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Among the many investigators of natural remedies for health and wellness, the use of Banya is becoming more common. This traditional Russian treatment has long been established in its country of origin (dating back as far is the mid 900’s AD, possibly earlier by some accounts) but in recent years has found its way to England and Japan. For those seeking chemical free treatment, Banya has become quite popular. Banya (which refers to the treatment as well as the structure in which it takes place) is the use of dry and moist heat to cleanse the body’s systems. The most important ingredient in the process is the steam master, of which Alexander Baybarin is one of the most notable in the world. Dmitry Belyaev founded ArtKelo in 2009 and approached Baybarin to help him design this revolutionary approach to Banya. ArtKelo was established in Northern part of the Karelian republic of Russia, inside the Arctic Circle. The Dry Standing Arctic Pine (known as KELO) essential to this new approach is found most commonly in this region. Artkelo employed Alexander to advise them on the best way to create this banya to be established as a commercial project, develop the program, in addition to recruiting and training the staff. As one of the most established and revered steam masters in all of Russia, Baybarin was the linchpin to this groundbreaking approach and company.

 Artkelo gains its name from the building material. Kelo buildings are made from wood that has died and dried out while still standing. It is often more than 70 years old, during which time the cells in the wood become inedible to the fungi, molds, and bacteria that are responsible for their decay. This is ideal for Banya treatments because it means that Kelo wood does not rot and is thus advantageous for Banya’s extensive use of moisture. Kelo does not rot in the wet environment of the Banya. Strong chemicals and antiseptics that are not ecological are not needed to help preserve this environment, adding to its natural and organic methodology.

Artkelo cofounder Dmitry Belyaev approached Baybarin based on his respect in Russia as one of the most talented and knowledgeable steam masters. Alexander has designed the Banya treatments as well as cooperated in the design of numerous successful Banyas in Russia. Belyaev wanted to create a space which was both efficient and conducive to the therapists giving a treatment experience that was unrivaled. One of the most essential components of Alexanders plan was the ergonomics of space. The size and shape of the treatment room is essential; what kind of treatment benches and furniture will be used, where they are positioned, and what distances they should be between one another and walls. This is extremely difficult since herbal infusions need to be made and leafy green bundles of twigs need to be soaked in cold water at least an hour before the Banya is ready. In addition, the Banya therapist needs to regularly shower after he does a treatment in order to always look and feel fresh. The movement and comfortability of both guests and staff were paramount in the design which Alexander created for Arteklo.

With the increasing popularity of Banya, some of the original intent has been altered. This is an effect which Baybarin rejects as he communicates, “In some situations it has become very superficial. It is often connected with fitness clubs that allow the drinking of alcohol inside. This is not the true meaning of Banya. Fortunately, there are great masters and Banya visionaries who are developing a healthier and deeper way of understanding what is true Banya. I am quite sure that because of us and other people this proper understanding of Banya has become more popular. It has become easier to find good steam masters who understand the meaning of the treatment and a proper steam room. They are deeply connected; the right way of building Banya and right way of using it.”

Alexander Baybarin is a positive dichotomy. He is fiercely loyal and protective of the tradition of Russian Banya yet he is forward thinking enough to utilize modern approaches and ideas. The essence of the natural approach of Banya and its benefits to the human body, mind, and spirit are the focus of this steam master who is quickly becoming the ambassador of Russian Banya to the world.

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