Is Saratoga Springs The Health Mecca Of The Northeast?

Mineral baths aren't the only health and wellness treatments in town. It's now a yoga hotspot.

Saratoga Springs Yoga
Saratoga is not only about its mineral baths; it also has six yoga studios.

For more than 200 years, when the first bathhouse went up at the Old Red Spring, health-minded folks have been dipping into the naturally carbonated waters of Saratoga Springs. In 2012, the Roosevelt Baths and Spa in Saratoga Spa State Park turned the taps for 10,000 baths, says Spa director Kimberly Rossi. In 2013, those numbers bubbled upward, approaching 15,000.

Mineral baths aren’t the only health and wellness treatments in town. Saratoga Springs has six yoga studios, more than 30 yoga teachers and many other practitioners devoted to healing the mind and body. Is Saratoga Springs experiencing a rebirth as a center for health and wellness? “There is absolutely a dedicated group of wellness practitioners, healers and seekers in Saratoga. I do believe it’s a little healing mecca, a healing pod,” says Dr. Selma Nemer, founder of One Roof Holistic Health Center. “I also believe there are energy centers. We are similar to Santa Fe and Sedona in some ways.” Ten years ago, the clinical psychologist bought a rundown house on Henry Street and transformed it into a haven of healing and personal transformation. One Roof now has 22 independent practitioners at one site, the largest collection in town, and three years ago, One Big Roof, a space for meditation, yoga and workshops, opened on Broadway, above Putnam Market. “We have a chiropractor, two acupuncturists, a craniosacral therapist, four people who do reiki, nutritional testing and several intuitives. We have a lot of psychotherapists,” says Nemer. Over the years, more than 1,000 students have enrolled in One Roof’s Saratoga Stress Reduction Class, which Nemer teaches with Pierre Zimmerman, a Buddhist chaplain who is her life and business partner, and psychotherapist Carole Russell Smith.

Across the street from One Big Roof, and up a stairway from Broadway, Yoga Mandali is flourishing in a serene and inviting second-floor space. “We offerclasses every day of the week,” says studio manager Meredith Shorb. “We also have the longest running teacher training in Saratoga. Many of the teachers in town were trained by Yoga Mandali.” Voted best yoga studio by polls in both The Saratogian and Saratoga Today, the center has more than a dozen instructors teaching classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced students. The yoga room is an urban oasis, with a polished wood floor, plants, a statue of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant deity, and dramatic arched windows that overlook the heart of downtown. There’s a shop that sells mats, clothing and books, and a kitchen for vegan cooking classes. The weekly yoga book club meets in a cozy lounge.

Because Yoga Mandali is focused onBhakti, the yoga of spiritual devotion, it has become a Capital Region centerfor Kirtan, a community gathering in which world-class singers and musicianslead participants in Sanskrit chanting. Saratoga’s tightly knit yoga networkhas been strongly influenced by the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in western Massachusetts, says Shorb. “The community here is very rich in knowledge. It seems to be growing in a very positive way.”

A few doors away, Fallon Wellness Pharmacy of Saratoga has taken root at Broadway and Lake, in the same spot where Menges and Curtis dispensed medicines for more than a hundred years. “My father owned this business when I was born. I’ve been on this corner my entire life,” says Michael Lenz, president and supervising pharmacist at Fallon of Saratoga. Three years ago, Lenz partnered with Fallon Wellness Pharmacy of Latham. Working with doctors and practitioners in both traditional and alternative medicine, he now fills only customized prescriptions and prepares them in a state-of-the-art lab. “We’re helping people to be well, as opposed to treating sickness,” says Lenz. “When you walk in the door, the experience is unlike any at a traditional pharmacy.”

Fallon of Saratoga offers private nutrition and wellness counseling plus seminars on bio-identical hormone replacement. “We fill a lot of customized prescriptions for women going through menopause,” he says. Lenz also blogs about all kinds of health topics, from why we crave junk food to the latest research on turmeric and coconut oil.

Saratoga Springs has been embracing alternative medicine and preventive health for more than a decade, Lenz says. “It’s always been a place of health and wellness, but definitely lately, it’s coming back around. When people think of Saratoga, they think of health, history and horses. What we have here, I believe, is unique to any place in the country.”

One of Saratoga’s newest centers for natural healing is The Garden, a restored, circa 1861 farmhouse two miles west of downtown on Church Street (Rte. 9N).

Two years ago, Suzanne Jagoda, a massage therapist, master gardener and retired nurse, bought and remodeled the former bed and breakfast. She also runs the nine-room, 1960s-style Saratoga Garden Motel on the four-acre property. In the two-story house, nine practitioners see clients in rooms with names like Ivy, Berry and Violet, and during the warmer months, health-seekers are encouraged to go outdoors and unwind among the flowers and trees. “After you finish, you can go out and sit. It’s a great peaceful place,” Jagoda says as she stands next to a small pond where koi fish dart among water plants. In future years, she sees people doing yoga, pilates and zumba outdoors on the grass.

Last summer, Jagoda planted a 30-foot-long promenade of bright zinnias, nasturtium, yellow cosmos and marigolds. “People have stopped just to see the flowers,” she says, adding that Soroptimists International of Saratoga County have put The Garden on their list for the 2014 “Secret Garden” tour.

Wendy Wood Ordway, a craniosacral therapist at The Garden, moved from Putnam County to Saratoga Springs four years ago. “It was known as a place that would be open to alternative health. I moved here specifically for that reason,” says Ordway, a former occupational therapist who is also a gardener.

Dr. Patrick T. Miles, a Hudson Falls native who runs Accurate Chiropractic, found The Garden on Craigslist after moving his family back to the area from Massachusetts. “The idea of alternative health is getting stronger across the board. And in Saratoga, it’s been the focus for the last century,” Miles says.

Judy Wyle has been running Joy of Yoga in Saratoga Springs for 24 years. “Yoga has earned a significance place forwhat it can offer for health and healing. And there’s a phenomenal amount of yoga here for the size of our city,” says Wyle. “I had the first really dedicated yoga studio. I’ve definitely been the longest continuously operating one.” She goes on to say that in the early 1980s, there were only one or two yoga teachers in town.“It wasconsidered a kind of a cult. When people would come to my studio, I felt like they were looking over their shoulder to see if anybody saw them.”

Wyle started Joy of Yoga, a one woman business, in 1989, in an aerobics studio on Spring Street called Fit as a Fiddle, and for the last decade, her cozy studio has been located in the Arcade building on Broadway. Some of Wyle’s students have followed her for 10 or 20 years and formed close ties with each other. “‘Yoga’ means ‘union,’ to yoke together, and in that sense, it is community building,” she says.

Wyle believes that what has happened in Saratoga Springs reflects a much larger trend. “In this country and worldwide, there is an enormous expansion of yoga. I think it’s one of the most promising and positive things on the planet right now,” she says.

At the historic Roosevelt Baths, which first opened in 1935, Rossi believes that the same mineral water that sparked the city’s health reputation more than a century ago is now keeping it sparkling in the 21st century. “We represent that health, that authentic bathhouse with magical mineral waters. Back in the day, that laid the foundation. In a 100-mile radius or a 50-mile radius, no one has the wealth of health and well-being offerings that we do. We see guests from as young as 17 or 18, to up to 90. Some of them come from near, and many come from far. Some are tourists just hearing that it’s the thing to do while they are in town,” she says.

At One Roof, Nemer believes that Saratoga’s water and its healthful properties are everywhere, whether one is aware of them or not. “The Indians called it medicine waters. The healing waters are running under this city,” says Nemer. “They are under all our buildings.”

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