Re­lax­ing doesn’t get tougher than this

Tom Ough did his bit for An­glo-Rus­sian re­la­tions by agree­ing to a mas­sage that was more in­tense than ex­pected

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - BODY MIND -

Re­lax­ation is a cu­ri­ous thing, I mused from be­neath a white, Smurf-style hat as a bearded body­builder pum­melled my naked back with steam­ing birch twigs. I felt like I was be­ing beaten up by a large tree in a rain­storm. I felt like Basil Fawlty’s car (“I’ve laid it on the line for you time and time again!”). And that’s be­fore I had to roll over so that the body­builder could do my torso too. Oh, and this was hap­pen­ing in a very hu­mid sauna. And after the mas­sage – for that is what it was – I was in­vited to splash a bucket of cold wa­ter over my­self. Brrr! I mean: mmm!

All this was tak­ing place in Banya No 1, a Rus­sian spa in East Lon­don. “Banya” is a Rus­sian term mean­ing some­thing along the lines of a sauna, and Banya No1, which has been vis­ited by lu­mi­nar­ies in­clud­ing Kate Moss, Justin Bieber and Emilia Clarke, is the pre-em­i­nent banya in Lon­don.

It’s a good time to visit, not only be­cause An­glo-Rus­sian re­la­tions could do with some thaw­ing, but also be­cause new re­search, con­ducted by sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Jyväskylä, the Univer­sity of East­ern Fin­land, and the Univer­sity of Bris­tol, has found that sauna bathing may be linked to health ben­e­fits, from re­duc­ing the risk of heart dis­ease to im­prov­ing the con­di­tion of peo­ple with arthri­tis, as well as mak­ing par­tic­i­pants more likely to live longer.

Banya No1 claims in its pro­mo­tional lit­er­a­ture that its treat­ment is bet­ter than a Fin­nish sauna, be­cause the air in its steam room is more hu­mid and so less shock­ing for the bare skin en­coun­ter­ing it. My own bare skin, no friend of high tem­per­a­tures, agreed.

Be­fore I’d got to the sauna, though, I’d had my first brush, if that’s the right word, with a venik, a bun­dle of birch and eu­ca­lyp­tus twigs and leaves with place”. which I was soon to be beaten. Once I’d ar­rived at the spa, I was given a sudsy body wash on a cool mas­sage ta­ble, with Ja­nis, the mus­cle-bound ban­shik, giv­ing lit­tle in­di­ca­tion that the venik with which he was brush­ing me would shortly be re­pur­posed as weapons of war.

Fol­low­ing the mas­sage, I was frog­marched to a tiled area with two buck­ets hang­ing over­head. Ropes hung from the buck­ets. Ja­nis in­structed me with patchy, soft-spo­ken English to pull one of the ropes, and icy wa­ter cas­caded over me. I was ready for pare­nie.

Pare­nie is the hot, per­cus­sive mas­sage to which I re­ferred ear­lier. Ja­nis led me, trem­bling, to a wood-lined sauna room, where he had me lie on an­other mas­sage ta­ble, this one much warmer. I was face down, with my head rest­ing on damp, warm birch leaves, cov­ered by eu­ca­lyp­tus (the Smurf hat was to pre­vent my head get­ting hot too quickly). There was some rustling be-

BAN­SHIK

The Rus­sian mas­sage ther­a­pists who’ll beat you with veniki over the course of your pare­nie in the banya. Vy pon­i­maete? (do you un­der­stand?)

BE NOT A-FLAYED Tom Ough with Ja­nis, main, and a bucket shower, right

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