The urge to chuck it all and go live in a cave is strong these days; it comes rumbling in with each breaking news bulletin and every gloomy, single-digit day. But if it’s too daunting a prospect to renounce your worldly goods and take up residence in a conveniently located, bear-free cave, then here’s a temporary solution: Bundle up and drag yourself to the nearest salt cave.
If you’re wondering what someone does in a salt cave, the answer is not too much. Mostly, you sit back and breathe in a controlled stream of salty air, a practice called halotherapy (or salt therapy). While halotherapy hasn’t gone fully mainstream, it may be on its way to achieving wellness-trend status. Today, there are 125 salt caves open in the US and Canada — up from just a handful a few years ago, according to the Salt Therapy Association, an industry trade group.
I tried my hand at salt therapy a few weeks ago when I visited the Manhattan branch of the Montauk Salt Caves and indulged in a “basic” $45-for-45-minute session. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a cave located on the second floor of an East Village brownstone. I arrived to find something that felt like a hybrid between a day spa and a theme park.
My halo-journey began in a crystal-packed boutique, where a facilitator greeted me and led me into the cave — or a fantastical facsimile of one: The rocky, translucent walls are lined with pink salt bricks, the floor is covered in tiny salt pebbles, and the ceiling twinkles with LED stars. The dimly lit space is kept at a brisk temperature to enable maximum mineral absorption.
Once inside the cave, you’re invited to take a seat around a flickering faux-campfire, recline in a zero-gravity chair, and clear your mind. Next, a guide wraps you in warm blankets and encourages you to do little more than exist.
After a gentle, disembodied voice recites the health benefits of halotherapy, the powers-who-be pipe in dulcet tones and New-Age synth sounds, along with a “pharmaceutical salt” solution that’s released into the air via a complex (but unseen) humidifier system. And there you stay, alone with your thoughts, for the next 45 minutes.
If nothing else, hanging out in a salt cave is incredibly relaxing: It’s a chunk of time without Google news alerts, winter storm warnings, or subway delay announcements. In a city where quiet and serenity are scarce commodities, the yoga-studio-sized facility provides a much-needed change of pace. Not to mention, the potassium and magnesium in the pharmaceutical salt solution are thought to have a sedative effect, which could explain why it’s almost hard not to slip into a meditative trance.
There may also be good-for-you benefits to salt therapy. Unlike trendy alt-medicine treatments like vaginal steaming and “cleansing” colonics, which are at best useless and at worst potentially damaging, salt caves could be legitimately therapeutic: Studies suggest that breathing in salt air in a measured manner can help people manage symptoms of sinus infections, nasal allergies, and respiratory conditions like bronchitis. It’s too early to hawk salt caves as a magic bullet, but I can report, anecdotally, that my ever-troubled sinuses enjoyed the experience. (Plus, you can keep your pants on the whole time. Try doing that during a vaginal steaming.)
When the session is over, the disembodied voice returns to thank you and remind you the real world is waiting, which is a real bummer. But you can always come back for more (admittedly expensive) salty stillness, as well as other holistic healing services, such as Reiki.
Will visiting a salt cave change your life? Probably not. I liked it (a lot), but I didn’t have a spiritual awakening or anything. And, once I left, my head returned to its default snot-spewing setting. Salt therapy might be an indulgence worth trying with a goal in mind, e.g., “I want to clear away my mucus.” But whether you go to a salt cave to accomplish something or nothing, it’s a break from interacting with the outside world. And in these, uh, predictably unpredictable times, that’s something worth its salt.