Can salt therapy shake things up? A look inside Asheville’s first salt spa.
by Jess McCuan . photos by Matt Rose
You should take Ines Clark’s new treatment with a grain of salt—or, perhaps, a few hundred million of them. The German immigrant just opened Asheville’s first salt spa, Saltasia Wellbeing, in December in a South Asheville building decked out in five tons of fancy salt. The idea is this: you sit in a peaceful, warm room breathing salty air while surrounded by glowing red hunks of ancient salt from the Himalayas. It will sound unusual to Americans, but apparently, salt rooms and salt caves (both manmade and naturally occurring) are common treatments in Eastern Europe for people with immune dysfunctions, respiratory ailments and other disorders. The salt spa is an increasingly trendy American phenomenon, too, with salty retreats popping up in the last few years in cities with large populations of Eastern Europeans (Chicago) or crowds of New Agers (Boulder).
What’s the lowdown on sucking in salt? Well, halotherapy, as inhaled salt treatments are known, is a complementary therapy, not the main treatment for any disease or condition—something Clark herself makes clear. “It helps, but it’s not curing,” she says. (The spa’s promotional pamphlet includes a lengthy disclaimer.) To be sure, salt has well-documented antibacterial qualities, and in a 2006 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors found that cystic fibrosis sufferers did have better lung function after inhaling a hypertonic saline solution. Russian medical journals have documented the beneficial effects of halotherapy among patients with chronic bronchitis and sinusitis, and modern salt spa operators cite those and similar studies to show the treatments help with everything from psoriasis to hayfever.
Clark, who was trained in Germany as a physical therapist, believes her salt is the purest stuff in the world. She sourced it from the Himalayan foothills in Pakistan via a New Jersey importer. Hers is the first salt spa in North Carolina, she says, and one of only a handful in the Southeast.
Growing up near Leipzig, Clark intended to be a teacher but took a job as district manager for a grocery chain. It wasn’t the life she had envisioned, so after a quick career pivot and physical therapy training, she started working with handicapped children and studying Zen Buddhism. This study landed her in South Florida in 2002, where she met her husband Brad. When the couple decided they couldn’t stand the Florida heat, they moved with their son to Asheville, home of Brad’s parents.
The inside of the 320-square-foot Saltasia salt room looks and feels like a Martian cave, with a floor of reddish salt tiles and pea gravel-sized pellets, white salt walls and décor of electrified faux rocks. Clark uses a small ventilator to pipe in the salty air, which she says contains negative ions and some 84 minerals, including bromine, iron, magnesium and copper. Guests wear only socks, so as not to dirty the salt floor, and for treatments, you can lean back in ergonomic lawnchairs. A 45-minute session costs $25 for adults. In the coming months, Clark plans to start holding yoga classes in the salt room, along with gong therapy, storytelling, meditation and harp concerts. “Daily, I see people coming out of the room smiling,” Clark says. Presumably, the serene environment and negative ions leave them uplifted—or, at least, lightly salted.
For more, see www.saltasiawellbeing.com.