While it's technically on 33rd street, Aura Wellness Spa is still located right amidst the mayhem of Manhattan's chaotic Herald Square, where tourists flock to shop until they drop. Aura provides the perfect respite from the madness that surrounds it, and once inside, the hustle and bustle of New York City life vanishes; all that awaits are relaxing, top-notch treatments.
The Korean-Asian style spa offers a host of fantastic services, from facials and massages to body scrubs and teeth whitening. But there was one "treatment" that we knew we had to try: Aura's toxin-eliminating Therapeutic Grottoes. Essentially, they're dry and steam saunas, however they are anything but your typical sweat-inducing detox spots.
Located on the first floor of the three-story spa, your first stop on the way to the grottoes is Aura's lavish locker and shower room. It's neat, clean and contains two vanities with amenities, including brushes, blowdryers, moisturizers and more. You're given a locker to store your personal belongings, with a key you wear around your wrist. Because the grotto area is co-ed, you're required to wear a tee shirt and shorts, which are neatly stacked by size on wooden shelves, next to robes and towels that are always available to grab (as well as water, of course). Once you're ready, you head through the curtain on the other side of the locker room and enter into the spa's grotto space.
And what a space it is! There are four different dome-shaped saunas that truly live up to the their description. Each one is made from yellow loess soil, which contains minerals that are key in eliminating toxins from your body. They are also outfitted with bioceramic stones that are said to be excellent for blood circulation, skin softening and relief from muscle and arthritis pain. If you're lucky, you'll get the space to yourself for a while; although these grottoes can accommodate quite a few people, there's nothing like having some solo time. Book a morning appointment if you want a crack at "exclusive" access.
While the saunas all share these beneficial, body-healing features, each one is also unique, in both atmosphere and intention. The Crystal & Jade Dry grotto is a good place to start, as the heat is not extreme (though you will still work up a sweat). It's also perhaps the prettiest of the grottos from the inside, with sparkling purple stones and crystals adorning the dome's interior. This one is especially good for soothing physical ailments (such as tight muscles or headaches) as well as mental tensions (like stress and anxiety). The jade rock is believed to cast away "bad energy,"and works wonders as a calming agent. It also contains anti-aging properties.
Next, try the Hwangto Dry Grotto, which is recommended for acne-prone skin. The heat is high but not overwhelming; just enough to bring on a deep, cleansing sweat without feeling engulfed by dry, hot air. The inside of the sauna is lined with red and tan bricks (reminiscent of an old adobe hut), as well as oak and wood charcoal, which is said to relieve stress, cleanse the blood and cure skin irritations. Salt bricks are also steamed with the bioceramic stones to add even more skin soothing and purifying power.
Once you've had your fill of dry air, duck in the Crystal & Jade Steam Grotto, which, as indicated, is indeed very steamy. It won't take long before you're sweating up a storm. But the benefits are substantial; it keeps the body maintain hydration, accelerates detoxification, and can be especially therapeutic for those suffering from respiratory issues. Look up, and you'll see more of those gorgeous crystal and jade stones, dripping with water droplets from the intense steam heat. Once again, they contribute to the mind-body connection, promoting relaxation, stress-reduction and a positive state of mind.
Finally, it's time to hit the Stone Ice Grotto. When you enter, don't let the glacier-like ice slab on the facing wall scare you. This room is refreshing, not freezing, and the cool down happens slowly, naturally, and without any kind of shock to the system. The cold contracts the blood vessels that have been expanded due to heat exposure, giving your body one final toxin release. Plus, it's an invigorating way to end your time spent hopping between hot temperatures.
You'll definitely want to shower after your experience, and each of the three roomy showers in the locker room contain shampoo, conditioner, body wash and moisturizer.
Whether you need a quick break from a busy day (especially convenient if you work in midtown) or plan to make an occasion out of a sauna and steam, check out the Therapeutic Grottoes at Aura Wellness Spa. The staff is attentive and very helpful (there's even a phone in the grotto room should you need anything), and the atmosphere is 100% relaxing. If you're a solo day-spa goer, this spot is perfect, however we recommend bringing a friend; time can pass slowly when you're sweating out toxins in intense heat.
But either way, if you're looking for a special kind of steam and sauna, the grottoes at Aura are the way to go.