Could yoga with an injection of sensory visuals and sounds be the ultimate way to unwind? Bethany Reitsma immerses herself in a class.
Yoga is an ancient practice that has been around for more than 5000 years, but immersive or sensory yoga is a new twist promising a whole different experience.
It's meant to keep your mind and body engaged by appealing to all of your senses using soundtracks and visual art.
So when I learned Auckland gym SALA was running a new sensory yoga series, Sonar, I had to test it for myself.
SALA owner Sarah Lindsay created Sonar as a vinyasa flow class mixing yoga with music and digital art displays.
It's designed to bombard your senses and help people explore their creativity - hence the movement in sync with a digital art display projected on to the wall.
Sarah burns palo santo, a type of South American wood meant to reduce stress and get rid of negative energy. She uses the same scent and deep house playlist each time, so it becomes familiar.
"It's about relaxing and accepting yourself, ignoring what the shapes are supposed to look like and just going at your own pace," Sarah says.
"It's about exploring your inner landscape rather than focusing on the outer body looking a certain way."
Sensory yoga is one of the newest versions of an ancient practice, becoming popular in recent years particularly in the US and UK.
Steven Metz of Los Angeles studio Earth's Power Yoga is among the first to come up with the concept, creating an immersive class called Yogascape in 2014.
He told the LA Times he got the idea while scuba diving in Mexico and feeling the beauty and movement of the ocean.
He wanted to create classes that have a great impact on the senses and spent years studying animation and photography to create the visuals.
Similarly, Sarah encourages those who take her classes to think of the breath as a rising and falling tide.
"Regular yoga classes are often choreographed with a set theme in mind," she says, but she likes to improvise the moves to match the feel of the room when people arrive.
There's been plenty of research into the benefits of yoga for our brains and bodies. It's known to help achieve balance between the logical and emotional parts of the brain, helping us relax and de-stress. It also increases flexibility, muscle strength and tone, and energy levels.
Add visuals, sound and smell to that and the benefits increase, according to the research.
The senses harness powerful stimulants that trigger hormone production in the brain, which can work to change our mindset.
Monique Park and colleagues at the University of Madeira in Portugal found that immersive or interactive yoga practice enhanced performance and concentration.
"Though one might say the holiness of yoga practice may be interrupted with the technology, our study and test showed that the interactive arts have made the yoga seem more approachable and interesting, especially for the beginners.
"The audio in the background works as a soothing and supporting media for the practitioner to obtain steady and smooth breathing throughout the practice."
When I turn up to the class at the Ponsonby gym, I'm not too sure what to expect. My typical after-work gym routine includes dragging myself reluctantly up concrete stairs amid blaring music to sweat it out on the machines, but this was something else.
What I found was a class that appealed to my creative side. Interestingly, Lindsay says most people who come along are writers, artists or designers who want a fitness routine that feels expressive, rather than like a chore.
Sarah's directions - which she describes as "invitations" - were soothing and poetic, with no pressure to keep up or maintain a certain speed.
The herbal tea-like smell of the palo santo didn't create a headache like incense often does. It was subtle rather than overpowering.
This class is hard and you definitely work up a sweat, but opening and ending with savasana - which involves lying still and gradually relaxing the body - means you can fully unwind and relax all your muscles. The air starts to feel like a weighted blanket pressing down on you as you let go of everything.
Normally when I work out or do yoga at home my mind is racing with a thousand other things, but the playlist and projection occupied all my senses so I found my mind could actually empty itself of all the stresses of the workday.
At the end of the class I felt more relaxed than I had in weeks and ready to wind down for the night. I'd expected that the visuals and music would be overwhelming or distracting, but instead they helped me focus and breathe.
If you're looking to change up your fitness routine or just find some real relaxation, find a class like this - I know I'll definitely be going again.