Despite an otherworldly glow, the orangish light filtered through pink salt filled the small cavern with a peaceful ambiance.
Ionized water tinkled in the background. Ethereal music played softly from speakers in the ceiling. Pure salt was continuously pumped into the air, a key feature of the Indianapolis Salt Cave.
“People don’t know what this is. It’s a new way of thinking, a new way of healing. So it’s been kind of fun spreading that and seeing it spread to other people,” said Stefanie Patterson, co-owner of the salt cave. “It truly helps your body and your mind.”
Inside the Indianapolis Salt Cave, visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the relaxing and potentially healing salt-laden environment. People sit inside the cavern made from nine tons of Polish pink salt.
Sitting in the cave is a form of halotherapy, treating respiratory diseases using dry, aerosolized salt. The treatment is believed to relieve conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, sinus infections and colds.
Proponents also say that it can impact conditions such as cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as skin issues such as eczema and psoriasis.
“It’s a very holistic way to heal your body. It doesn’t have any negative side effects or anything like that, so it’s a healthy way to detox your body and take care of any respiratory conditions, skin conditions, things like that,” Patterson said.
The concept of halotherapy started in the mid-1800s in Poland, with the Wieliczka Salt Mine. The massive salt deposits, which formed 13.6 million years ago, have become one of Poland’s most important cultural monuments and economic drivers.
A doctor living near the mine noticed that miners who spent time in the dry, cool, salty air rarely had any of the lung illnesses rampant during that time period. They didn’t catch bronchitis or pneumonia, and rarely had colds or sinus infections.
The salty conditions were believed to make them healthier. That concept has been implemented in modern spas and wellness centers today.
The Indianapolis Salt Cave tries to mimic the conditions in Wieliczka as much as possible. Inside a historic firehouse in Lawrence, organizers have moved nine tons of salt into a small, windowless room.
Salt pellets cover the floor. Blocks and large lumps of salt are mortared together to form walls replicating a cave. Lights behind those blocks give the cavern its pink-orange glow.
“This is an old firehouse on the fort, so there’s a lot of history here. We wanted to keep a little bit of that earth element, that fire element, in the cave,” Patterson said. “But we also wanted it to be inviting.”
Aerosolized pure sodium chloride — pharmaceutical-grade salt — is also pumped into the chamber during sessions, reminiscent of standing at the seashore. That’s intentional, Patterson said.
“You’re breathing that deep in your lungs, and it’s helping pull out and dry up any mucus that you have in there,” she said. “If you feel a tickle in there or you cough, that’s good. You’re getting that out of there.”
Patterson knew family members that had a similar salt cave in Vermont, and was familiar with the benefits of the treatment. The more they learned, the more then felt motivated to open their own cave in central Indiana in March.
“We really felt like this was something that Indianapolis needed,” Patterson said.
Though the effects of halotherapy and salt therapy have not been studied intensely, some scientific research has been done on its effects. According to Dr. Norman Edelman, senior scientific advisor for the American Lung Association, salt therapy can offer relief to people with asthma and pulmonary disease by loosening spatum, or mucus and saliva, that often causes them distress.
“When fine salt particles are inhaled, they will fall on the airway linings and draw water into the airway, thinning the mucus and making it easier to raise, thus making people feel better,” Edelman said in an American Lung Association release. “Also, these environments are allergen-free and thus good for people with allergies affecting their lungs.”
In an article investigating halotherapy printed in the Journal of Medicine and Life in 2014, researchers from the National Institute of Rehabilitation, Physical Medicine and Balneoclimatology, in Bucharest, Romania, found that the therapy triggered anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic mechanisms in the body for patients with bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis and other diseases.
Donita Johnson swears by the impact salt therapy has made. The Fishers resident suffers from chronic effects of Lyme disease, including pain and difficulty walking. One treatment that she found worked for her was soaking in Epsom salt, so when she was given some information about the salt cave, she thought it might be even more effective.
Since starting it last year, Johnson’s condition has markedly improved.
“I know there’s no scientific proof to this, but I had debilitated in my disease to the point where I couldn’t walk very well anymore. After I started coming, I started walking well and standing. We don’t know what’s causing this, but it works for me,” she said.
Still, even if the medical impacts of halotherapy are fluid, the salt cave is undoubtedly effective in easing anxiety and increasing relaxation. Visitors lounge in reclining chairs inside the cave, making for a very meditative environment. Though the temperatures in the chamber are kept at a cave-like 60 to 65 degrees, people are given warm salt blocks to hold in their hands during a session.
“It keeps them a little bit warmer, plus the blocks clean your skin, exfoliate your skin, they’re all anti-bacterial, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory,” Patterson said.
Water cascades set up in the cave also regulate the humidity and temperature in the cave, while water infused with iodine mists into the air adding another level of benefit, a concept called speleotherapy.
The salt cave is the centerpiece attraction of the facility, but additional treatments are also available for clients. An infrared sauna uses infrared waves to heat the body rather than the dry heat of a traditional sauna. In the hand and foot detox treatment, people sit in leather recliners and place their hands and feet on carved blocks of Himalayan salt, which detoxifies and relaxes.
Visitors can also buy items such as essential oils, salt soap and salt lamps to augment their services.
“It’s all meant to complement what we’re doing with the treatments,” Patterson said.
Ryan Trares writes for the Daily Journal of Johnson County.
At a glance WHAT: A halotherapy treatment center featuring a healing salt cave made of nine tons of Polish salt, as well as an infrared sauna and hand-and-foot detox treatment.WHERE: 8899 Kent Ave., IndianapolisHOURS: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.COST: $35 for salt cave; $30 each for hand-and-foot detox and infrared sauna. Each treatment is 45 minutes long.Information: IndySaltCave.com