I Did Yoga in a Salt Cave, Under Infrared Heat, and On Top of a Stranger
Three new classes add an extra something-something to traditional yoga. (GIF: Priscilla DeCastro/Yahoo Health)
Fact: I can’t turn down a good yoga trend. Aerial yoga? Strap me in. Heated Yogalates? I’ll sweat it out with the best of them. So when I heard of three new classes, each adding an extra element to the centuries-old practice, I was more than happy to be a human guinea pig.
But, I wondered, would doing yoga in infrared heat, while breathing in salty air, or with a partner actually improve the benefits of my practice? Here’s what I found — and my verdict for each.
I’ve suffered through my fair share of stifling hot yoga classes, the kind that leave you exhausted and a little dizzy from the combination of sweat and stale air. So I was pretty excited to try NYC-based Y7 studio’s infrared yoga, which promised a new kind of heat that warms objects, rather than the air, by using sun-mimicking technology. It’s still hot yoga, but instead of using radiators or space-heaters, the studio is decked out with full-spectrum infrared heaters. I checked the class out on an early Sunday morning (after a late Saturday night, if you catch my drift…), and before the class was even halfway through, I was twisting and balancing like a gymnast. By the end of the class, my headache and general blurriness had faded.
According to Y7 co-founder Mason Levy, those benefits are just the tip of the iceberg. Proponents claim infrared heat treatment (the same kind Jennifer Aniston likes in her sauna) can help the body burn more calories, reduce stress by lowering cortisol and increasing serotonin, relieve muscle pain, and improve skin tone. While there isn’t a lot of research to back up most of these purported claims, I did come out of the class feeling calmer.
The coolest part, though, was that while I certainly felt heated and bendy as I flowed through various Vinyasa poses, I was never drenched with salty sweat in the same way I am after a normal heated session. Rather, when I toweled off after class, I found more of a dewy, slightly oily film on my face and body, which Levy attributes to infrared’s style of heating: “It heats objects, rather than the room, so there’s no air blowing on you,” Levy explains. “It’s not a stifling heat.” According to Lauren Berlingeri, co-founder of Higher Dose, the up-and-coming company that supplies Y7′s infrared heating, that’s the technology’s biggest draw: “The heat is super complimentary to yoga,” she says, because it helps deepen your practice without slowing you down.
Infrared heating is available in a handful of yoga studios in LA, and Y7′s Flatiron location is currently the only New York City studio with full-spectrum infrared heating. Not in either city and want to give it a try? Stretching it out in an infrared sauna might yield a similar experience, but isn’t nearly as safe as taking an actual infrared class. That said, you likely won’t have to wait that long to try it out for yourself — those in the know say it’s expected to be the next big thing in yoga.
When I walked into Breathe Easy, a salt cave housed in an NYC day spa, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was there for “salty yoga,” an intimate (like, three-other-people-in-the-class intimate), hour-long series of breathing exercises and chest-opening yoga poses. If you’ve never heard of practicing yoga in a salt cave, that’s because it’s one of the first of its kind, Breathe Easy co-founder Ellen Patrick tells me.
Let me paint you a picture of the room: The floor is made up of pink Himalayan rock salt, there are salt lamps plugged in around the room, and some sort of diffuser is blowing — you guessed it — powdered salt into the air. Patrick echoes what I’m starting to realize. “This isn’t an ordinary yoga class,” she says. “You’re not going to be doing 20 Vinyasas, but it is a yoga class and I’m using classical yoga poses to open up the respiratory system.”
So how does the salt come into play? “Pink Himalayan salt has some minerals in it, some clay, but you won’t be inhaling that,” Patrick explains. Instead, you inhale “pharmaceutical-grade salt that’s been ground up really, really fine.” This is called halotherapy, and though it’s been catching on as a healthy trend lately, there’s not enough research yet that shows any clear benefits.
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The “salty yoga” poses are meant to help pull my shoulders back and strengthen my diaphragm, helping me breathe more fully. This is important, Patrick tells me, because people tend not to breathe properly — in and out of class. “As a yoga teacher, most of the feedback that I get from students is that they don’t get the breathing part. I’m going to be focusing on the diaphragm and the muscles between the ribs to open up the chest, to strengthen the abdominal muscles so you have better posture, so the diaphragm can move,” she explains.
After the class, I feel… sleepy. My lips are slightly salty, and I feel hazy, almost like I’m drifting off to sleep as I make my way home. But my nose, which had been slightly stuffed up from allergies, feels clearer, and when I exercise the next day I find that I can take bigger breaths, almost as if my lungs had expanded. A yoga class that leaves me feeling like I got a massage — and puts me right to sleep? I’ll take it.
OK, OK, so AcroYoga isn’t exactly new (the type practiced at Om Factory, where I gave partner yoga a try, began in the early 2000s). But it has taken off recently, thanks in part to its Instagram-ability. (Try searching for #acroyoga for proof.)
A little background: AcroYoga was co-founded by a former junior Olympic gymnast and a former dancer, both yogis, who combined their skills to create a playful, therapeutic, strength-based practice. “The lineage we’re trained in is very clearly three parts,” Mary Aranas, an AcroYoga instructor, tells me. “There’s yoga, plus acrobatics, plus healing arts. One enhances the other enhances the other, enhances the other.”
That might be why the class totally kicked my butt — not only did supporting someone on my feet take more core and leg strength than I had in me, but even “flying” (shifting my weight while balancing on my partner’s feet and hands) left my muscles burning and heart pounding.
Balancing on someone’s body requires the kind of partnership and touch I wasn’t used to, especially in don’t-make-eye-contact NYC: I had to get comfortable, fast, with holding on to strangers, looking into their eyes, and feeling their bodies as they supported or leaned on mine. By the end of the class, I felt closer to the dozen other yogis than I had to anyone in months. That’s what’s so special about AcroYoga, Aranas says: “You’re learning to listen, and you’re learning to care and be safe with one another.” It’s also why, as the hour-and-a-half class came to a close, I realized I had made a mistake in calling it “yoga plus partner” — even if I had come with a partner, I couldn’t have gotten through the class without the others in it. There were those who spotted me as I flew, and the girl who taught me how to shift my weight back, not forward, as she watched from across the room. “Even the word ‘AcroYoga’ literally means ‘high union,’” Aranas explains. “It’s not just for two people, because you’re [interacting with] a whole community. You can only learn so much from one other person — it’s important to learn from other people as well.”
It’s not the calorie-torching workout I got from Y7 or the salt high from Breathe Easy, but feeling connected to those around me for once in a blue moon does remind me of why I fell in love with yoga in the first place. That’s good enough for me.
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