When my friend told me that she was having her birthday party at a Russian bath house, I was expecting to do some shvitzing, swimming, and relaxing. I didn’t expect to be beaten with burning hot leaves and then dunked into a pool of freezing water by an old, fat Russian man wearing a funny hat.
The birthday girl was like, “I dare you to try venik,” and, being as that I can’t refuse a dare, I agreed even though I had no idea what I was agreeing to.
I was ushered into a 200 degree sauna, where an old, fat Russian man wearing a wool cap began to beat me me, YES, beat me, with a bundle of oak tree leaves. When I started to scream that it was burning, he rushed me out to a freezing cold shower and dunked my head under until I was gasping for air. Then yelled, in his accent, “Cold dunk,” which meant I had to submerge myself in a pool of 38 degree water. To give you a point of reference, imagine rolling around in a snow bank naked. It was so cold my skin was stinging. Then he marched me back to the sweltering, hot sauna to be beat again with leaves. Rinse and repeat five times.
I know, this sounds straight out of Fifty Shades — at least I think it does, I haven’t read it yet. But I’ve heard about the Red Room of Pain. I’m sure the characters do something similar in there. Don’t they? This kinky sounding treatment is called venik. I’ve included a video about the practice below, so you can get a visual of what I experienced. But my guy was much less gentle. Venik is considered an essential part of the traditional Russian spa and is said to improve circulation and metabolism and kill pathogens. Yeah, great, you’re thinking, but why would one subject themselves to that … without the promise of sex?
Well, I’m going to be totally honest and say that it was one of the more brutal physical experiences that I’ve ever been through. My skin was burning, numb from cold, I could barely breath, my heart was racing. It was scary. But it made me feel so alive. When I was done with my leaf beating/ cold immersion session about 20 minutes later, the fat, old Russian dude wrapped me in towels and instructed, “Sit 10 minute.”
I sat there is a state of euphoria unlike any I’ve been able to achieve before, even when I was doing yoga five days a week. No massage or body scrub or day at the beach or meditation session or orgasm has ever left me so freaking relaxed. When I emerged from my post-venik haze, the birthday girl laughed. “I’ve never seen you this relaxed in your whole life.” She’s known me since I was five, so she can say that. That’s why a person would subject herself to venik. For the pure bliss that follows.