We’re delving into the depths of winter and facing that seemingly unending period of storms; shovelling, freeze-thaw and no sign of Spring in sight. With that, I decided to embark on a very timely, city trek in pursuit of secret deluxe Halifax; those elusive spa treatments to help you combat winter and take better care of yourself, with a few thrown in that scared me a bit.
What I discovered, much to my delight, was a whole track of young entrepreneurs running very interesting businesses all contributing to Halifax’s health and wellness bottom line. My course when I started out was salt, stone, soak, sauna and seaweed. Everything kept turning up salt in some form. My lingering problem, and it’s a first world one to be sure, is what to pursue to really reap the long-term benefits.
Sweating it out with Sauna Nova Scotia
Tucked away, amongst cords of wood and piles of snow in a north end backyard, it’s a magical little place to come upon in the evening. Erica & Devin Brook, are the owners of Halifax’s only mobile, traditional wood-fired sauna. With vintage strings of bulbs, a fire pit surrounded by chairs and blankets, this cozy, secluded spot is just steps away from a busy downtown intersection. Erica, who is in community design, and Devin, a builder/designer, admit they had to find a way to constructively enjoy winter together when they were living in rural Nova Scotia. In the spirit of tiny home culture, they built this six-person sauna themselves and have now set out to provide a positive way to experience cold weather to all. This marks their first full winter in the city and they made the smart decision to park it semi-permanently for the season.
My sauna moments to date have been fleeting; 20 minutes post-swim at a public pool or alcohol-fuelled with friends at a cottage weekend. But in my first visit, I learn that an extended hot-cold cycle is key to the process. On average, a hot cycle in the sauna is about 15-20 minutes, followed by a cool down period of about 5-10 minutes where you exit the sauna, drink water by the fire or dive into a snowbank to bring your body temperature down. With each progressive trip in and out of the sauna, the breathing comes easier, the sweat pours faster and the cooling time is less.
Every session is led by a sauna host, who stokes the wood stove to around 80 degrees, alternating between dry heat and steam sessions infused with essential oils like a sharp lemon zest. Ultimately, sweating cleanses the body of impurities, leaving your skin aglow. It also relieves aches, discomforts, stress and boosts circulation.
There’s a kind of vulnerability about heading into an open session; sharing an intimate, hot space with strangers that’s wrapped up in body image, self-awareness and anything else you want to add into the psyche’s mix. By the end, I had completely embraced it, sharing some very hearty laughs with the group. As I stood out in the snow in my bathing suit, wrapped in a towel over a campfire in the middle of the city; the city simply melted away. When I left, smelling like wood smoke and essential oils with my skin mentholated and steaming, I felt grateful for this small but mighty connecting point.
Check out www.saunanovascotia.com for this winter’s schedule of open sauna sessions running at $25 per person for 90 minutes–typically falling on Wednesdays and Saturdays. They also offer memberships and private/group rentals for 6-8 people for $150.
Floating into the Ether at The Floatation Centre
Lindsay MacPhee was gifted her first float on her birthday in Vancouver four years ago and from that moment forward, it became practice. Following a difficult personal period, she decided to move home to Nova Scotia, and was just simply looking for a float. She’s now the owner of Halifax’s only floatation therapy centre, and fully committed to providing a place to make people happy; one that inspires mindfulness and meditation and keeps you sane in winter, she adds.
I have never been in a sensory-deprivation tank or thought, hey that sounds relaxing. From the moment you walk through their doors, every part of the process is aimed at making you feel comfortable and empowered to get into that space, from a rundown with a float specialist to realizing you are indeed in complete control of your experience (even by propping the door open a crack with a facecloth).
And what benefits do you get by immersing yourself into 10 inches of water at body temperature with 800lb. of dissolved Epsom salts with no sight, sound, smell, touch, pressure and gravity? First, there is just the benefit of being in salt water. The list of health advantages chalks up to include reduction of stress, anxiety and chronic pain, lowering of blood pressure, general relaxation, mindfulness and meditation, that can sometimes border on lucid dreaming.
