It looks like a giant salt grinder exploded at Modrn Sanctuary, a luxury wellness center in NoMad, Manhattan. The floor is covered in pale pink granules, like sand-dunes on a beach at sunset, and the walls are lined with marbled rosy bricks. A machine called a halo generator seasons the air with particles of 200-million-year-old salt, mined from the foothills of the Himalayas.
The owner of this unusual place, Alexandra Janelli, is a hypnotist by trade who auspiciously opened the center on election day, 2016. A salt room was a logical addition to the roster of services on offer at Modrn Sanctuary, thanks to its many reputed health benefits, including relief from skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis; respiratory issues like colds, bronchitis, asthma, and sinus infections; and the promise of speedier healing for minor cuts thanks to its antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic properties.
But this is New York. Why simply relax and savor the ambient vibe when you could be multitasking? Occasionally, Janelli explains, clients have been known to schedule business meetings in the salt room, so they can squeeze self-care into their schedule without dropping the ball at work. “There are a lot of different people doing a lot of different things in the room, and while it was originally intended for health and wellness, I’ve noticed it’s taken on its own energy as a community space. The energy is off the hook.”
There are three salt studios in New York City, and all of them play host to wellness classes of various types. Downtown in the East Village, Jennifer Frasher teaches Kundalini yoga classes in the pastel pink cavern of the Montauk Salt Cave. Originally attracted to the room’s aesthetic (“It was a wow factor. It seemed really magical”), she quickly realized the reputed respiratory benefits of Himalayan salt pair perfectly with yoga, thanks to its emphasis on deep, smooth inhales and exhales. “We did one session and it felt amazing. People instantly relax,” she explains. “And the more you breathe the more benefits you get, so it makes so much sense to do yoga in this room.”
The duo behind Holistic Happening, health coach Leslie McDonald and yoga teacher Kayla Kleinman, hold yoga and meditation workshops at Breathe—a salt room with two locations in Midtown—for the challenge it brings to the practice as well as the health perks. “I’ve taken a lot of Kayla’s classes at a lot of different places, but the salt room is where my balance is always brought into question,” explains McDonald. “Like, can I get up from a lunge into a warrior gracefully? Absolutely not. I wobble and fall and it takes a lot more core work. There’s a lot of laughter and Kayla always reminds us not to take it all too seriously. It’s just yoga!”
Mostly, though, salt rooms serve as spaces for relaxation and recuperation—two things in short supply in this manic city of ours. “You’re gonna shift your energy [when you visit the salt room]. There’s a reason we feel so good when we go on vacation, it’s because we’re changing environments. So this is providing a womb-like environment within the chaos for people to come and just be,” says Janelli, right before she leaves me alone to rest for a moment among the salt.
I can taste the stuff at the back of my throat and feel it settling like a very fine dust on my skin, working its invisible magic.