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Platza description

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A treatment from Russia with love. Platza (or venik massage, to give it its proper Russian name) is a thermal massage treatment that involves the use of a leafy and fragrant bundle of birch or oak twigs (the ‘venik’ itself) which is brushed across the skin. The treatment claims to prevent skin ageing, strengthen metabolism and improve circulation, whilst relaxing the mind (be-leaf it or not).

How does it work?

The venik is made from fully grown, leafy branches of birch, oak or eucalyptus that are bound together in a dense bundle and left to soak in warm water for approximately 20 minutes. Prior to treatment, the venik is then given a second 10 minute soak in hot water to further soften the branches and to help bring out the fragrant notes.

Platza is carried out by a trained therapist at a spa, Russian baths or wellness centre in a hot, dry sauna-like room known as a ‘Schvitz’ or ‘Banya’. A session usually begins with the therapist waving the venik just above your swimsuit-clad skin to warm the surface. The branches are then pressed against your body and swept from side to side, brushing your neck down to your toes and back again.

The therapist then shakes the venik to trap more heat amongst the branches, and presses it against your waist, shoulders feet, knees and any other aching areas in an effort to compress and drive soothing heat into the joints. They then lightly brush the leaves over your skin and alternate between gentler stroking and compression techniques. Some therapists choose to firmly press the venik into your skin and rub it back and forth using circular movements before moving on to lighter strokes, but most sessions finish with two veniks being pressed into your waist and being pulled in opposite directions in order to stretch the body. You then cool down by immersing yourself in a cold plunge pool or by tipping a bucket of cold water over your head (the authentic Russian way of going about things) before showering and getting dressed.

Advocates of the method say that platza enhances the purifying health benefits of a Russian bath and that the leaves release organic phytoncides that reduce the growth and development of pathogens in the body. The massage elements are meant to improve blood flow and essential oils released through the heating process are said to reduce premature aging.

The choice of leaves is significant, and the most widely used birch and oak veniks are selected because the warmed birch aroma supposedly helps to dissolve mucus and widen lung bronchi, helping to release phlegm from the respiratory system and make breathing easier. Birch oils are said to cleanse the skin, boost dermal tanning substances, improve vitamin C and A levels, possibly strengthen hair and destroy dandruff. Phew!

Oak is meant to release essential oils that reduce oil production in greasy skin and also allegedly works as an anti-inflammatory agent, which could help spot prone skin. The oak scent is softer and is said to ease stress- pretty impressive for a bushel of twigs!

Is it for me?

If you struggle in the heat or suffer from a condition that means you are prone to falling ill in extreme heat (such as certain heart problems), then it would be best if you avoid trying platza. Children are not advised to undergo the treatment and neither are pregnant women, and if you know you are allergic to oak or birch materials, it is unlikely that it will be a pleasant experience.

There are several guidelines that anyone considering platza should adhere to:

  • Do not drink alcohol whilst in the Banya or at any stage during treatment. Alcohol and heat have a cumulative effect and this increases the load on the heart, raising the risk of coronary problems. However, in some traditional centres, a small vodka or beer after the treatment has finished and you have cooled down is encouraged.
  • Consumption of cold drinks slows down the sweating that is central to the treatment. Hot tea is a popular alternative.
  • Do not eat a massive meal before platza. The intense heat makes the blood rush from internal organs to the surface of the skin in an effort to keep you cool, and for proper digestion, the opposite is needed.
  • The Banya is not the best place for vigorous exercise. Your heart rate will already be elevated and exhaustion (as well as dehydration) is a real danger.
  • Make sure that you allow yourself plenty of rest time between the rounds in a Banya.
  • Do not throw too much water on the stones in the Banya. The optimum conditions involve a dry heat and if stones are not kept at a high enough temperature, the air becomes saturated and the humidity makes it harder to breathe.
  • Try to lie down on the benches whilst in a Banya. When standing or sitting up, the difference in temperature between the top of your head and your feet can be pretty dramatic and it is easy to feel overheated and unsteady.
  • Do not try to compete with friends or more experienced bathers during the treatment. It is dangerous to approach platza like a competition, and you should listen to your body to be able to pace yourself in the heat. If it gets too much, stop or take time to cool down and do not repeat more cycles of heating and cooling than you feel comfortable with. The same principle applies to cold water pools or the ice water buckets.

Good to know

The word ‘platza’ is Yiddish for ‘shoulders and back’ and ‘Schvitz’ means ‘sweat’.

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