hind me, and then Janis began raking birch twigs over my skin. It got more and more vigorous until it culminated in a manic, highspeed thwacking.
Janis, who in the great heat had also taken his top off, was hitting me like his hourly stipend of protein shakes depended on it. I wasn’t in pain, but it was forceful.
The thwacking subsided and I was led back to the bucket. Slosh. Aargh! Then I was guided up some steps to a little plunge pool, which Janis told me to get into. Like the bucket water, it was incredibly cold, but probably just what my homeostasis needed. I emerged feeling like I had new lungs.
Like a three-course meal ending with something sweet, my three-part massage concluded with a honey and sea salt scrub. As with the parenie, it took place in the sauna room. Janis began with my calves, firmly rubbing the rough, sticky mixture into my weary, reddened flesh, the idea being that the exfoliation removes dead skin cells and the honey nourishes the layer beneath. I licked my arm when Janis left the room and found said lick initially enjoyable but too salty to merit a reprise. The massage was over and Janis recommended I relax in the sauna for another five-to-seven minutes before crawling back out, hosing myself down again, and, once back in the lounge area, ordering myself a kvass, which is a fermented Russian drink made from rye bread.
Having slowly washed and changed, I left the banya feeling somewhat raw, but, on balance, more relaxed than when I’d entered. Going alone didn’t prevent me from enjoying the (possible) bodily benefits: parenie is supposed to stimulate blood circulation and relieve stress and joint pain. David Colquhoun, an emeritus professor of pharmacology at University College London, was sceptical when I put these claims to him afterwards. “The perfect hobby for sado-masochists,” he said. “Just don’t expect it to cure anything.”
Going in a group, as is the norm here and in Russia, probably would have made it feel less surreal and more sociable. Should I ever come again, I’ll bring friends, particularly those whom I’d like to see flayed. A Russian-style saunacum-bath-house. From the ancient Greek balineion, or “bathing
A thermal massage that is administered by beating you with leafy, fragrant bundles of twigs.
Literally “broom” – one of the said leafy and fragrant bundles of twigs.
Banya No1, 17 Micawber St, Hoxton, London N1 7TB. gobanya.co.uk; 020 7253 6723