I am a self-proclaimed spa junkie. Whether I’m fortunate enough to be in a plush terry robe at a fancy resort or jumping into cold plunges at a Korean Spa in a stripmall or simply relaxing in my own bathtub with essential oils and salt in the water and clay on my face – I am a happy girl. I love to soak, sweat, get scrubbed and rubbed and shined ’til my skin glows and my muscles feel like jello. I would rather a spa visit in my birthday suit than a fancy dress and party any day.
One of my absolute favorite discoveries here in Denver is a place called Izba Spa. It is a traditional Russian banya spa located conveniently walking distance from my house. The massage therapists there, mostly Russian men, do deep sports massage and therapeutic bodywork. It can feel like a bit of a butt-kicking, but the effects are worth it. Apparently Izba therapists are the official team masseurs for the Avalanche hockey team.
In honor of my husband’s half-birthday (every couple has their quirky thing, one of ours is being very celebratory and silly over half-birthdays), we went to Izba for an hour and a half of serious heat and beatings.
You go down into the basement of a regular building to find yourself in a dark area with wooden walls, traditional Russian art and, this time, a documentary about Leo Tosltoy playing (last time it was Best of SNL: Will Farrell, so who knows). You are escorted back to a room covered with beautiful murals and told to disrobe for 15 minutes of soaking. There is a hot tub full of very hot, pure and non-chemically water. The music is distinctly Slavic, no pan pipes and zen waterfalls here.
You soak and sweat and then drink a little water before moving onto the massage tables. An hour long deep-tissue massage awaits you. Your body is already warm, relaxed and receptive so the therapists make little courtesy with gentle opening strokes – they go right in for the heavy stuff.
Immediately after your rub down, you are led into the banya sauna. The humidity is just right, the heat is not too dry. You lay face down in a wooden sauna of 170 degrees. For the next 15 minutes or so, one of the therapists will pop in occasionally (wearing a felted grey cap for some reason) to douse the hot sauna rocks with water infused with essential oils. Peppermint, pine, eucalyptus and lavender. Your sinuses blow open, you sweat like crazy, your lungs are expanding with the heat and oils and you feel like you are turning into toast but it’s not done yet.
Your therapist comes into the sauna with bundles of dried oak branches. They dip the branches in a bucket of water, quickly warm them above the rocks and then begin to rhythmically and vigorously beat your body starting with your legs and moving up. It’s a bit shocking, but rather exhilarating. Once when I was there the therapist jokingly said, “It costs extra for me to say, You’ve been a naughty naughty girl.” which left my mother and I in absolute hysterics.
After a solid beating, your skin tingly and alive, you get a layer of unfiltered honey spread on your entire backside to moisturize and draw out toxins (another great quote, better in a Russian accent of course, “You get very hot and now you get sweet.”). The finale to the ritual is a cold bucket of water splashed all over your body which feels absolutely incredible after that amount of heat you’re experiencing.
A warm shower awaits you before you return to the welcoming area for a cup of herbal tea and cold crisp slices of apple. It is so divine.
This experience, as well as reading Tolstoy of course, makes me want to go to Russia ASAP.
Of course, as a spa junkie, I love experiencing the different therapeutic treatments and bathing rituals of different cultures. I’ve been to Korean spas, Japanese baths, Ayurvedic clinics, Turkish style baths, European mineral water springs, Southwestern hot springs, good old fashioned Swedish saunas and beyond. All of which are fantastic of course, but right now, I am so a Banya girl!
Have you ever been to a Russian banya? What’s your favorite type of spa treatment (diy or otherwise)?
Love and blessings,