Laying in a shallow grave while a man prepares to bury me alive sounds like something out of a horror movie. But that’s exactly what happened on a recent visit to SoJo® Spa Club in Edgewater, NJ — and it changed my life.
Let me backtrack: SoJo is like the Disneyland® of Korean-style spas. The massive multi-level spa is a self-care enthusiast’s paradise, and sits directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan. It’s the kind of place where you could spend all day in a robe, going in and out of saunas, soaking in pools until your body prunes, getting multiple body treatments, and still feel like you have more relaxing to do. So, heaven.
I decided to book a Friday there (or play hooky, as it were), so I hopped on the free shuttle from Manhattan and was whisked across the river to SoJo. Within an hour of stepping off the subway in Times Square, my robe was on and I was in my first sauna of the day.
That first sauna was one of seven, all on the fourth floor of the humongous spa. Each sauna is different: infrared, charcoal, white clay, red clay, and pink salt. The same floor houses the “Western” spa, where you can get classic facials and massages, as well as lounge in a huge section of plush leather recliners for napping. A floor below features a series of outdoor soaking pools; like the saunas, each is different (hydrotherapy, carbon rich, silk, hinoki). On the roof is a massive infinity pool with a view of the Manhattan skyline. While all of these things are incredible (trust me, I spent time in every possible area), I was there to try one of Sojo’s exclusive treatments: the Volcanic Sand Bath℠ ($20, in addition to the entrance fee of $50-75).
It is exactly what the name suggests. SoJo has imported 120 tons of volcanic sand from Ibusuki, Japan. It’s spread across so much of the sixth floor that at first glance, it looks like an indoor marsh. When you get closer, you realize the mounds of sand have people inside them. The open space is meant to mimic an indoor version of a real Japanese volcanic sand bath (a traditional and very popular pastime) “without the adjacent volcano,” according to SoJo.
The experience begins with a fresh robe (sign me up for any experience that requires multiple robes). This one is a yukata — a traditional Japanese kimono-style robe — which didn’t seem to serve much purpose beyond keeping your spa-issue terrycloth robe from getting dirty, and it just looked cooler. Once I was re-robed, I came back out and was shown my plot.
The Volcanic Sand Baths are not a private experience; the space is large and there are other people in other plots around you, like a cemetery. But it’s solitary, in that, while it’s happening, you cannot move . . . and really can’t talk all that much either.
My area was a very shallow indentation roughly the size of my body (or a grave), carved about one inch down from the surface. I laid down in it, with my head on a soft-ish block of wood, my hands at my side. As soon as I was situated, a man started to scrape sand up one side of my body using a wooden rake-shovel hybrid. Once one side of my body was completely covered, he moved on to the other, until the only thing uncovered by sand was my head.
The bath only lasts for 15 minutes, which I thought sounded very short before I actually started. The reason is that the sand is heated to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough, but with the weight of the moist sand on my body, felt like a lot more.
The experience itself is somewhere between a sauna and a body wrap; the closest comparison I have is that of an infrared wrap like Shape House®. The sand’s heat increases blood flow and circulation, and helps purge your body of toxins through sweat. According to SoJo, the volcanic sand is naturally alkaline, which helps amplify the detoxing process and give a thorough cleansing. The weight of the sand also has a compression effect, not unlike a wrap, but it somehow feels less restrictive. The thought here is that the sand itself is a natural conductor, which helps heat the body more uniformly and also prevent overheating.
It was true that I didn’t feel overwhelmingly hot until about 10 minutes into the session. Once I was in the home stretch, the clock seemed to slow down and I started to get a little restless. Even though someone came by to gently dab my forehead with a wet towel, my face was dripping sweat, and I couldn’t do anything about it. My body didn’t feel moist, as if the cotton robe and wet sand absorbed it instantly, but I knew I was perspiring my butt off.
The best part of the Volcanic Sand Bath was getting out of it. It’s not even because of my restlessness or how sweaty I was — it was because there is none of the gentle care that’s given at the start. Let me explain: In the beginning, a man carefully covers every inch of your body in a perfect grave of sand. At the end, though, you get to flail out of it like a zombie. As soon as my arms broke through to the surface, the cooler air that hit my body gave me an energetic jolt. I moved my limbs like I was making a snow angel, to celebrate their return to the outside, and felt my skin prickle. I stood up carefully (being buried in hot sand can make you a little woozy) and made my way to the shower.
I rinsed off the remaining sand in cool water, and put my original terrycloth robe back on. I was surprised at how such a short treatment could make me feel so rejuvenated and calm. I felt detoxified, but not overly hot or exhausted, and exited the shower feeling lighter and deeply relaxed (but not tired). A long soak in a warm pool is recommended for further relaxation, similar to the traditional hot spring chaser you’d find in Japan. So, I went back to the pools. When it comes to more relaxation, you don’t have to ask me twice.
Complimentary service was provided to the author for the purpose of writing this article.
Prices may vary from the time this article was written.