The other day I got off the subway at Canal Street, pushed through the bustle of Chinatown during the lunch rush, hurried across Broadway, and ducked into an ancient cave of candle-lit luxury and aquatic therapy. Two hours later, if you asked me where I was, I would not be able, with any certainty, to tell you that I was in the middle of New York City.
When you enter Aire Ancient Bathes, you enter a world removed from the pressure and the noise, the harshness and the bright lights. Instead your mind and body are released into a place where ultimate relaxation is attained with ease, and you leave feeling total revitalization. Designed to replicate the era when ancient Greeks and Romans lived like gods and goddesses, Aire provides the opportunity for a modern audience to partake in the timeless ritual of a break at the daily bathhouse.
As I entered the lobby – with its weathered columns, lace screen curtains, plush recovered furniture in rich wooden hues, and rustic decor – the process of relaxation began. I was just checking in, but already checking out. After I slipped into my soft white robe and slid on my cushioned slippers, a nurturing masseuse guided me down the stone steps dimly lit by tiny white candles, leading to my bathing experience. I was given a thorough tour of the underground sanctuary, offered complimentary herbal tea, and then told I was free to roam.
The first pool I stepped into, the Tepidarium, was set to the body’s natural temperature of 97 degrees. It was equipped with strong but soothing jets that awoke my muscles and set my own temperature back to equilibrium after just sprinting around in the August humidity. There was a second Tepidarium on the opposite side of the bathhouse, only without jets and long enough for casual laps or a care-free float.
Next I warmed up in the 102-degree Caldarium. My now loose limbs and spine were able to stretch as my body began to detox through my pores. As long as you stay in a heated bath for 10 minutes or less – otherwise running the risk of overheating your body – blood pressure is lowered and circulation increases. Toxins that festered in the bloodstream are released and overall wellness begins to stabilize.
What came next was a shock – literally. I jumped into one of the tiny Frigidariums (set at 75 and 57 degrees) for just a split second, totally emerging my just-heated body into ice cold water. The feeling was exhilarating, as I actually felt the blood pumping through my veins and felt every inch of skin and every bone all at once. I went back and forth from the hot to the cold pools, as contrasting temperatures this way allows the most nutrients to flow through your body. The two levels of heat force blood vessels to contract and constrict, creating a powerful pump and forced, but open, flow of healthy blood to your organs, through the heart, and up to the brain.
After much back-and-forth with the thermal aquatic therapy, it was time for a break from the water. I stepped into the eucalyptus-infused Lanconicum, Aire’s steam room built with heated stone marble imported from Spain. This enabled my body to settle down and return to a warm, comfortable temperature. It also served as an aromatherapy session that opened my chest and nasal passages and allowed for clear, easier breathing. It truly felt like laying in a container of Vick’s Vapor Rub, in the absolute best way possible.
For the next hour and a half I rotated between all the pools and the steam room, occasionally stopping in the relaxation area for a glass of water or cup of tea while stretching out on the heated stone platforms. At the end of my session I waded into the Floatarium, the salt water pool designed to simply, well, float in. Bathing in salt water has a plethora of health benefits including skin healing and hydration, bettering circulation, muscle relaxation, and total detoxification.
While my sacred experience at Aire truly lived up to the company’s goal of offering the most sumptuous form of relaxation, there are a number of other services offered there which contribute further to mental and physical wellness beyond the basic aroma and thermal therapies. Clients can opt for an extended massage from the highest qualified masseuses following their bath. You can also indulge in Red Wine or Cava/Caviar Rituals (an antioxidant infused experience), Olive Oil Massage (for the purpose of rehydrating and loosening skin for optimum energy), or the ancient Kerala Experience using warm wax and essential oils for a facial and massage.
There’s no better feeling in the world than lifting the weight off of your shoulders that is the stress of every day city life. Sometimes our schedules are so overbooked that we mistake overworking as accomplishment. Just once in a while, everyone deserves the chance to just stop and breathe and take care of their mind and body. If we can take one lesson from history, it’s that taking a moment to cleanse and relax is the universal form of luxury, as proven by ancient civilizations. And now take my personal word for it, a trip to Aire can and will fulfill your wellness needs and bring you back to balance. And nothing is more luxurious than happiness.