An important part of a Russian Banya bath is the application of a Venik Massage. The Venik, used during massage sessions in the Banya, is a bundle of sorghum straws (grass family) or birch, eucalyptus, or oak tree twigs and leaves tied together.
Apart from its use in a Banya massage session (one beats with the leaves or twigs on the body of the receiver), the Venik is simply used as a common floor broom.
Traditionally, the Russian Banya is a steam bath heated with a wood stove, already mentioned in the 9th century CE and very popular throughout the centuries, up to today. The bath takes place in a small room or building, and can be a dry (sauna-like) or wet (steam) heat session, making bathers perspire for relaxation and health benefits. The Banya can be a private facility at home or a public bathhouse.
Usually the Venik session is the second part of the Banya bathing ritual. After the sauna or steam bath, one lies down and receives a “beating” (or “whipping”) with the Venik, which is typically done along the spine, legs and chest. Additionally, the masseur also presses on the body with the Venik bundle to aid in releasing beneficial sap of the leaves and twigs (if fresh leaves are used). By the way, you can also whip yourself.
The idea behind the Venik treatment session is to increase heat in the body with the goal of stimulating blood circulation, metabolism, and body detoxification. Moreover, the Venik leaves and twigs release substances and essential oils, which combat harmful bacteria and other pathogens, but also aid in prevention of premature aging of the skin.
After the Venik “massage,” usually a cold bath is taken to give an extra boost to one’s blood circulation and to increase energy levels.