The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - BODY MIND -


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. gob­; 020 7253 6723

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