Yoga Sleuth was already feeling the pranayama bliss when he stepped onto the Himalayan salt-blanketed floor of the small studio at Breathe Easy, the Park Avenue salt therapy studio. This was a new, but welcome, concept: taking the all-natural method of salt therapy and applying it to an asana practice. According to the Breathe Easy site, time in a “salt spa” can relieve the symptoms of many respiratory ailments, such as asthma and allergies.
“When we opened up Breathe Easy, I realized how important breathing is to this therapeutic modality,” explained Ellen Patrick, founder of Salty Yoga and our teacher for the day. “But, most people don’t know how to breathe well. They have shallow, dysfunctional breathing patterns; their bodies are all tight. I felt that it would really serve people if we offered Salty Yoga. The natural qualities of salt are anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory. So what we will do in class is tone the diaphragm, stretch the intercostal muscles, strengthen the core, work the upper back for better posture. All this is to serve the breathing process. And at the same time, you’re getting the benefits of the salt therapy.”
On hands and knees, the salt floor underneath my mat was a bit rocky and uneven, but I took it as a new challenge and soon got used to it. (It felt great to walk on after class!) We stretched an arm into the air to twist, inhaling the salt air, which was a great antidote to the muggy and allergen-filled air outside.
“Rotate the shoulder back, creating space and breathe into the top right lung,” said Ellen. “Another big full three-dimensional breath—the front of the body, the back and the sides. And then exhale and come back to center. If you’d like to use Ujjayi, it will only enhance the experience. You’re breathing in salt air, which is healing to the respiratory system.”
Ellen instructed us to interlace our fingers in front of us, face our palms forward and press the mid-back towards the back of the room. “Take into consideration the image of a water balloon. We’re compressing the front and pushing the ‘water’ towards the back. We’re getting a nice stretch between the shoulders, the ribs, and the back body.”
We came into an extended Child’s Pose. “Keep the knees close together,” guided Ellen. “So it's more into your back as opposed to your hips. Bring awareness to the kidneys and adrenals, and, as you exhale, deepen into the fold.”
We came into a slow, soft, gradual Down Dog, wiggling from side to side, imitating a first morning stretch and then coming into the full expression of the pose. “We’re in an inversion, so the diaphragm has to work harder when you inhale. It’s now contracting upwards, and the internal organs are lying on it. It’s taking on extra weight so we can build that muscle."
Throughout the sequences, we had the option of staying in Down Dog or taking a vinyasa. “Your choice is based on your individual body and where you need the strengthening, the flexibility,” she said. “Do you need your chest open more, so you’ve got to get that Up Dog in? Do you need to strengthen the diaphragm more by staying in the inversion? By having options, we tune in and find the teacher within.”
We played in Cobra Pose, rising and lowering, opening the chest and heart center. We held the inhale at the top for four seconds so the diaphragm stayed in a contracted state to strengthen it. We came to a fold and grabbed our big toes, drawing the belly in and up, and elbows out to the side.
For an extra challenge, we got off our mats and stood on the salt floor to balance in Dancer’s Pose. “You can really dig your foot in, it’s kind of cool!” said Ellen, and yes it was. “You’re even getting a little pedicure!” Then we returned to the mat for a lateral side stretch, reaching an arm over our heads and yearning for the opposite foot.
After Pigeon, Baddha Konasana, and a restorative Paschimottanasana with rounded back, we settled onto the crunchy earth beneath our mats, bringing our feet mat-width and our knees to touch. “Become aware of the directional flow of breathing,” said Ellen, as we placed each hand above and below our navels.
“When we inhale, the diaphragm contracts down; when we exhale it contracts upwards.” Ellen suggested we visualize that as we breathed. We continued to focus on the direction of our breaths as we stretched out into Savasana.
After a chant of “Om Shanti,” Ellen left us with one more thing to make us all breathe easier—this prayer: “Peace within, peace to one another, and peace on Earth.”
—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in Salty Yoga classes are held twice a week, Tuesdays at 12pm and Thursdays at 7pm, and are $25, including mat.
Breathe Easy 1 Park Ave Lower Level New York, NY 10016 (212)-725-1138