Exhale Spa, known for its seamless melding of fitness, yoga and spa treatments, is not your mother’s spa. With focus clearly on the mind/body/spirit connection Exhale attracts people who enjoy a good workout, followed by a body treatment, chased with a yoga class.
There are 17 Exhales altogether, mostly in major markets like NYC, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Palm Beach, Dallas, and Atlanta. Exhale started in New York City, which still has the most Exhale locations -- four with spas, plus an exercise-only location in Soho and a members-only location at Manhattan House on the Upper East Side.
A Core Fusion Class
The flagship site, Exhale Midtown at 150 Central Park South is part gym and part spa, featuring 16 treatment rooms, a steam room, and two 1,200 square foot studios designed for yoga and signature workout classes.
Upon entering the bustling spa, I was greeted by Zack, who sat behind a counter and cheerfully took down my information before steering me to my destination.
When I mentioned I was there to take a Core Fusion Class, one of Exhale’s signature workouts, Zack told me enthusiastically, “You’re going to love the class, it’s fabulous.”
He showed me to the locker room that can accommodate 146 Exhale-enthusiasts. The changing room was not your typical serene oasis, as it was filled with women who had either just finished a yoga class, grueling workout or were getting ready for a massage. So if you head to an Exhale spa, be prepared for a possible wave of sweaty but toned women heading for the showers, steam room or make-up table.
My Core Fusion workout was led by Bergen Wheeler, a sinewy, lean fitness instructor who apparently knows every core muscle in the body. Named for Candice Bergen, this North Carolina native explained the importance of her fitness workouts.
“There are lots of different components to Core Fusion,” she said. There is lots of abdominal work, weights and intensity,” she said. She wasn’t kidding. This workout was so intense my legs were still vibrating after I changed into my robe for my Acupuncture Massage.
"A Good Sore"
In fact, days after taking this class I was still feeling sore (but a good sore!) in muscles I forgot I had. Apparently this wasn’t the beginner’s class I had anticipated, but rather an “Open” class which incorporates all levels of fitness. If I had known then...
Exhale’s philosophy of melding mind/body spirit was further explained by Spa Director Holly Hatfield, who is a direct descendant of the Hatfields who feuded with the McCoys.( If you don’t know who they are, just Google them for a fascinating Americana tidbit.) But Holly is all about keeping the peace and personal transformation. “Exhale has a unique philosophy,” she explained. “Our unique set of therapies and modalities gives people a transformative experience.”
While I awaited my acupuncture massage, (which I have never seen in any other spa) I lounged in the relaxation room. It is not a large space, but has 4 comfy chairs, a two-seater sofa and a bench with lots of pillows. A couple of accent tables held candles and a Buddha statue. Soft lighting made it hard to read the magazines but there was a large coffee-table pictorial book , “The Art of Yoga.” Two microwave-sized appliances should have contained warm neck pillows, but both were empty.
Stimulating Chi and Relaxing Muscles
Lexi, my Acupuncture Massage therapist, led me to the treatment room and explained that acupuncture massage helped to stimulate circulation of Qi (Chi, meridians, etc) and to relax tense muscles. It seemed a bit odd to combine what is essentially a medical treatment with a massage, but this was too unique to pass up.
Lexi determined what points to work after asking what physical tension I had. I mentioned tightness in my shoulders from being on the computer so much, and also a chronic nerve pain located in my face.
She placed a dozen or so acupuncture needles in assorted spots. It didn't hurt exactly, but when she rotated them a little in a couple of places, it felt a little "pinchy" and that was the exact word I mentioned to her. It wasn't painful, just not relaxing. By the way, an informed consent sheet has to be completed before this treatment is conducted.
She examined my tongue, which signal different conditions in Eastern medical tradition. She told me my tongue was whitish, and could be from too much dairy in my diet. And my tongue’s red tip could indicate stress and anxiety. I live in Manhattan. Case closed.
Lexi also used vibrational tuning forks, which she placed near my ears, used to promote relaxation and comfort she said. Lexi said the massage portion of the treatment furthers circulation and releases tense muscle groups. For me, the massage part was a distinct relief and Lexi was excellent at it. One slight quibble: the massage table was way too high up, making it a challenge to mount.
Ultimately, I'm glad I tried something unusual, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone who is looking for sheer relaxation. This treatment is best for someone who has had acupuncture before, likes it, and wants the added relaxation of a skilled massage at the end.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary treatments for the purpose of reviewing those services. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.