People generally take some time relaxing into their first float. And so, I floated. With the darkness and a slightly bewildered spatial awareness, I played around, but soon moved from buoyant flopping to a more peaceful kind of listening phase; hearing my own heartbeat and breathing. Stretching sounded like distant thunderstorms, cracking joints like muted fireworks and then a flash of moments–I started thinking about all the times I felt relaxed in water–like being in all of the ethereal, water scenes of a Terrence Malik film (Tree of Life). Time passed, but I had no concept of whether it had it been five minutes or five years. Yeah, I went lucid.
And again, out into the cool evening air with all acute senses heightened. Lindsay explains that colours are more vivid and everything tastes better, admitting she will sometimes duck around the corner to Good Robot Brewing for a beer and a Rinaldo’s sandwich post-float.
A 75-minute float will run you about $65 at the http://thefloatationcentre.ca; and there is a monthly membership program offered.
Breathing in The Salt Room
“The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears, or the sea.” –Isak Dinesen, author Out of Africa & Babette’s Feast
Or salt, how about just salt? I’ve always loved this quote–as it so aptly describes living by the ocean. Whether you realize it or not, the ocean affects you daily and you often don’t register this until you’re somewhere else and missing that grounding salt air.
Owners Sue Terry & Kelly Bryden first fell in love with salt and its extended health benefits when they visited a salt room in Ontario. After heavy research, they set out to build their very own salt room and the only one of its kind in the Maritimes.
Halotherapy is a centuries’ old technique, first developed by monks in Europe, who noticed their patients recovered faster in natural salt caverns, especially those with respiratory problems. I met up with spa owner, Dr. Mallory Rogers for a tour of the space. She extolled the many healing virtues of this anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-pathogenic environment–including a natural way to treat respiratory problems and skin ailments. Surprisingly, it’s good for all ages including children, she even brought in her two-day-old newborn.
It just so happens I have a cold on this particular visit, I don slippers and enter the space. Almost surreal in its look, and a bit like walking on to Planet Krypton or into J Lo’s New York penthouse, the room has thousands of pounds of Dead Sea salt on the walls, ceiling, and loose on the floor like a sandy beach. At the risk of sounding like a scene from Breaking Bad, the centre’s ‘halogenerator’ crushes a pharmaceutical grade salt, pumps it into the air as a salt aerosol, and its likened to breathing in ocean air. I lay there on my beach chaise lounge, and fittingly, Blondie’s The Tide is High comes on the iPod… my nose stops running, I can taste the salt and every time I open my eyes a little, there’s a salty fog that’s settled in the air. This is SO Halifax.
The Salt Room is located at the Ohana Health & Wellness Centre and 30-minute sessions are $45; packages are available that have a progressive discount with the more you buy. www.thesaltroom.ca
Salt Rock Chasers at Spirit Urban Spa
I’ve never had a hot stone massage before, but god bless the person who came up with the idea. Experienced massage therapist, Anne Adams at Spirit Urban Spa, let’s me know this isn’t a regular hot stone massage, this is a new treatment for them and, possibly the only one in Halifax. They’re trading in classic jade stones for hand-carved, Himalayan salt stones.
The rocks are kept at a regulated temperature from a lit, heated pad that doubles as an ambient lamp in the room. Apparently, salt lamps release ions into the air that balance the body’s electromagnetic field from things like evil cell phone rays; much like the one I am holding in my hand to take a picture of said lamp. These magic hot rocks containing over 80 minerals including potassium, magnesium and calcium also hold many healthy properties that soothe and reduce stress, muscle tension and pain, and act as a natural exfoliant on the skin.
The practice of alternating warm and cold stones through the massage increases blood flow and circulation. The only times I have experienced these kinds of hot and cold sensations, it’s been a shooting hot pain in a pulled muscle, or a burst of cold from someone surprising you dropping an ice cube down your top. Admittedly, it takes a moment to settle into the massage and equate the heated and chased cool movements with something that actually feels good. And, damn, does it ever feel good.
Spirit Spa is opening up a second location in the Hydrostone Market in the Spring of 2017. You can get a 75-minute hot salt stone massage for $100. www.spiritspa.ca