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An Alternative Way To Breathe Easier


People in Eastern Europe have used halotherapy for respiratory complaints. Can a man-made cave in London do the same? The latest technique for combating cold and flu season should be taken with not just a grain of salt but a whole roomful. After all, that's the way it works.

The Salt Cave in Wandsworth, south London, is a man-made salt cave where visitors relax and breathe in a dry saline aerosol, devised to relieve respiratory conditions such as asthma, smoker's cough, sinusitis, hay fever, and other ailments. Salt therapy or halotherapy has a long history, and not just because food tastes better with it. Salt has known antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Certain places such as Germany and Eastern Europe place great stock in the benefits of it, with people visiting natural salt caves to breathe in the salty air.

The Salt Cave uses a machine, housed separately from the therapy room, that produces a microclimate of very fine salt particles, so small you can't see them, taste them or use them to coat the rim of your margarita glass. There's no noticeable difference to the air when you first enter the room, but your bootie-covered feet shuffle through a blanket of salt and the walls are rough and textured, coated with the stuff.

During an hour long session, I sat on one of the padded chairs, propped up my feet on the footrest and read. Two other clients dozed and flipped through a magazine. It's a strange experience - the room is almost entirely white and the sound is muffled, as it would be if the drifts were made of snow rather than NaCl. The light is slightly dim, yet it's easily bright enough to read by. The atmosphere was tranquil, quiet and soothing, as we all breathed deep and relaxed. If I had any complaint at all about the experience in the room it was that the chair - it looked like an Ikea staple - was thin on padding on the back of my legs. I tucked one of the throws available underneath my thighs to cushion them.

For parents or children looking to use the facilities, the owners have kitted out one end of the room with a travel cot, a children's table, and a toybox filled with toys.

As a long-term asthma sufferer, I'm accustomed to waking up with a tight chest and shortness of breath, like I did the morning of my visit. I tested my breathing before and after, measuring lung capacity with a peak flow meter. I scored 100 litres per minute higher than I had that morning. Some of this could be down to the fact that I spent an hour practicing deep breathing, but the effects continued for the next week. Regular visitors to the Salt Cave swear by the long-term benefits. Visitors book sessions on both a pay as you go basis (£35 each) and buy packages of 5 sessions or more (starting at £145).

If you're looking to combat coughing, sniffling and sneezing this winter with something other than drugs and nasal spray, you can retreat to the Salt Cave, hibernate a while and breathe easier.



January 27, 2010
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