Well, that is what I call it. They call it a healthy, relaxing experience (aka the banya). For those who don't know what a banya is, it is a public bath (men and women are separated, of course). Once you pay you are taken into a locker room where you are told to strip everything. Then they put you into a superheated room and keep you in there until you collaspe of heat exhaustion. They then drag your overheated body out and throw a bucket of ice cold water on it, jump-starting your heart.
After about 3 rounds of this they take a rough surface cloth and literally rub the skin off of your entire body (all the dead skin and even some of your good skin). In case you thought it couldn't get any worse they pour a bucket of warm water over your raw skin causing pain I can't even describe. To add to the "experience" you are not allowed anything to drink or eat during this time. By the end I was confessing sins I didn't even know I had committed. Anything just to make it end!
Of course, that is how I described my bath the day it happened but now I've had about a week to recuperate I can see how they would enjoy such an "experience". Nudity is not a big deal to them so it wouldn't be humiliating. I was telling the friend who took me that it is not really something that is commonly seen in the States and she was shocked and started laughing when she saw I was trying to hide myself with my towel.
The sauna is made to be that hot to make you literally start pouring sweat which cleanses your body of toxins. I was told that the cold water is to help strengthen your heart, so apparently you shouldn't do this if you have a bad heart. While in the sauna they will take either a bristly brush or a branch and beat/rub their skin to open the pores and allow the toxins to drain out. If your skin is not red and blotchy you are not doing it right!
Once your skin is slick, they will rub it until it is raw which means they got all of the dead/bad skin off. A few things that actually did feel really good was that they put honey on their skin in the sauna which soothes the redness. Then, towards the end they will do a mud mask on the skin and then put lotion on it. That part I enjoyed!
Unfortunately, I did not eat beforehand and by the end had such low blood sugar (I'm hypoglycemic) I struggled to make it home. I spent the rest of the day in bed. The funny thing is, I want to go back and do it again. I'll do a few things differently but decided it was overall a good way to get clean, and especially to spend time with the people in a cultural setting.