Wikipedia defines common salt or sodium chloride (NaCl), as a mineral that is essential to not only human function, but is also one of our five basic tastes. Too much can be harmful to our health (blood pressure, heart, etc.), and too little in a recipe can cheat us out of the full flavoring that a meal has to offer (2015). Setting aside the culinary aspect, it begs the question: What other medicinal benefits can we reap from this gift of the Earth? Today we are going to venture into the world of halotherapy, also known as “salt therapy”.

 

Danica Collins, columnist for the Underground Health Reporter, describes the origin of halotherapy as follows:

“Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, prescribed saltwater inhalation therapy for bronchial and lung disorders. Today, the intentional use of salt for medicinal purposes is called “salt therapy” (also halotherapy, from the Greek word halos for salt, and spleotherapy, from the Latin word spalenca for cave)”.

Ms Collins further relates that salt caves were used as far back as the mid 1800s to treat and improve the symptoms of diseases such as: asthma, psoriasis, congestion, and sinusitis. Additionally, the author noted that spleotherapy originated in Poland in the 1950s when healthcare workers discovered that salt miners rarely suffered from tuberculosis. Collins also named a few studies which demonstrated the benefits of spending time in natural salt caves (2015). Since most of us may not live near a natural salt cave, how can we reap the benefits of the same?

 

An increasingly popular movement in the United States is the construction of artificial caves using Himalayan or other equivalent form of rock salt.  Zajac, etal, noted that due to an ever increasing degradation of air quality, people are seeking an environment without pollution that is replicated in a natural salt cave microclimate (2014). These authors conducted a study of 303 Polish citizens and made the following observations and recommendations concerning artificial caves:

1. A therapeutic cave uses a salt generator that produces a dry salt aerosol within the room. This is a purified air which is kept at a temperature between 64 and 71 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity of 50-60%. When the air crosses the salt walls it releases the microelements: iodine, calcium, potassium, sodium, copper selenium, and bromine. The authors stated that the inhaled aerosol contains both anti-inflammatory and bactericidal (bacterial-killing) properties. The above noted conditions are essential in order to reap the most health benefits.

2. The use of a salt generator is equivalent to being in a salt mine or by the sea. In caves that were constructed without one, the concentrations of the microelements were negligible. The time spent in the cave was anywhere from 45 minutes (minimum) to upwards of 2 hours.

3. A disadvantage to halotherapy is the attached cost, as it may require several sessions to notice improvement. However, even one session will provide a participant a place to escape from the stresses of life. Rest and relaxation are the order of the day in the salt cave (2014).

 

Natural Salt Cave

So what is it like to spend time in an artificial salt cave?

Today, I visited the Salt Cave at A Relaxed You. This business is located in Palos Heights, Illinois a south suburb of Chicago.  I entered the main lobby area  with a décor that lived up to its namesake. The staff is very pleasant and greets customers as they make entry into the facility. The treatment is 45 minutes in length and starts every hour on the hour which is paid for prior to entry into the cave.

After I removed my coat and shoes, I entered the cave through a brown, solid oak door. I was the only patron which afforded me a nice late morning alone time experience.  The cave itself is designed to mimic a beach scene, and felt as such as I walked on the coarse “beach salt”. Several zero gravity chairs were lined up like soldiers in a formation on the front and back walls. Blankets are offered for comfort as the temperature inside the cave is cool. The walls and the ceiling were covered with thick layers of Himalayan salt that resembled stalactites that I recalled seeing as a young teenager in the Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico.

I descended into my chair of choice in the middle of the back wall, leaned back, and quickly found myself in the horizontal position. Even though the room was a comfortable temperature, I felt more relaxed under the cover of a blanket. Exactly on the hour, the door was closed, the lights dimmed, and soft relaxation music that filled the room added an extra special touch to the experience. I closed my eyes and began a deep meditative practice which sometimes found my mind drifting off to thoughts of past and future events. I quickly refocused attention on my breath to center myself once again.

 

Artificial Salt Cave

Before I knew it, 45 minutes passed by like the blink of an eye. The lights were brought back to full strength, the door opened, and I exited with a renewed sense of purpose. As I left the cave I promised myself that I would return to this little piece of “Hawaii” I could call my own, even if for just three-quarters of an hour at a time. If you do not live near Palos Heights, I highly recommend seeking a salt cave nearest to where you live. Even if you do not seek the medicinal benefits, the relaxation experience is well worth the trip. However, before adding this modality to any wellness regimen, please consult with your licensed healthcare provider to ensure that it will safely compliment an existing prescribed treatment plan.

References

Collins, D. (No date). Salt Therapy A Powerful Healing Detoxifier. Retrieved from http://undergroundhealthreporter.com/salt-therapy/ on 2/13/2015.

Wikipedia (2015). Salt. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt on 2/13/2015.

Zajac, et al (2014). Salt caves as simulation of natural environment and significance of halotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24738510 on 2/13/2015.