As I was brainstorming a catchy title for this article, I tossed around various cocktail references; Yoga on the Rocks, Yin-tini Neat, Hot todi (toddy/yogi; see what I did there?). I know, right? Lame. But the idea of colliding hot yoga with infrared hot stone technology is anything but. It is sweetly and sweating-ly sublime. (I even toyed with the title Say I-yes-i to Iyashi! but was promptly given the cease and desist order by a dinner date that eve). So to get you up to speed, Iyashi Bedrock Spa is Toronto's only source for an authentic Japanese Ganbanyoku rock-bathing experience, using ancient Black Silica stones.
I arrive for the 5 p.m. Ganban-Yoga session on a Saturday evening, looking forward to my 30 minute Rock Bath, followed by a 60 minute Hot Yin Yoga class, on the rocks. Located on Yonge street, just north of Eglinton, I am not bothered by the frigid 15 minute walk I must make to the spa from the subway, as my mind imagines the hot, humid heaven that will soon envelope me. I am greeted by a sweet and knowledgeable receptionist, and just as I finish filling out my waver form, spa owner Norma Percy arrives to give me the grand tour. A jolly and warm woman, Norma does not hesitate to bring me through the space, explaining not only the procedures to follow during my session, but also supplies ample background history of Iyashi, the theory behind the rocks, and why she and hubby chose to bring rock bathing to our great country back in 2008.
Originating in Thailand, ganbanyoku spas are hugely popular in Japan. Co-owner Ryusuke Juge, was inspired while returning to Japan in 2007 for martial arts training. Juge brought his vision back to Canada and convinced his best friend's wife (Percy) to spring into action.
After Percy has provided a thorough game plan for my visit, I am left to change, hydrate, and head into the treatment room. Inside the double doored chamber, I am greeted by a wall of humid heat, gorgeous wood panelling, and two rows of black granite-like tiled "beds." I am early for my appointment, and there is only one other soul in the room, a middle-aged man, who lays in savasana (a relaxed supine position) in the far back corner. I shuffle across the floor in my disposable flip flops, selecting bed #15 and lay one of my two provided towels out atop the black silica stones. I fold my second swath of terry cloth into a pillow shape and rest it at the top of the station. I lower my body onto the stone and immediately feel at home. Man oh man, do I adore the heat.
So, why rock bathe? Well, there is the sauna factor of course. But more specifically, these magma stones are unique in that they naturally release far infrared rays and negative ions to help the body perspire and "detoxify." It is believed that ganbanyoku helps improve blood circulation, increases metabolism and also helps eliminate waste and toxins from the body. It is also aid that the negative ions, a type of antioxidant found in nature, are able to react with and breakdown any toxins present in the bloodstream, and increase the flow of oxygen to the brain; resulting in higher alertness, decreased drowsiness, and more mental energy.
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It's a bird ... it's a plane ... it's -- yoga, in a suspended hammock? Antigravity Yoga (also referred to as Suspension Yoga, Upside-Down Yoga and Aerial Yoga) is not for the faint of heart. The practice incorporates traditional yoga poses mixed with acrobatics in a silk hammock suspended from the ceiling. What are the benefits of yoga off the ground? Kayda Norman, <a href="http://news.health.com/2012/08/07/aerial-yoga-learning-to-fly/" target="_hplink">who documented her Aerial Yoga experience for Health.com</a> writes, "Aerial yoga allows you to stretch further and hold positions longer than other types of yoga. Suspension yoga also helps to decompress tight joints and relieve pressure." Alexandra Sifferlin, a reporter for <em>Time</em>, <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/22/we-tried-this-aerial-vinyasa-or-upside-down-yoga/" target="_hplink">also shared her go with a Suspension Yoga class</a>. She <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/22/we-tried-this-aerial-vinyasa-or-upside-down-yoga/" target="_hplink">reported in a video of her experience</a> that the aerial class was helpful for "better controlled movements as you strengthen your core muscles." And for those without the strength and control for traditional inversions like headstands, Aerial Yoga gives us a chance to try these out.
