The Perks of Being a Wellness Guinea Pig
As I lay on my back on the floor of The Springs’ yoga studio, covered in sweat and grime and the leftover stench of the previous night’s drinking, I tried my best to shut out the brightly shining world around me and just relax into corpse pose—the end result of an hour-long yoga session that had begun at 7 a.m. But my body, unaccustomed both to intense physical activity before at least 9 a.m. and to fully relaxing, stayed in its rigid position; shoulders pinched together, legs and feet bent at strange angles. When Sam Barber, the instructor leading the session, picked up my feet to reposition my prone but not peaceful body, all I could think about was 1) how long my toe hairs were, 2) how terribly out of shape I was if I couldn’t even relax correctly, and 3) the laughable notion that early-morning yoga, sauna sessions, and vegan breakfasts could ever be a part of my regular routine.
Yet there I was, about to include all of these things in my morning. True to form, I’d spent the night before celebrating a friend’s birthday with heavy drink and drunchies. So when my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., I steeled myself for my assignment: to visit The Springs, a wellness center/yoga studio/health-conscious café located in the Arts District of Los Angeles.
Nestled within one of the area’s many refurbished warehouses, The Springs is an oasis. All light steel and wood and greenery, the space is split up into four distinct sections: a yoga/meditative studio space; a wellness center that includes sauna units and rooms for everything from massage, acupuncture, and cupping, to something called “gravity colon hydrotherapy”; a kitchen and juice bar eating area; and a general working area, both for evening events and for co-working during the day. Created by partners Jared Stein and Kimberly Helms, who’d first collaborated together in the theater world, The Springs is a vision that sprang out of LA’s larger wellness culture—a united utopia of good practices, where you can detox the city’s various effluvium through sweat, steam, and super-healthy foodstuffs.
As a freelancer, I keep both odd hours and a very budget-dependent diet, which is to say that I sleep in, stay up late, and eat a lot of trash. The Springs, then, was a crash course in a lifestyle that seemed completely at odds with my own. This seemed like the kind of place for people who unironically use #blessed in their Instagrams, who run marathons and use home juicers and have aestheticians, dieticians, and therapists of all kinds on speed dial—a far cry from my situation, which includes a freezer full of dino nuggets and a yoga mat gathering dust.
When the opportunity to take a shortcut into the #blessed life appeared, I had to say yes, which is how I found myself at The Springs’s yoga studio at 6:50 a.m. I’d taken yoga classes on and off for a year, but had stopped about a year ago, and my body definitely didn’t want to get into triangle pose so early in the morning. The two other members of my class, including the center’s chef, seemed to get through the hour-long session alright; I huffed and puffed my way through, and at one point let out a loud, involuntary grunt while holding my 500th downward dog pose.
Afterward, I was a sweaty mess. Though I was ready to lay down on the studio floor and nap for the rest of the day, I was shuttled into the wellness center for about 45 minutes inside a solo infrared sauna, which I assume is like a regular sauna but in the dark and alone. This was my first sauna session ever, and as I stripped my sweaty clothes off of my heaving body and stepped into the wood sauna booth, I briefly debated grabbing some shut-eye, until I saw the large sign that (roughly) said, “DO NOT SLEEP HERE BECAUSE YOU MIGHT DIE.” That warning, plus a bowl of ice I routinely dunked my face into, kept me, if not totally alert, then at least awake.
And then a weird thing happened: Despite a healthy skepticism of my own state of “wellness,” I actually felt… kind of… refreshed? LA had been hovering around 100°F that week, and so the sauna itself wasn’t too far off from the outside temperature. But instead of sapping me dry and leaving me exhausted, the heat and steam had me sweating in a way that was actually somewhat energizing. When I left the sauna booth, I felt not just less hungover, but also lighter in spirit.
With that, I settled in for the last part of my stay: breakfast. Normally, I skip breakfast and instead eat an early lunch, but at around 9 a.m., I snacked on The Springs’s “coco yoga crunch” (coconut yogurt, blueberry jam, and granola) and their heirloom tomato toast, which is piled on top of homemade seed bread and features a jalapeño-infused cashew cream cheese. Both tasted viscerally healthy; the granola’s crunch and the seed bread’s chewiness were textural suggestions of purity, and the cream cheese was unlike any other vegan cheese I’d ever had the misfortune to encounter, in that it was actually pretty tasty. And in lieu of my typical morning coffee, I sipped on fresh-squeezed juice.
After chatting with Lauren Gamboa, who’d acted as my guide and guru all morning, I stepped out into the late morning glare to catch a bus back home. And it was then that my fatigue caught up with me—I kept nodding off on the bus, overcome with a desire to nap forever. When I finally arrived back at my apartment, I evaluated the overall “success” of my dip into the wellness world, and it was: “Yeaaah?” Perhaps I’ll never be quite #blessed enough to have an on-call yogini, but I can at least dust off that mat in the corner.