As I was brainstorming a catchy title for this article, I tossed around various cocktail references; “Yoga on the Rocks, Only 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 5pm 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 took brought his vision back to Canada and convinced his best friend’s wife (Percy) to move 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, oak walls, and 2 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 savasa (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.
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 5:25pm announcement from our yoga instructor that it was time to take a cooling break in preparation for the 5:30pm 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 with from head to toe, my hands sliding around on my body as I try to retain form and stability in the series of deep long stretches that comprise our group yoga practice. But the interesting thing I found, was that the room we were in had no aroma. None of the icky fresh sweat stench I am used to in regular hot yoga studios, and I also note 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 10am to 9pm 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 from the inside out.