Tantrum Yoga can help you access your inner child: the grumpy one, who needs to throw a tantrum to get back to center. It isn't violent; instead, it's an outlet -- a release -- that combines traditional yoga poses, dancing and, yes, some yelling. <a href="http://www.hemalayaa.com/" target="_hplink">Yoga teacher Hemalaaya </a>developed this therapeutic kind of yoga as the next step in her fusion-focused classes. And, as <a href="http://www.hemalayaa.com/?p=1629" target="_hplink">she puts it</a>, throwing a little tantrum works to relieve her own frustrations. She encourages her students to release stress by yelling, chest-pounding and laughing. "I believe we are emotional beings and there are times we need to express in order to let go of emotion, especially old stuff that is sitting in there, festering. Otherwise it gets stuck in our bodies and could turn into stress, disease, etc." she told <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/food_coach&id=8666290" target="_hplink">ABC News</a>.
Perhaps it is Wheelchair Yoga that best demonstrates the versatility of the yoga practice. Many of the actions performed in Wheelchair Yoga (or, similarly Chair Yoga) are traditional poses adapted for those who are in wheelchairs. The <a href="http://www.livestrong.com/article/319124-yoga-exercises-for-someone-in-a-wheelchair/" target="_hplink">Cat Stretch, Cow Pose and Eagle Pose</a>, for example, have all been modified to be performed while sitting. Chair Yoga prioritizes breath-work and physical postures and can be incredibly beneficial for those with limited mobility. The activity can help to <a href="http://www.ncpad.org/disability/fact_sheet.php?sheet=345&view=all" target="_hplink">decrease physical pain and tension</a> and it promotes the many benefits of physical activity to those with disabilities might not otherwise have access.
Harmonica Yoga is a form of Raja Yoga (yoga for both the body and the mind). Harmonica playing and yoga are both based on the control of the breath, making this a fun way to work on mindfulness. "Harmonica is the easiest and most accessible way to practice breath control," <a href="http://www.davidharp.com/" target="_hplink">David Harp</a>, the founder and originator of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&field-author=David Harp&ie=UTF8&search-alias=books&sort=relevancerank" target="_hplink">HarmonicaYoga™</a> and HuffPost blogger wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "This allows practitioners to short-circuit mental patterns such as fight or flight responses, and thus develop mindfulness," he continued.
If laughter is the best medicine and yoga touts countless health benefits, the combination of the two must be infallible. In this silly practice (its founder, Sebastien Gendry, <a href="ttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/laughter-yoga-benefits_n_1478960.html" target="_hplink">called it "bizarre" and "weird"</a>) you might find yourself clapping joyously, milking imaginary cows and pretending to be a lion, just as <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/06/laughter-yoga-benefits_n_1478960.html" target="_hplink">Catherine Pearson did in her Laughter Yoga class, as she reported</a> in HuffPost's Healthy Living. Laughter Yoga incorporates much less of the physical aspects of yoga and much more of the social and mindful aspects. Still, the physical benefits are not completely lost: laughter has been found to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16652129" target="_hplink">burn calories </a> and <a href="http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/5/1651.full" target="_hplink">lower blood sugar levels</a>.
Karaoke Yoga, developed by Los Angeles-based yoga instructor <a href="http://jenniferpastiloff.com/" target="_hplink">Jennifer Pastiloff</a>, gives people the opportunity to stretch their limbs <em>and</em> their vocal chords. The class is equipped with a TV screen to display song lyrics and, luckily for those with stage fright, there are no solo performances. You can expect to sing along with the whole class to songs from Adele, Elton John and Journey. The focus of the class is joy, not the perfecting of poses. "It's not about alignment, it's about connecting to your joy," Pasiloff <a href="http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/food_coach&id=8713322" target="_hplink">said in an ABC News interview</a>. Though not about the yoga, per se, it's still about the workout: "It's longer exhales, it's sweating, dancing," she insists. Pasiloff wrote in a<a href="http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5085/What-the-Heck-Is-Karaoke-Yoga.html" target="_hplink"> blog post for <em>Mind Body Green,</em></a>"It is connecting some of the greatest pleasures I know of in life: dancing, singing, yoga, connecting and good old fashioned rock 'n' roll."
