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Meet, heat, treat, and repeat!

Postcards from the Touch(less) Edge - Post 1, by Alina M Hernandez & Erin Lee


A true immersive guest journey of the best kind!


Nestled in the heart of London’s Belgravia, is a hidden gem of a true immersive Wellness experience – a touch(less) and touch spa journey of the best kind! Stepping into the London Bath House is like time-travel, a cultural download, and a supercharged wellness experience all rolled into one!


The Bath House is no ordinary spa by any means. Redesigned as an urban Banya (Russian for Bath House), the site was originally a bank, tucked just behind Buckingham Palace. We loved everything about our experience, and we thought to make it our first Touchless Postcard as it is an extraordinary example of a Wellness tradition that has roots over 2,000 years old, works both with and without a therapist, and represents a knowledge that we have known about for many centuries – the benefits of heat, cold, and being social – all under one roof. Here’s what to expect.


Let’s Meet!


After passing through a friendly and speedy reception, make a pit stop at the locker room to don your authentic Banya sheet (fashionistas will have fun getting creative on how they wear it) and “Banya hat” or “Banya Bonnet.”


Make your way to your reserved place in the lounge – and get ready to get social! The entire place is designed with different Russian epochs as inspiration, and the lounge seating is designed as train booths from the Soviet era. The food and beverage menu has been very intentionally designed to include drinks that detox, and food that supports the need for nourishment when doing banya circuits.



Getting social is easy when the welcoming team greets you with big smiles and delicious home-made food. The place is primed for conversation and anticipation with lively posters on the wall representing different memes or vignettes from life during this time.


The Banya is conceived as a place to relax and revitalize with friends, and for hundreds of years people have shared food and laughter at banyas across Russia, the Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe.

 

Turn up the Heat


The Bath House invites you to “choose the flow,” from the oak-lined parilka (banya heat room) to the buckets of cold water that come rushing down as if submerging under an icy waterfall. From there, step into the shower where getting clean is serious business – (the first sweat is deemed the ‘dirty sweat’ so soap is important to clean the impurities[AH1]  off the body) important to continue the circuit and flow. From here back to the parilka (banya steam sauna) where traditional rituals of the parenie leaf rituals elevate the experience from the secular to the sacred.



Treat with cold water


Return to the buckets, and then it’s time to take the plunge! Yes, submerging into the icy water will relieve and invigorate you. And after you’ve repeated this circuit at least two more times, it’s back to the lounge for more drink, some food and conversation with friends old and new. The banya experiences nudges and invites more connection.

Ready to go for touch, try the famous Soap Massage, scrub, clay or seaweed wrap or even a traditional massage for a traditional hands-on spa experience.

Finish your flow relaxing on a bed of hay (yes, the ones for horses) complete with a salt wall – and instant relaxation and ease is yours to have. Repeat tomorrow, the day after or whenever your schedule permits. Tuesdays are men only days, and Thursdays are ladies’ turn.

 

Repeat that please!



We thought there’s a bit of unpacking to do here about what makes a banya experience unique, so here’s some specs and technicalities for everyone from the pro to the curious.


It’s in the water:


  • Those familiar with traditional Finnish sauna, know they are constructed with kiln dried timber to the walls with 2-3 tiers of benches (the lower benches being cooler, the higher more intense heat).  Temperature will soar from 80-100 degrees Celsius at the top bench and there is a lower humidity of 10-20% in the room.


  • In contrast, the traditional steam room has a tile or stone clad insulated and water-tight room producing very high humidity 95-100%, but lower temperatures of around 40-50 degrees Celsius. 


  • Synonymous with the “hamam” which, translates as “bathroom” in Turkish and refers to the entire Turkish bathhouse, not just a single room, the banya is the same, referring to the entire structure or building with a number of different rooms. Both harmoniously encourage weaving together authentic experiences and treatments.  Within the banya you will find the “parilka,” the room that looks like a sauna (think log cabin with a rustic feel) and has a big stove (often a focal point, clad in traditional ceramics) where large amounts of water can be added.  The adding of water is done to increase the steam and humidity within the room, often applied during a ritual. Often the more traditional parilka will have a stove that is wood burning, with access hatches from outside the room to keep the room free from smoke.


  • The balance of humidity and temperature is crucial in the Parilka. The parilka master maintains this balance by adjusting the door and using large handheld fans or branches to circulate the air. Due to the high humidity (around 50%), the Parilka's temperature is typically lower than that of a traditional sauna, usually around 65-75 degrees Celsius.  This means it lies somewhere in between the sauna and steam room.  This balance of heat and humidity is very important – imagine an old-fashioned set of weighing scales, with humidity on one side and temperature on the other. As one increases, the other decreases, maintaining a delicate and important balance. Excessive heat combined with high humidity needs to be controlled properly.


  • To help feel more comfortable within the Parilka, a “banya hat” or “Banya bonnet” is provided. Made from wool felt, and available in different shapes and colours, the guest can pull the hat down over the eyes providing some respite against the intense heat.


  • The Circuit: The Parilka heat with the Parenie Ritual uses bunches of dried branches and leaves from white birch, pine, oak and eucalyptus called banny venik or veniks. They are soaked in hot water to release their aroma and soften them for use in the treatment. Once supple, eucalyptus, for example, is also placed in cold water and put over your head to keep you cool during a treatment. Birch and oak are typically used to move the steam around and massage the body. Oak is prized for its rich and deep aroma and the tannin and flavonoids in the large leaves have anti-inflammatory qualities, while birch has a subtle minty fragrance, anti-bacterial properties and the smaller leaves promote exfoliation.


Water plays a crucial role here as well. Exposure to intense temperatures causes sweating and detoxification, making it essential to drink plenty of water. This helps rehydrate the body and supports the detoxification process.


Our big TOUCHLESS take-aways


Why did we choose to do our first postcard about a banya experience? It doesn’t include any technology, does it? In fact, a closer look tells us otherwise. Remember technology just means the “artful application” of knowledge and the Bathhouse Banya is just that!


This bath house has united some key components for today’s meaningful and memorable spa experiences, curating an authentic guest journey by transporting us to a bathing tradition that is at once historic and is right at home in today’s society.


The scholar Ethan Pollack’s comprehensive history of the Russian banya, “Without the Banya We Would Perish,” traced its origins to the shores of the Black Sea to 440 B.C. He wrote of the banya’s “essential functions – cleaning, purifying, and establishing community.” At the heart of this millenary Wellness tradition is something that we all know, “the Salus per acquam” is alive and well across the world – and especially - in the heart of London.


We loved the Bathhouse because it is a perfect example of three megatrends coming to life in an engaging, authentic and truly memorable way. It combines the post-modern rendition of the Urban bathhouse, the megawatt benefits of hot/cold contrast experiences with Social Wellness – authentic, immersive, exciting, and socially engaging from the world of Touchless!


“Post-Bath House Guest Journey, relaxed, rejuvenated, and happy – from left to right: Erin, Lee, Karina Solomoko and Alina Hernandez

 

Note: We want to give a special thanks to Alex Lazarev and Karina for the invitation to explore the wonderful world of the Banya! Some of the images above are also provided courtesy of The Bath House.


Till next time…



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