Traditions often seem like stubborn relics of the past, used as excuses to cling to outdated ways without considering their downsides. "It's a tradition" – a phrase used often, needing no further explanation or justification.
However, my journey led me to disconnect from this mentality. I've come to believe that any tradition causing more harm than joy should be abandoned.
Living in the West for many years, I had forgotten one tradition, until it was reintroduced to me: the Russian banya.
At first glance, the banya might appear absurd. Picture this: a group of naked men, clad only in wool hats and gloves resembling oven mitts, wielding veniks (leafy twigs), in a tight room heated to 120 C°. To an outsider, it's bizarre.
But with time, I began to understand its charm.
The banya seems to be one of the few places where men are allowed to be vulnerable. Bare, in front of strangers, there's a unique form of connection. In contrast to the West, where words are often plentiful but say little, the banya's brief exchanges are meaningful. Men yearn for these moments, eagerly awaiting the chance to share a few loaded sentences with a banya companion.
They might not know much about each other, but in the banya, they're buddies. Short sentences are exchanged with hidden joy. "Should I bring more heat?" "Yes, it's like a morgue here" another replied, with a thermometer reading 110 C° and a shy smile.
The heat brings a burning sensation, followed by waves of goosebumps – a balanced blend of pain, struggle, and pleasure.
Afterwards, the skin looks almost radiated – blotchy with whites and reds. Yet, there's a feeling of being spent, satisfied, and somehow renewed. Stress and negative thoughts vanish without effort.
The banya, for the stoic Russian man, is more than just a bath – it's a social event, a health retreat, and a place of bonding.
In conclusion, this masculine tradition shouldn't just continue; it should be embraced and spread. The Western world could learn the economy of words and the value of these precious moments of human connection from the Russian banya.