One of the great pastimes in Russia is regular visitation to the banya, a distinctly Russian version of the sauna. The banya doesn't deal exclusively with wet or dry heat; it contrasts a low level of heat and humidity with higher levels, and then contrasts the high heat with shocking cold. A typical banya is divided into three parts: a heated pre-bath room with wooden pegs for clothes and benches on which to rest, a steam room where bathers flog themselves with birch leaves and a cold water post-bath. Many Russians believe regular sweats rid the body of toxins. The banya is an important part of Russian life, particularly in villages, where people will build banyas in their homes. To build one yourself only takes handiwork and knowledge of the banya essentials.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Aspen logs
- Aspen planks
- Ceramic tile
- Iron bowl
- Iron grill
- Iron stove door
Dig a pit for the after-bath pool and lay the foundation in concrete. Cover the floor in long, flat planks of aspen wood and tile the pool in ceramic. Mark where the walls will divide the pre-bath, sauna and post-bath rooms. Set the sauna room adjacent to the pre-bath.
Mortar the furnace, chimney and coal bowl along the dividing line of the pre-bath and sauna, with the coal bowl on the side of the sauna and the furnace and chimney in the pre-bath where it can heat the room. Leave an opening between the fire pit and the space underneath the coal bowl so that the fire can heat the coals in the sauna. Bolt the iron door onto the furnace opening.
Build walls in and around the banya with logs of aspen wood. Make sure the logs are packed together tightly to keep the chambers well-insulated. Board the ceiling with planks to encapsulate the structure.
Build benches into the wall of the sauna at different levels of height so that you can move among varied temperatures and comfort levels. Furnish the pre-bath chamber with standalone benches and a table, whatever furniture you think will maximise your comfort. Fill your pool; it should stay cool located low to the ground and in a room separate from the heating source.
Tips and warnings
- Build your banya in your basement and it will remain well-insulated.
- Change the water in your post-bath pool regularly to keep it sanitary.
- Add an additional bedroom to the banya and you can further relax or rent the space as a lover's retreat.
- Spread a little bit of water on the floor of the pre-bath and you will be able to work up a lesser humidity in that room to prepare you for the sauna.
- Keep birch branches in the sauna. These are smacked against the body to forcefully massage the muscles.
- Electronics like TVs are typically safe to use in the pre-bath, but never keep any exposed wiring in the wet environment of the banya.
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