Sauna Talk: Alex Blyashuk brings banya action to Buffalo, NY and beyond

Please welcome Alex Blyashuk to the Sauna Talk podcast. Though sauna in Belarus is quite popular, Alex, a native of Belarus, didn’t grow up with sauna (or banya as it is called in his home country) but discovered the Russian style sauna experience through several road trips from his hometown in Buffalo, NY up to Toronto, Canada. Alex and his buddies would pack up their car, often on Fridays, head over the Peace Bridge, through Fort Erie, Ontario and up the QE Parkway to experience the heat, steam, and venik treatment action at a public banya in Toronto.

Alex’s experiences at the Russian Banya in Toronto were formative. In our chat, you’ll hear more about the venik treatments, their relaxations between hot room sessions, and how they’d try to stay awake driving back from Toronto to Buffalo afterwards.

Alex’s mobile sauna

Alex constructed his first mobile sauna, in Eastern Europe tradition. Here we have a modified barrel concept where, instead of round, the walls are vertical, giving the interior space a more conventional feel, while at the same time rolling steam and “demassing the hot room” as many pros like to call it.

Alex “on the road again” with his mobile sauna for some venik action.

During our chat, you will hear how deeply these banya experiences affected him. So much so, in fact, that Alex has pivoted his career to sauna full time.

Alex is especially impassioned towards the venik steam tradition. To the unfamiliar, venik treatment involves administering an elaborate whisking procedure on a guest, as the lay on their back, and then rotating onto their front (or vice versa) while they lay on the sauna bench. My 88 year old mother partook in it as well. She was blown away by her venik treatment.

Rita Auerbach, 88, meeting age requirement for venek treatment.

Our venik treatment

I have had venik treatments before, but never to this level. Alex is a pro, from start to finish. The venik treatment involves steam from the sauna stove, hot and cold water, some essences like eucalyptus (from the leaves themselves, never oils), and the key: several different whisks, which are bound branches of supple tree limbs of different species.

The Venik treatment is different than the Finnish vahta primarily in that the Finns most often use the birch whisk on themselves, casually, while sitting on the bench. Sure, one may offer to wack a friend a few times, but nothing like what happens with “Dr. Alex” as his “patient” lies flat on the hot room bench. It’s all trust, as Dr. Alex orchestrates the process. Steam, heat, ventilation.. a maestro of sensations. Dr Alex at the controls.

First place

This past summer, Alex traveled to Russia to compete in an international tournament for venik treatment instructors. He took first place in the amateur division. Master Kazan!

Alex Blyashuk. Winner of Russian Venek contest, Moscow, Russia, 2021.
Father son discuss the subtleties of birch, oak, and other venek whisks

The experience was other worldly. Alex was an expert in the process. He is completely tuned into the different species of tree limbs to create different veniks (or whisks), as well as bringing in the essences from nature, in a well thought out choreographed process. In this episode, you will get to know the features of the different tree species. Their qualities and nuances.

Glenn and Alex post banya venik action. Note the post sauna radiant glow.

Three’s the charm

I had many “take aways” from my venik treatment and our Sauna Talk podcast. One of them is how draining the treatment is for the giver. It’s easy to lay flat on the sauna bench and take it, but it’s another thing to stand in the hot room and administer the action. A sauna master is whipping around the veniks in the heat. Heart racing, blood pumping, sweat pouring. Often, Alex tells us, it’s good to have three people on the program. One flat on the bench, one standing, administering, and another outside, on the on deck circle, waiting for a tag team from his partner, to hand off the wisks to the next guy.

For many of us, sitting on the sauna bench is enough. For others, in the Latvian Pirts tradition, laying down on the bench and submitting to Alex’s correographed venik treatment may be, as my Mom said, “just what the doctor ordered.”

Please welcome Alex Blyashuk to Sauna Talk!

Alex “on the road again” bringing venek treatment to the masses.

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