Toronto Gets its Own "Salt Cave."
by Taylor McKinnon
Now, I have always considered myself a “salt person.” I like my food heavily doused in it, my margarita glass thickly rimmed, but up until recently I hadn’t considered the possibility of voluntarily breathing it in.
But here I find myself at Toronto’s SpeleoCenter.
More about Speleotherapy and the SpeleoCenter
An alternative therapy based on breathing sessions in natural salt caves, Speleotherapy is widely practiced in Europe and believed by many throughout history to benefit such health conditions as respiratory ailments, skin issues and sleep disorders.
Salt is long thought to have healing properties. SpeleoCenter owner Alexander Usatenko cites historical observations of salt-mine workers, who had remarkably healthy skin and respiratory systems. Indeed, a recent clinical study published inThe New England Journal of Medicine found that inhaling saline improved lung function in people with cystic fibrosis through increased mucus clearance.
Located in a discreet office outside the downtown core (but accessible by subway,) the SpeleoCenter offers Halotherapy - an adaptation of Speleotherapy - which uses a machine called a halogenerator to pump a saline-infused mist into the room to replicate the atmosphere of a natural salt cave.
Suiting up with the provided disposable cap, gown, booties, and purse-cover, I’m a little apprehensive. What is a “salt cave” all about? Just how different will the air in there be? With a swing of the door, I’m headed in.
Usatenko opened the SpeleoCenter last year after running (with much success) a similar centre in his native Ukraine. Given the fast-paced nature of Toronto, along with the pollution and air quality that accompanies any large city, he saw it as the perfect market.
Since the SpeleoCenter’s opening, he says it has been well-received by Toronto’s Eastern European community and he’s confident the therapy will soon catch on with the masses.
A man who truly knows his salts, Usatenko explains enthusiastically about the different varieties featured here: Dead Sea, Solotvino (a Ukrainian salt-mining town) and Himalayan salt minerals coat the walls and are infused into the air through the use of the halogenerator.
Inside the cave is a beach-like floor of salt - the act of rubbing my bootie-clad feet in it is therapeutic itself. Walls, too, are covered in crystalline-like salt, lending the room the feeling of a peaceful igloo (but instead of cold, the temperature is perfectly pleasing.) Soft reclining chairs are situated around the space – well enough away from each other to keep the experience a semi-private one.
When the hour-long session begins, the lights are dimmed and soothing music fills the room. The air itself is surprisingly non-invasive. In fact, it feels a lot like regular air - only cleaner, purer. A large video screen plays a collection of calming nature and scenic images, but I close my eyes instead.
The salt cave presents a rare moment of solitude in my jam-packed schedule, and I savour it accordingly.Within minutes (five, twenty… who knows?) I’ve dozed off. A mid-day Saturday nap is a luxury I don’t often enjoy – let alone while I potentially rejuvenate my skin and lungs.
Upon waking at the end of the session, I notice that most of the others in the cave have fallen asleep as well, including two small children who I’d anticipated being a lot more energetic. I feel relaxed, rejuvenated and reluctant to step out of the salt cave and back onto the city streets.
Usatenko informs me that I likely won’t see real results after just one session – most people book packages after their second visit, he says, when the effects of the therapy have started to show.
A one-hour session at the clinic costs $50 – parents or guardians escorting children to the salt cave attend sessions free of charge. The centre also offers larger packages; Usatenko says the number of visits needed varies with different health issues, but he usually advises 12 sessions or more.
The centre doesn’t advise their clients to stop any medical treatments they’ve been prescribed – the therapy itself is meant to be supplemental.
And like most supplemental/alternative therapies, this one has its skeptics. "I’m not saying this particular therapy is useless or harmful, however I doubt there is enough evidence either way,” says Chris Haromy, a Certified Respiratory Educator from the Lung Association. “Until any therapy has good evidence of its benefit and safety, we will understandably not promote it.”
Usatenko, however, has a myriad of success stories on hand, and he lights up when he describes clients who’ve reaped the benefits of halotherapy; a chronic cough cured in a young girl, a heavy smoker who can now take the stairs, a patient undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer who not only saw a sped-up healing of her post-surgery scars, but also an improvement in her stress levels, sleeping patterns. Usatenko explains that the therapy usually betters clients’ psycho-emotional conditions, too.
As for me, I spend the rest of my Saturday both relaxed and invigorated. I just may have found yet another way to incorporate the mineral into my already-salty life.
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Taylor McKinnon is an editorial intern with Travel to Wellness.