We take off our shoes and we’re led into the “cave.”
Leaving the normalcy of a waiting room at Saltana Cave in Ridgefield, we walk through a door into a dark otherworld. Dim lights on the ceiling twinkle like tiny stars, partially illuminating a room that looks like a set piece from a 1980s fantasy epic.
The ground is basically a sand box of salt that we can feel shifting under our feet (white socks are mandatory) as we make our way in. Against the back wall there is a fireplace made of pink brick and stone that glows, adding more light. I’ll learn later that the room, which is about the size of an average living room, contains close to 12,000 pounds of salt. In addition to the salt on the floor, the substance is present in the walls and the ceiling and is even pumped into the air during sessions.
590 Danbury Road | Ridgefield
Our group consists of myself and four other participants who’ve signed on randomly for the 11 a.m. session on a Tuesday. Inside the room, several gravity chairs are set up. We take our seats and lean back, facing the ceiling like astronauts before liftoff.
After leading us in, Saltana Cave owner Anna Pogoda leaves, closing the door behind her. A recorded voice-over narration begins to explain the history of salt caves and the theories behind salt therapy, also known as halotherapy.
The concept of salt caves as therapy began, we learn, in the mid-1800s when a Polish doctor noticed the low incidence of respiratory conditions in those who worked inside salt mines, and posited that the salt particles in the air kept the miners healthy. Soon afterward, a health spa opened within the salt mine. During World War II, a German doctor made similar observations about the improved health of patients who hid in salt caves during bombing raids. A spa was later opened at a German salt mine.
In the 1980s, the treatment was liberated from the subterranean lairs of actual caves when a process for recreating the climate of salt caves in a regular room was developed. Simulated salt caves became popular in various parts of Europe and have started making their way to the U.S. in recent years.
In 2013, Saltana Cave became Connecticut’s first salt cave. Others have since opened, including Salt of the Earth Spa in Woodbury and Spa Soli in West Hartford.
Pogoda says salt sessions “boost your immune system, clearing away the debris of daily life, [and] also improve breathing quality for people with chronic lung conditions such as asthma or bronchitis.”
Research into the effects of salt therapy is limited, but proponents swear by the treatments. At Saltana Cave, 45-minutes sessions cost $40. Reservations are required.
About six years ago, Pogoda and her 8-year-old daughter, who has asthma, visited Poland and experienced several sessions in a simulated salt cave. “After experiencing 10 consecutive sessions, I noticed that her asthma symptoms decreased,” Pogoda says.
This inspired Pogoda to do more research and, ultimately, open Saltana Cave.
The salt in the simulated cave generates negative ions, molecules that are believed to have positive effects on our mood, stress levels and overall energy. Negative ions are found in abundance at beaches, near waterfalls and on mountains, but a salt-therapy session has those places beat, says Pogoda. “One 45-minute salt session is an equivalent to a three-day beach vacation as far as negative ions and salt,” she says.
During our session, as the negative ions fill the air and I start to acclimate to the salt-filled atmosphere, I get antsy.
Before we entered the room we were told we couldn’t bring in our phones. Without any reading material, I worry the session will be tedious. Forty-five minutes can be an eternity. Just ask anyone who’s ever driven during rush hour on I-95, or had to wait for a dentist’s appointment. As someone who does not nap or meditate, both recommended activities to engage in during the session, I’m left staring into the darkness wishing for the company of a good book.
But, those negative ions seem to have an effect, because before too long, my negative thoughts are gone, and I’m starting to relax. After what seems like 20-25 minutes, Pogoda re-enters the room, letting us know the session is over. Everyone in my group comments on how fast time seemed to pass.
It is a relaxing and unusual way to spend a morning. If I were to go back, I’d want to absorb the beach vibes of the salt particles and negative ions with the help of a good book and cup of coffee, or better yet, a margarita with, of course, salt on the rim.