Should you do yoga in a room full of SALT?

Irish Daily Mail - - Inspire - by Arifa Ak­bar

THE room is full of salt — pink and white Hi­malayan, to be ex­act — and I am arched into a back-bend. The salt sparkles on the back wall where it is plas­tered, and winks like shin­gle in a large, loose strip of rock crys­tals at the front of the stu­dio.

The yoga teacher sits on her mat as if it were a beach towel. There is rock salt be­hind us and rock salt in front of us. And there are seven large wire bas­kets full of gi­ant slabs of the stuff, re­sem­bling the thick Ital­ian mar­ble tiles of an up­scale kitchen. Can­dles flicker around us.

I am all for the heal­ing prop­er­ties of salt — in bath salts, salty snacks and sprin­klings of stone­ground smoked salt on salad — but I have never en­coun­tered it like this be­fore. It feels odd, but not un­pleas­ant.

This is my first ses­sion of ‘Salty Yoga’, the new per­mu­ta­tion of the an­cient In­dian prac­tice. And it is be­com­ing the next big craze.

Salt is ben­e­fi­cial to the body when in­haled in this way, ap­par­ently. The heat of the small room — an elec­tric heater cranks up the tem­per­a­ture to 25c — re­acts with the salt to give off a rich vapour, which ac­cel­er­ates the elim­i­na­tion of tox­ins from the body and boosts the res­pi­ra­tory and im­mune sys­tems. It is said to have anti-bac­te­rial, anti-vi­ral and anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties.

Svet­lana Pavlova, the Rus­sian-born owner of Salty Yoga, opened the cen­tre in Lon­don in May af­ter be­com­ing fas­ci­nated by salt ther­apy.

‘Since an­cient times, it has been widely recog­nised as a means of im­prov­ing over­all health,’ she says.

It has a vi­tal place in the modern world, she adds. ‘Salt gives off neg­a­tive ions, which, when breathed in deeply, may help our bod­ies bal­ance the storm of pos­i­tive ions we ab­sorb from phones, com­put­ers and TVs, as well as much of the elec­tri­cal tech­nol­ogy we are ex­posed to on a daily ba­sis,’ Svet­lana ex­plains. ‘It could help pro­mote a greater equi­lib­rium in our bod­ies, as well as keep us stronger, health­ier and more re­silient.’

The timetable at her cen­tre al­ter­nates be­tween fast, flow­ing classes to slower, restora­tive ses­sions (all of them done in a room in­fused with salt). I go in at the deep end and try a Power Yoga class first.

Its Cana­dian teacher, Heather Lehmann, takes us through the ‘sun salu­ta­tions’, stretches de­signed to lim­ber you up. She goes at a brisk pace, re­mind­ing us to breathe. I take great big gulps and it feels as if I am in­hal­ing hot, dense air.

BUT as the class warms up, I feel lighter and more en­er­getic. I can still smell a slight salti­ness, but oth­er­wise it could be any hot yoga class, and I for­get about the pink and white crys­tals around me.

It is only when I am out of the room that I no­tice the dif­fer­ence. I am thirsty for hours af­ter­wards, but when I wake up the next morn­ing, my mus­cles don’t ache as they nor­mally do af­ter a rig­or­ous class. And for days af­ter that, my si­nuses feel as­ton­ish­ingly clear, even though I am a cy­clist breath­ing traf­fic fumes daily.

Much more strik­ing is the up­turn in my mood and my changed state of mind. I leave the yoga stu­dio with a vivid sense of men­tal clar­ity. It is as if the salt has taken a broom to my brain and swept out its de­tri­tus. It makes me want to go back to see if it is just co­in­ci­dence or an ini­tial ‘feel-good’ re­sponse.

I am, af­ter all, no yoga new­bie. I went to my first class two decades ago, and, now 45, I have tried ev­ery­thing from Ash­tanga to Yin.

As a hy­per­ac­tive 25-year-old, I was rest­less in the slower classes, for­ever itch­ing to get a sweat on.

Some yoga teach­ers make an anal­ogy be­tween how you be­have on your mat and the way you live your life off it, and it re­vealed my com­pet­i­tive, self-pun­ish­ing side. I treated yoga like gym­nas­tics, stand­ing on my head de­spite my weak shoul­ders, kick­ing up into hand­stands, winc­ing into the splits and ig­nor­ing the classes where I was told less could be more.

I was drawn to the phys­i­cally demanding Bikram, prac­tised in a heated room of up to 40.5c. Its per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing virtues have been ex­tolled by ath­letes; oth­ers liken it to a ‘tor­ture cham­ber’. ‘No pain, no gain,’ I thought, and car­ried on.

In my early 30s, I had my first spec­tac­u­lar in­jury, which left me limp­ing for months. A teacher pushed me further into a twist and my hip popped so loudly I thought it was the sound of bone snap­ping. She claimed that it was my body realigning it­self, but I think I da­m­aged a lig­a­ment in my hip, which took months to heal.

This was just the cut and thrust of get­ting good at some­thing, I reck­oned — but it wasn’t, and my bendi­ness has come at a price. My left hip oc­ca­sion­ally aches and I get sci­atic pain. I now re­alise that yoga is not the per­for­mance-based sport I was treat­ing it as. In­stead, it is restora­tive, and cleanses the body from the in­side out.

WHEN Lehmann first came to the stu­dio, she didn’t know much about the ben­e­fits of salt. ‘Orig­i­nally, big pieces of salt were fixed on the wall and I thought: “That’s a great gim­mick,” she ad­mits

‘Then I read up on Hi­malayan salt and how it leads to an over­all pu­rifi­ca­tion of the sys­tem. I re­alised that I had been prac­tis­ing yoga on the beach for years, with sea salt in the air.’

My next salt yoga class is restora­tive yoga with French-born Hatha in­struc­tor San­dra Kle­ment. ‘Push your­self, yes, but not in the wrong di­rec­tion,’ she says. There is no chance of push­ing my­self. I have been run­ning around, as usual, on too lit­tle sleep. The heater is not on, but with seven of us in the small stu­dio, it quickly be­comes hu­mid. The can­dles and the salty scent make me want to fall sleep.

Kle­ment takes us through gen­tle poses at first. My mood lifts 20 min­utes in. My head clears and the lethargy in my limbs drains away.

By the time we have got on to the chal­leng­ing pos­tures such as the ‘Camel’, in which we bend back­wards into an up­side-down Ushape, our hands at our an­kles, I can barely feel the strain.

I float away, thirsty, happy and re­vived. But I still won­der if this is yet an­other form of yoga-with-bell­son: the new ‘Yoga With Goats’.

Could my re­mark­able sense of well­be­ing just be a placebo ef­fect? It might be, but if it leaves me feel­ing so good, does it mat­ter?

O saltyyoga.com

Heal­ing: Salty Yoga owner Svet­lana Pavlova

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