I’m already excited at the prospect of a morning at the spa when I hop aboard the streetcar in Toronto. Admittedly, I’m a total fiend: I’ve been massaged with lava shells, soaked Cleopatra-style in goat’s milk and even had a 24-karat gold facial. I get off at Yonge Street and make my way down to the Iyashi Japanese Bedrock Spa to visit the only spot that offers ganbanyoku (rock bathing) in North America.
Originating in Thailand, ganbanyoku spas are hugely popular in Japan, where there are over 4,000. But don’t be misled by the name; there’s no actual bathing involved in the treatment, and the “rocks” are smooth strips of black silica, warmed and aligned flat on the floor.
Clothed in a traditional yukata (kimono) and long shorts, I’m instructed to lie down on the heated strips and melt into the stones, along with my fellow spa-goers. We’re all in the same silent, wood-panelled room, equipped with dividers for privacy. I’m told to try five minutes on my front, then five minutes on my back and five minutes for each side before taking a water break. I keep an eye on the clock, and within minutes I’m working up a considerable sweat but, curiously enough, one that’s neither salty nor odorous. I now understand why the treatment is referred to as bathing.
The Japanese even have a name for it: ougon no ase (good or golden) sweat. I’m advised not to shower afterward, a must after an intense workout. But “golden” sweat is different. I ask the spa’s manager, Norma Percy, how on earth this works. “It’s almost like pure water,” she says. “Your body releases sebum from sebaceous glands during the treatment, which makes your skin soft and leaves your hair in great shape.”
The key to rock bathing is the black silica, a special stone found in the mountains of Japan’s Hokkaido region, that releases negative ions and far infrared (FIR) rays. Negative ions are believed to alleviate depression and boost energy, while some claim that FIR help speed up metabolism. Stepping out of my drenched robe and bundling up to face the outdoors, I feel warm inside and oddly euphoric. I float back down Yonge Street, wondering about the mysterious power of black silica and whether my hair will be silkier when I pull off my hat at the hotel (it is!). A true rock bath believer, I mentally schedule my next session during an upcoming trip back to Toronto; working up a sweat has never felt so good.
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2662 Yonge Street, Toronto, 416.488.ROCK (7625)
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