Salty Yoga—An Ancient Therapy Revived
Ellen Patrick sat in siddhasana and donned a pair of hospital-style shoe-covers. Why? Because our yoga mats lay atop six inches of granulated Himalayan salt, and she, the teacher, would inevitably need to crunch her way around the small salt room to offer hands-on adjustments. “And I don’t want to trek it all over the place,” she said.
We were at Breathe Easy, on Park Avenue, the dry salt therapy spa she opened with her husband, Gary, in 2014.
“This therapy acts as a toothbrush for the lungs. Anyone who breathes can partake,” she said, explaining that salt is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial—anti-everything—and effective for relieving respiratory problems, such as asthma and sleep apnea.
Patrick, a seasoned yogi, found that even her advanced yoga students had difficulty cultivating their breaths. So she unrolled mats in her salt room, and presto—Salty Yoga, the sum of her two specialties, was added to the Breathe Easy roster. The Salty Yoga objective: to help improve the breath-function of all students, of all levels.
“In a minute, you’re going to hear a sound,” she said, and sure enough, an inoffensive drone permeated the room. “That’s just the sound of the machine as it halogenates the salt, grinds it into fine particles, and aerates it into the room. In a bit, you’ll actually be able to taste the salt in the air.”
In addition to the floor granules, pink salt bricks encrusted the walls of the room—pink salt lights glowed in the corners. “Himalayan salt emits negative ions, especially when lit, which are very relaxing,” Patrick said. “And they negate positive ions, such as those emitted by our cell phones, TVs, and computers, which are agitating.”
Patrick, a yoga therapist, found yoga 36 years ago, and used it to nurse an injured back. She studied with Jeff Migdow and Gary Kraftsow—and it shows. Her mindful, empathetic approach to teaching cradled the class. The 50-minute sequence consisted of the familiar asana brew—down dogs, optional vinyasas, standing poses, a small backbend—but there was no heat or hustle. And there shouldn’t have been. After all, people come to Breathe Easy to take it easy, not to take it up a notch. (It was this Ashtangi’s moon day, so my body welcomed the softer sequencing.)
Patrick and her husband discovered dry salt therapy while on a business trip in London. “Gary would often end up with sinus infections whenever he traveled, and he felt one coming on,” she said. A colleague recommended that he try a salt room, and a few days and salt-room sessions later, “his symptoms disappeared, and he felt so much better…and it helped alleviate his snoring.”
Records of saline benefits date back to the Roman Empire, when it was noted that salt miners had excellent respiratory health. And salt therapy first took root in Polish salt caves with Dr. Feliks Boczkowski. (Speleotherapy—salt cave therapy—has been popular across Eastern Europe since the 1840s.)
When the Patricks returned to the States, they were excited to continue this therapy, but found that nothing like it existed in the City. “We saw it as an opportunity to build a successful business and to help others,” she said.
They first opened Breathe Easy’s Park Avenue location, and soon after, opened three more: on
And thus far, the response has been excellent. Different types of sessions vary: Clients can lie in salt beds, receive salt massages, or lounge in puffy reclining chairs during salt-room sessions. Or they can peruse a foyer that brims with luxury wellness products, like Éminence Organics and Trapp Fragrances. And now, there’s yoga, too.
“And we’re in the process of developing a meditation program, which should be unveiled at the end of the summer,” Patrick said. “And I also hope to soon add crystal singing bowl meditation sessions to the schedule.”
Since the Patricks set up shop, wellness media has buzzed—and I can see why. Breathe Easy may be just what the City needs. “Merely inhaling the pollution of an urban city, like New York, can cause irritation,” Patrick noted. Perhaps we smog-jaded New Yorkers should floss our lungs more often.
When I emerged from savasana, I could breathe easier and my lungs welcomed deeper inhalations. I felt as though I had been at the beach. The salt air was subtle, and you couldn’t feel the halogenated salt particles—but you could taste them.
“Now lick your lips. Taste salty?” Patrick asked.
I did. And they did.
—Illustration by Sharon Watts
Salty Yoga is offered at Breathe Easy’s Park Avenue location on Tuesdays at 12pm and Thursdays at 7pm. Cost: $25. For more info, click here.