Want to breathe a little easier? Some say the solution is to sit in a salt-filled room for 45 minutes.
Sounds so simple, yet salt therapy for respiratory and skin ailments didn't exist in the United States until recently, says Ellen Patrick, a certified yoga teacher who co-founded Breathe Easy, a dry salt therapy health and wellness center, in the New York City–area last year.
The Origins of Salt Therapy Treatment
"The treatment itself has been around for a few hundred years in Eastern Europe and Russia, but it is just percolating in the U.S. Salt has antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory qualities that come naturally—that's where I started to get interested. As a yoga teacher, I'm always looking for an alternative natural therapy for common ailments."
The Benefits of Dry Salt Therapy
Breathe Easy Wellness Centers recreate the environment of a salt cave by using a halogenerator to distribute microparticles of pure dry salt into the air of their salt rooms. As you relax and breathe naturally, the treatment (also known as halotherapy) can help with symptoms of respiratory ailments like asthma and COPD; skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema (the Wellness Centers also have individual salt beds for treating skin conditions); sleep issues like snoring and sleep apnea; and symptoms of the cold and flu as well as ear, nose and throat infections, Patrick says. It can also reduce stress and may even help prevent you from catching the cold, flu, and other illnesses, thanks to the antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral properties of salt, she adds.
Salt therapy may also help with athletic performance. "We had (former New York Giant) Tiki Barber right before the marathon, hoping to get a leg up on the competition," Patrick says. "Some athletes have allergies. We also had Chris Ivory from the New York Jets."
See also Cross-Training with Yoga
Does Salt Therapy Really Work?
Breathe Easy was born out of necessity. Patrick's husband (and Breathe Easy co-founder) Gary Patrick was prone to sinus infections. While traveling in London (Patrick is senior vice president-global advertising director of Skechers footwear), he felt a sinus infection coming on. When someone suggested that he try a salt room, he had no idea what that was. He went every day for a few days, and found that his sinus infection did not get worse. The Patricks found a salt room near their winter home in Florida, and Ellen Patrick noticed that her seasonal allergy symptoms improved, too.
"I noticed a difference within minutes."
"I noticed a difference within minutes—my sinuses were opening up, the burning dissipated," Patrick says. "We went every day that first week—my husband stopped snoring, his sleep apnea disappeared, which had been getting progressively worse. We went back up to New York and the first thing we wanted to do was find a salt room—none existed. We looked at each other and we said, 'We gotta do this.'"
Dr. J. Allen Meadows, a practicing allergist in Montgomery, Ala., and member of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, says salt can be a mucous loosener, which theoretically could be of benefit to patients with asthma and allergies. However, he wants to see more research before he recommends dry salt therapy to his patients.
"Dry salt therapy, medically known as halotherapy, has been around since the 12th century with reports of healthful benefits from the Polish salt mines, which I have personally visited. While quite beautiful, I only derived health benefit from the relaxing nature of the tour. Relaxation can improve many health conditions, but beyond that benefit, more research needs to be done and published in journals that have rigorous standards before I will be endorsing it for my patients."
Want to try salt therapy or other treatments? Explore Yoga-Friendly Retreats and Spas
YJ Tried It: Salt Therapy
I was in the early stages of a cold last week when I visited one of Breathe Easy's two midtown Manhattan locations. I was also feeling a bit stressed because, in New York City, who isn't? The salt room is certainly relaxing (full disclosure: I fell asleep at some point during the 45-minute session) and as Patrick notes, conducive to meditation. The next day, my cold symptoms seemed to have dissipated considerably. Coincidence? Maybe not.
One 45-minute session in the Breathe Easy salt room is $40; click here for packages and introductory rates.