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In the age-old quest to halt the signs of aging, American women seem to be willing to try just about anything including harsh chemicals, surgeries, expensive serums—even skin creams containing gold!
But at the end of the day, many of us find ourselves looking into the mirror, straining to see the slightest sign that anything has actually worked.
We are obsessed with halting the signs of aging. Though there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look younger, it’s important to understand there’s a limit to what products can do, and surgeries can be risky. We’ve all seen the pictures of the cosmetic surgery addicts and none of it is pretty.
I used to wonder if women in other countries were as age-obsessed as American women. I have not travelled extensively outside of the U.S, other than a trip to a family wedding in Italy. But I have a close friend from Slovakia and also helped host a group of visiting Russian teachers when I worked as a fundraiser for an international center.
The thing that struck me about my Slovakian friend and the Russian teachers was their natural beauty. The teacher’s ages ranged from their early 30s to early 50s. They came from different areas of Russia, but most talked of harsh winters. And despite this, their skin was porcelain-like and beautiful. They wore very little make-up, and when they did it was just a bit of lipstick for a finishing touch.
The ladies in their 50s had the same youthful glow as the younger teachers too, which I found fascinating. Of course I had to ask them how they maintained their radiant skin. And that’s when I learned about the Russian banya.
The banya is a steam bathhouse, and for Russians, it is a centuries-old tradition practiced to boost the immune system for the cold winters ahead. But my Russian friends revealed it also holds beauty secrets as well—revealed in this old Russian proverb: The day you spend in the banya is the day you do not age.
Detoxify and destress to beautify
The banyas have a few different rooms including the parnaya, a steam room similar to a sauna where you sit on wooden benches while the steam opens pores allowing you to sweat out impurities and stress. A good old-fashioned steaming is followed by a cold shower, and then the whole process is repeated at least one more time.
While steaming and relaxing, Russian women enjoy a yogurt and honey facial. It’s a simple as it sounds. You simply mix honey and yogurt and slather it onto your skin. Then just lick it from your fingers—no yucky chemicals!
To combat cellulite, coffee grounds are available to be massaged into problem areas while you steam.
Next comes a “no pain-no-gain” ritual many Americans may find odd. After steaming and showering, a specialist gently flogs your body with a “bath broom.” These are brooms made of bundles of leafy twigs of birch, eucalyptus, oak, maple, or birch. The brooms are dipped in cold water and briskly smacked against your body and are reported to have a detoxifying effect.
Next stop would be the predbannik. In this room, people gather to sip on herbal teas, relax and talk to each other—something most Americans would never consider doing with complete strangers. And no one carries their smart phone with them.
The bayna seems magical, but its benefits are really quite sensible if you think about it, and I can definitely see how more Americans could benefit from a similar experience.
The Russian people believe the banya helps them fight sickness and the steam makes their skin soft and smooth. It reduces stress. It removes impurities and toxins.
It is said that the banya experience brings people together. I imagine the entire experience would be quite spiritually and physically rejuvenating. And if that doesn’t make your skin glow, I’m not sure what would.
At-home banya experience
Creating your own banya experience wouldn’t be very difficult at all. Here are my tips. All you need is some quiet time at home to pull it off:
- While running a hot shower, sit on a towel at the edge of the tub. Place a relaxing eucalyptus-scented aromatherapy tablet under the running water. You can find these at most drug stores.
- After steaming, take a cool, refreshing shower.
- After showering, make your own yogurt and honey mask. Wrap your hair in a towel and apply the mask. Use plain, unsweetened yogurt and local honey if available.
- Sip a cup of calming chamomile in a quiet room of the house, while your mask rejuvenates your skin.
- When done, top the experience off with a good night’s sleep.
- Make time to experience your own personal banya at least twice monthly.