art Engineering are guaranteed to produce light steam. In addition:
In the steam room Breathe through your nose. If it is hot, breathe in through cupped hands or through a 'venik', a bunch of leafy, aromatic twigs. Breathe out through the mouth. You should expect to sweat profusely whilst sitting in the steam room. Within 5-7 minutes, the first signs of moisture will appear on the surface of your skin. This is not sweat but condensed vapour (dew), which moisturises the skin. The body will start to actively perspire after about 10 minutes. Blood circulation roughly doubles and the pulse quickens.
Because the people in the steam room sweat, the air very quickly becomes unbreathable. This is particularly evident in a commercial sauna. Stoves produced by Furnace Art Engineering have the ability to independently ventilate the steam room, evenly and continuously. The intensity of the ventilation system is adjustable.
Finally, the most important goal of the first exposure to the steam room is to warm the body through thoroughly. Start with an exposure lasting 5 or 10 minutes, but no more. In the first exposure, avoid using the uppermost benches. Stick to the lower ones. If you want to lie down in the steam room, make sure you place your feet slightly higher than the level of your head. When you leave the steam room make sure to take a warm shower and rinse off the sweat. Drink some hot herbal tea or mineral water served at room temperature.
Caution Avoid engaging in any sauna procedures that involve contrasting temperatures of hot and cold until the body has properly warmed up (usually after the third exposure to the steam room), otherwise you run the risk of catching a cold. You can tell when the body is thoroughly warmed through because the skin loses the mottled marble pattern it first had and acquires and an overall even reddish tone. It is safe to rinse the body from a bucket of cold water after the second exposure to the steam room. Only after the third exposure to the steam room should you climb into a cold plunge pool or swim in a pool.
The third exposure to the steam room can involve 'pareniye' with a 'venik', a special thermal massage using a special sauna switch made of fragrant, leafy twigs. It is important not to let the steam room get damp, i.e. the floor and benches should be kept dry. Periodically clean the steam room of leaves and herbs.
A bowl of cold water is placed next to the area where the massage will take place so that the venik can be easily dipped and excess water shaken off when necessary.
The person receiving the massage should lie down, breathe through the nose, relax and enjoy themselves. Communicate with the person giving the massage; if you feel a burning sensation, say, 'I'm roasting', or 'more steam!', or 'harder!' etc.
If you are the person giving the massage, put on a pair of gloves, squeeze excess water from the venik, shake off any final excess liquid, make a good amount of steam and then begin working with the venik. Make sure the movements you make with the venik are smooth and rhythmic. After the first burst when the steam is still dense begin the massage 'without lifting the leaves from the person's body' beginning with the soles of the feet. Then try lifting the venik a little higher and if the person receiving the massage feels comfortable, continue with the massage. You can 'scoop up' the steam from the upper level and very carefully lower it onto the person's body. Once you have massaged one side of the person's body, begin massaging their other side and so on in turns. Make more steam when you need it.
Make more steam with clean, hot water until the air becomes hot when you reach your arm up towards the ceiling. If you want to work the venik with two hands then you'll need a second person to help. If you are massaging yourself with a venik you might need assistance to properly work the spine area.
Before receiving a massage using a venik first place a large towel down and lie on your stomach. Start with the soles of the feet and work upwards towards the shoulders. Initially the massage should consist of very light strokes. The intensity of impact can be gradually increased to slapping and light thwacks. From time to time press the venik flat onto the body for 5-10 seconds. The soles of the feet can be massaged using the handle end of the venik to made a pleasant prickly sensation.
Then turn the person receiving the massage so that they are lying on their spine. Repeat the procedure but taking care to protect the stomach area which should only be massaged with a light patting movement. A standard 'pareniye' procedure lasts for about 1-3 minutes on each side. The massage can be completed sooner or last for longer depending on how the individual feels.
When you leave the steam room you might enjoy taking a dip in the plunge pool but if you are new to the Russian banya then we recommend limiting exposure to cool water and then returning to the steam room and lying on the lower bench for 10 minutes. Try not to fall asleep! When you leave the steam room walk around a bit, take a few deep breaths, turn your arms / hands and head. Then take a warm shower. Rest for at least 10 minutes until your pulse has returned to its normal rate. Drink a little herbal tea or mineral water served at room temperature. Intervals been exposure to the steam room should last for at least 30 minutes but every individual should listen to how they feel and rest for longer if necessary. During the interval after the third sitting in the steam room it is a good idea to partake in a light snack: fruit, cheese, nuts for example, but be careful not to overdo it.
After the fourth exposure to the steam room it is beneficial to do a massage with a special massage mitten, with or without soap foam. Scrubs can be applied to the body after your last sitting in the steam room. Wonderful cosmetic, facial scrubs can be made from natural components: coffee, honey and sea salt, olive oil and fruits. Rinse the remains of the scrub from your skin once the ingredients have had time to take effect. Do not sit in the steam room whilst you are wearing a facial mask.
Every time you visit the steam room, be attentive to what your body is telling you. If you feel dizzy or find the heat too much to bear, calmly leave the steam room and take a rest. Drink a little water. Don't return to the steam room on that day. As long as the steam room isn't damp this shouldn't be an issue.
Extreme-contrast procedures When the body is warmed up, it can take anything. You can stand under a cold shower, swim in the pool or take a dip in the plunge pool. For those who love to roll in the snow after a banya, wait until after your third sitting in the steam room immediately after 'pareniye' with a 'venik'.
Completing your visit to the Russian sauna Once you have properly rested after your last exposure to the steam room, your body has cooled down and your pulse returned to normal, it is the ideal time to take a shower using shower gel, if you have not done so already. Wash off any leaves or bits of the venik that might have stuck to your body. Stand under a warm shower for about 5 minutes. Dry yourself lightly with a towel and then let your body dry naturally before getting dressed.
After your visit to the sauna, once roughly half an hour has passed, you can indulge in refreshments. Give preference to light vegetable and fish dishes. It is best to avoid strong, alcoholic drinks (although as the great Russian commander Suvorov said: "After the banya, even if you have to sell your shirt, drink!" In our opinion, one glass won't hurt). Spend the time chatting to your friends and family. You will feel rested, energised and feel renewed in health for the next few days. The Russian sauna loves you!
...Sometimes, you find that even after you've washed and dressed, you suddenly want to have another go in the steam room. Don’t hold back. Go for it!
At Furnace Art Engineering, we specialise in traditional, Russian, masonry, sauna stoves.To fully enjoy the benefits and pleasures of a Russian sauna, order one of our custom made 'turnkey' steam rooms.
'Happy Light Steam!'