Should you do yoga in a room full of SALT?
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?
Healing: Salty Yoga owner Svetlana Pavlova