Embrace sweat and shivers at Alter sauna & ice bath studio

At Toronto's Alter, knowledgeable instructors walk you through hot and cold therapy and encourage you to challenge yourself. It's equally as rewarding to pop in on your lunch break, or lounge and linger.

Alter cold plunge and sauna in Toronto | A group of people sitting in the sauna at Alter

Alter is the latest sauna and ice bath studio to tap into Toronto's infatuation with bite-sized wellness experiences. It’s the brainchild of four friends — Ujwal Shah, Aleya Velshi, Melissa Donato and Tyler Ackerman — who have set out to bring a respectful, relaxed and accessible approach to hot and cold therapy. 

Inside the studio, you'll have access to a cozy tea room, dry sauna, two cold baths and a pail shower. Like Othership, Alter isn't designed to accommodate a whole day of wellness — you'll want to head to the best spas in Toronto for that. Instead, sessions are one hour, though timing can be flexible.

Alter: The experience

I book a one-hour drop-in on a Saturday morning, and it's busy when I arrive. I’m given one towel to dry off, and one to sit on. A groovy instrumental Anderson .Paak song sets the mood when I duck into the dimly lit resting room.

Alter cold plunge and sauna in Toronto | The rest room at Alter sauna and ice bath studio

Behind a wood door, the three-level sauna is decently spacious and cranked to a sweaty 90 C. An instructor periodically pokes in to check on everyone and plop an essential oil snowball on a bed of hot rocks, blasting me with aromatic wet heat.

Once I’m glistening with perspiration, I quickly rinse off in the shower room, then clamber up the steps to the four-person cold baths. Each stage is close to the next, but Alter never feels cramped.

There’s a 10 C and a 2 C bath: I opt for the latter. The instructor ushers four of us to the pool's edge while demonstrating how to control our breathing once we’re submerged. We’re all guided to enter the water in unison. It's freezing, and I immediately want to hop out. Then, we synchronize our inhales and exhales, and through the shivers, I feel empowered. I end up beating my cold plunge record. We all exit together, too; the instructor beams and high-fives everyone.

Alter cold plunge and sauna in Toronto | A group of people in the cold plunge at Alter

I end my session with a steaming brew of herbal tea on the couch in Alter’s tea room. It’s a small social space to chat, recover and fully enjoy post-plunge endorphins. All in all, I’m at Alter for about an-hour-and-a-half, and love every second.

Alter: What else

The small boutique in Alter’s foyer is stocked with merch (including adorable sauna hats), plus a handful of oils, teas and other wellness products from local businesses.

As well as drop-in sessions, Alter offers four signature 60-minute classes that teach the foundations of hot, cold, stretching and breathwork.

Alter cold plunge and sauna in Toronto | A person filling a tea bag in Alter's tea lounge

Alter: The verdict

Alter is a very welcome addition to Toronto’s wellness offerings; their beginner-friendly, relaxed approach ensures each experience is restorative. The studio is compact and without frills, so you can focus on challenging yourself and reaping the benefits.

Alter, from $45 per visit, from $150 per monthly pass; alterwellness.ca

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