Exploit the mineral’s therapeutic properties in a spa-like setting
Photos by kc kratt
Salt, a mineral that’s been around since time immemorial, is not only a ubiquitous food seasoning; it’s also—purportedly—a healing agent.
Salt caves exploit the mineral’s therapeutic properties, allowing people to relax and rejuvenate in a spa-like environment. These manufactured caves are popping up around the United States in greater numbers, with around 400 or so in the US alone.
Erie County’s first salt cave, Aura Salt Cave and Wellness, opened last year at 6429 Transit Road in East Amherst. A few months later, one opened at 5020 Armor Duells Road in Orchard Park in the Southtowns, and there's been one operating in Ellicotville for some time.
Aura co-owners Tadgi and Kelly DeBerg say that visiting the salt cave can help alleviate asthma, chest tightness, sinus problems, colds, and the flu. Salt, they say, is a natural immune booster and can help increase lung capacity. They also say it can help with skin problems, such as acne or psoriasis, and even migraines.
“Something as simple as salt can help people in so many ways,” says Tadgi, who notes that its four main properties are antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory.
Exactly what is a salt cave? It’s an environment created to look like a cave, complete with stalactites, cool temperatures, and trickling water. Visitors sit for varying periods of time while breathing in salt particles that have been pumped into the air. For the Aura cave, 20,000 pounds of pink salt were brought in from Poland.
Although halotherapy—the inhalation of air infused with salt—is catching on in the US, it’s been a well-established practice in Europe for some time. Treatments there are even covered by insurance, notes Tadji.
The use of salt for therapy began in Poland. During the mid-1800s, Polish doctor Feliks Boczkowski noticed that men working in the salt mines were dramatically healthier than those working in the coal mines. The respiratory disorders plaguing the coal miners were nonexistent in the salt miners. After years of research, he concluded that the difference was not in the men but the environment. The miners were healthy due to years of chipping away at the salt, during which time they were breathing it into their bodies. Boczkowski would go on to open the first salt therapy resort, where people could come and take salt baths.
Although science conclusively proving salt’s health benefits is scant, the testimonials from people who claim it’s helped them are many. Take Williamsville resident John Theal, seventy-one, for example. The former smoker grapples with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It severely limits his lung function. When the salt cave in East Amherst opened, he was skeptical, but decided to try it. What did he have to lose? He started going three times per week, before heading to the gym.
“I could actually get on the treadmill and do a forty-minute walk at a brisk pace, and I could do that without any problems breathing,” he says, adding, “I can take deep breaths now. I couldn’t do that before.”
For more information on Aura, visit aurasaltcave.com.
Together, we venture
into the cave.
The ground crunches.
I don’t know what to expect heading into the salt cave at Aura Salt Caves and Wellness, but I keep thinking about all the characters in Jane Austen novels who go to the seaside for the healthy air and water. Maybe they knew something we’re just rediscovering now?
Accompanying me is my brother, John, who, when I told him I was going to visit a salt cave that afternoon, said, “I’m coming with you.” As the owner of a salt lamp, he was intrigued.
Salt carpets the ground about three to four inches thick. We leave our shoes behind, our feet now clad in cloth booties.
The lights are dim, but I make out ten chairs arranged in a semi-circle, each with a soft blanket draped over the back.
We settle into the antigravity chairs, pushing the bottom with our feet so that we’re resting at a comfortable angle. Tadji DeBerg, co-owner, comes in and explains that we’re to relax in an electronics-free environment, and she’ll return in forty-five minutes to let us know the session is complete.
It’s cool inside, around sixty to sixty-five degrees, and the sound of water trickling over branches and dripping onto rocks mingles with soothing music. Although it’s dim, interspersed salt lamps bathe the room in a warm hue. Above, twinkling blue lights mimic stars shining through a cave. Branches poke through the ceiling in twisted shapes, and scattered around are trunks of white birch trees.
Salt drips down in stalactites and gathers in corners in the 330-square-foot space.
I close my eyes. A few minutes later, the machine dispersing salt into the air begins, and soon I can feel it on my skin. I slip into a restful state, cool, relaxed and only thinking about the deep breaths I’m intentionally taking.
When we leave, I ask my brother if he feels better. He says he does, and I do, too. Although I had no ailments going in, coming out I feel what I can only describe as a clean sensation in my lungs and a wonderful calm around my entire body.
Naomi Sakovics is a freelance writer, Buffalo lover, food enthusiast and unabashed book nerd.