Announcing Sauna Times’ Public Sauna of the Month for October: The Banya House, just south of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, USA. Owners Dan and Anya work hard to provide guests with an authentic Slavic banya experience, including a relaxing body massage with Veniks (described in more detail below.)
Evolution from Private Sauna to Public Banya
The road to The Banya House began just over three years ago when Dan rented a mobile barrel sauna for a friend’s birthday. The guest of honor and attendees had an awesome weekend and made great memories. Dan and Anya loved hosting the group on their property and building community with those around them while sharing enjoyment of the sauna and outdoors. Dan talked to his father, a builder by trade, about fabricating a mobile sauna and dad was on-board immediately.
Dan and Anya didn’t really envision starting a business, though they did consider it a possible backup option and way to perhaps offset some of the construction costs. But as they spent the first year enjoying many, many family and friend sweats, Dan and Anya saw possibilities for something greater. The region offered numerous options for typical sauna rental, but these people were missing out. Dan had a vision to revive the banya experience from his childhood, to bring back the forgotten trade of banya by a steam master, a service that provides great health benefits and better relaxation than simply sweating in a hot room trailer someone dropped off in the driveway. Dan and Anya began a transition and have now evolved The Banya House into an experience like no other.
Good Banya = Lower Temp, Higher Humidity
A major difference between sauna and banya is the temperature / humidity combo. The Finns generally keep their saunas hotter and drier than banya. And while a sauna session is punctuated by occasional blasts of steam when bathers throw water on the rocks, the banya humidity (steaminess) level is typically much more consistent. Dan strives for a temperature between 120 F and 140 F (50 C – 60 C) with humidity around 60%. T
o achieve this climate, he not only adds water to the rocks on the stove, but also sprays the walls, benches, and ceiling of his hot room with water. The more gradual evaporation from all surfaces helps taper the moisture level in the banya. He had to learn to manipulate the room, heat, and ventilation to find just the perfect balance.
Dan also starts the fire several hours before his guests arrive so the heat has time to penetrate deep into all the surfaces and materials of the banya. While most saunas can be “ready” in 30 to 60 minutes, it takes longer for all the mass of the hot room to reach the temperature of the air and Dan finds that patience pays off in creating the banya’s atmosphere; heat radiates into the body from every direction.
Now it must be said that many a Slavic banya-goer prefers significantly higher temperatures than Dan maintains for the visitors to The Banya House. Dan sees this sort of banya bather as somewhat of a masochist; combined with the higher moisture levels in a banya, higher heat creates an environment Dan describes as “a little piece of hell.” The Banya House aims to provide a more gentle and relaxing style of Banya, a less oppressive environment that better enables realization of the health benefits.
A Guided Journey to Banya Bliss
Unlike many public sauna facilities, The Banya House isn’t simply a self-service sweat. Dan guides guests through the entire experience, providing both information and light massage with bundles of leafy twigs, called Veniks. The recipient lies on the bench, which is relaxing but also keeps all of their body in the same “climate zone” with regard to temperature and humidity. As Venik Master Dan creates a rhythm by which he whisks and stimulates the skin using revived ancient techniques. This method also circulates the air and steam in the room, and even adds an element of aromatherapy.
Venik treatment requires focus, endurance and occasional intense outbursts of energy, sometimes requiring Dan spend several hours in the hot room. He typically hosts 2 to 4 guests per session and spends significant time with each individual. Dan has to watch his hydration, energy level, and body cues carefully and usually spends a couple days recovering fully. But it’s a labor of love and he considers it well worth it.
Anya in the house
The banya cycle mirrors sauna: heat up, cool down, rest, repeat. And in that rest phase Anya’s contribution to The Banya House experience becomes most evident. Guests enjoy herbal tea, hand-blended by Anya. She also speaks with visitors to teach awareness of one’s body and how it functions in response to banya. Anya advocates for wholesome use of herbs, especially for the tea and aromatherapy guests experience at The Banya House.
A cup of Anya’s tea made with the mineral-rich local groundwater makes the perfect rehydration beverage between and following visits to the hot room. Combining Dan’s work in the sauna and Anya’s efforts on the other side of the door we’re impressed with how well The Banya House delivers on their mission statement:
“Our aim is to invite harmony into the body and mind. Utilizing nature & earth elements: fire, water, air. To bring awareness that given the right conditions, the body is able to heal and restore itself. Knowledge is easy to him who understands.” ~D&A
So if we’ve piqued your interest and your home is close enough to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota (or travel plans bring you there,) be sure to contact The Banya House and book your visit for a relaxing, restorative, and unique banya experience. Dan and Anya’s efforts have surely put The Banya House on the map.
Coming in 2024: Banya Fest
And if all this weren’t reason enough to name The Banya House our Public Sauna of the Month, at press time Dan and Anya are finalizing plans for Banya Fest, a new celebration of all things Banya. This year’s invite-only inaugural eventwill serve as a proof-of-concept and trial run, but watch for news in the about a future Banya Fest event, open to the public and likely to occur in the Fall of 2024!