THERE’S MORE TO spending a day by the sea than meets the eye. For thousands of years, humans have flocked to the ocean seeking the respiratory benefits of crisp, salty air. But a trip to the beach isn’t the only way to achieve the soothing effects of a sea breeze.
Bethesda is now home to a salt cave, the first of its kind in Maryland and the D.C.-metropolitan area.
Upon entering the cool, dark room made entirely of salt, seven other cave-goers and I were invited to choose a spot. The options — a zero-gravity lounge chair draped with a soft blanket or a yoga mat on the ground. Both seemed equally inviting for my sore back, so, feet crunching over a floor made entirely of coarse Himalayan salt crystals, I tried both.
For the next three-quarters of an hour, I experienced the subtle yet noticeable change in air quality as I focused on my breathing, stretched my muscles and cleared my head.
“One 45-minute session is equivalent to three days by the sea,” says Janine Narayadu, owner of Bethesda Salt Cave at 4709 Montgomery Lane. “Himalayan salt is comprised of 84 different trace elements and minerals — the same number found within our bodies. That’s why humans are drawn to the sea.”
A practice dating back to ancient Greece, salt inhalation therapy is surging in popularity. Cavernous rooms that circulate pure salt-filled air are popping up in metropolitan cities across the world, and those seeking to ward off the ill effects of pollution, pollen and other irritants have embraced the therapeutic practice.
Narayadu, a licensed massage therapist, said she had her first salt cave experience in Asheville, N.C.
“I was worn down,” she said. “The long hours I’d been working as I was building my practice had made me physically ill. My husband took me on vacation and encouraged me to try the cave. I noticed the effects immediately.”
Convinced that if she wanted to regularly reap the benefits of salt inhalation therapy, she’d have to build her own cave, Narayadu spent two years researching the concept and talking to her clients.
“The response that I received from the community was so overwhelming that I realized there was really a need for it,” she says. “I was even able to raise some money crowdfunding through IndieGoGo.”
So Narayadu got busy. She found an FDA-approved Himalayan salt provider, secured a location with substantial structural integrity and hired someone who could verify the authenticity of all 32 tons of Himalayan salt as it left Pakistan at the Port of Karachi. The salt arrived in March.
“We lined up 10 men who carried it in rock by rock and then stacked them like stone masons,” she says. “It has to be 100 percent natural and safe, so we secured the salt rocks that make up the walls with metal braces.”
Narayadu emphasizes that the salt cave is not a medical facility and they make no medical claims. But breathing in the air is said to foster good sleep, alleviate symptoms of allergies and asthma, relieve hypertension, stress and even cure hangovers.
“We are not here to offer medical advice or to negate doctors’ advice; it’s just an alternative option,” she says.
The organic, antimicrobial agents of the salt air provide the same benefits regardless of age. Children are welcome to sit in on a reserved session and family memberships are available. Children under three are free.
“We won’t dim the lights when kids come along, but they can sit with a shovel and bucket and play with the salt. Eventually my goal is to have a room just for children.”
Heavy smokers or people suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, better known as COPD, must disclose such information before reserving a session, as they will not be permitted to sit in the same room as non-smokers. However, they can reserve their own session and the salt levels are adjusted to proper treatment levels.
D.C. resident Diane Dompka shared her first salt cave experience with a few girlfriends.
“I was intrigued, and impressed by the experience,” Domka said. “I definitely felt the energy of the salt in the body.”
Soon to come is a water feature that Narayadu says both enhances the relaxation experience and encourages further salt growth.
A 45-minute salt-therapy session is $45 for adults, $25 for seniors and $15 for children ages 4-17.
Before or after a session, choose one of their professional therapists, who specialize in Swedish, hot stone and reflexology, to work out the kinks and enhance the experience. Other spa services include face and body waxing and brow tinting.