Yoga Raves bring the yoga studio to the club -- so don't forget your glow sticks (and glitter). Combining music, movement and meditation in a single space, Yoga Raves also promote drug-free fun. Many of these raves begin with a guided meditation as a warm up, to lead into a more free movement. According to the not-for-profit movement's website <a href="http://Yoga Rave" target="_hplink">Yogarave.org</a>, "The Yoga Rave Project will bring the spiritual element back to celebration and the way we have fun, offering a drug free alternative for our youth to gather and release their energy and tension." <a href="http://www.artofliving.org/us-en" target="_hplink">The Art Of Living Foundation</a>, which funds and organizes <a href="http://Yogaraves.org" target="_hplink">Yogaraves.org</a>, is not the only initiative propelling the yoga dance party. <a href="http://www.jivamuktiyoga.com/" target="_hplink">Jivamukti</a> and <a href="http://www.laughinglotus.com/" target="_hplink">Laughing </a>Lotus are among the yoga schools supporting the combination of yoga and "getting down." <a href="http://www.yogadork.com/news/grab-your-glow-ga-sticks-yoga-raves-all-the-rage/" target="_hplink">Yogadork.com might have said it best:</a> "The Yoga Rave: a place where you can totally trip out drug free, get friendly with your fellow man/woman and wake up in your own bed the next morning (if you so choose)."
And just for fun, here's a video of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/tao-porchon-lynch-93-worlds-oldest-yoga-teacher_n_1515579.html" target="_hplink">the world's oldest yoga teacher</a>, 93-year-old Tao Porchon-Lynch, showing off all she's got.
Yoga instructor Seane Corn explains the benefits of Vinyasa yoga.
I spend my initial 25 minutes chilling (wrong choice of words) in the room, alternating between lying on my back, tummy and side. As I do, the room slowly fills, with only one rock bed empty come the 5:25 p.m. announcement from our yoga instructor that it was time to take a cooling break in preparation for the 5:30 p.m. Yin class. I retreat from the hot room into the lounge area equipped with water cooler, showers, and plenty of comfy seating. As part of the rock bath experience, it is recommended that guests work in 15-20 minutes intervals of heat and cooling, and at this point I am questioning the theory as I have barely even broken a sweat! I discuss this fact with one spa "regular" who is quick to suggest that once we get into the asana work, my dry skin will soon be drenched.
And right she was. Not five minutes into the class, I am beaded from head to toe, my hands sliding around on my body as I try to retain form and stability in the series of long deep stretches that comprise our group yoga practice. As we worked our bodies in the heat, and my breath grew deeper and more relaxed, I noted that the room had no strong aroma. None of the icky fresh sweat stench I am used to in regular hot yoga studios, and I also noticed that the liquid coming from my own pores felt very fresh and clean.
It is a unique experience to go through all the motions I am used to whilst perched atop the silica stones, warmth radiating right through to my bones. I feel immensely calm, content, and bendy. We work for about 25 minutes before taking a break to refuel on water, and then once the 60 minute class draws to a close, we are invited to rest for a while longer if we wish, letting all the work resonate within our bodies. Eventually I emerge from the tropical cave once more, and as I do, I float on my feet, feeling notably more limber and light than I had previously, and I can't help but smile.
After resting in bliss in my sweaty clothes for a few minutes, I decide it is time to re-enter the real world. And at this point I am convinced. Hot rock bathing rocks! And with a minimum of one yoga class per day, and opening hours from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, I know that I can easily make this a part of my regular wellness routine. Heck I am already planning on renting out the space for a gals' night of fiery fun with my fellow yoga teacher pals, and know that it will be well received all 'round!
Whether the health claims have any scientific backing or not, I think that rock bathing can be a beneficial addition to plenty of folks' routines as we all try to navigate our own wellness paths and journey's. If anything, I think we should all recognize that what we do deserve is taking some time for ourselves, to be still, to be spoiled, and to by warmed up and loved from the inside out.
Follow Meghan Pearson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MAPWellness