Wellness has become so encompassing that seemingly anything can be mined for the purposes of living better. There are walking coaches — I have been to more than one — and self-appointed experts who can teach you how to breathe more effectively. Some people are even seeking out that humblest of minerals, salt.
I love taking baths, even in the narrow tub in my apartment, and hoard various salts that I pour into hot water after working out: Dr. Teal’s or, if I’m willing to spend $18 on a single-use blend of hand-harvested French gray sea salt, wild-harvested seaweed and sustainably farmed spirulina, I’ll buy Pursoma Minerals de Mer body soak.
Now you can inhale your way (supposedly) to better health with salt rooms, where the act of breathing in sodium chloride is said to help asthma, arthritis, allergies, snoring and that catchall, “stress.” Adherents of halotherapy (as it’s called) believe that salt has antibacterial, antiseptic, antifungal and antiviral properties that are particularly effective on mucus and inflammation.
I have battled hay fever since my freshman year of college, rosacea for the last decade and stress probably since birth. And though there is virtually no scientific research to confirm salt proponents’ claims I nonetheless headed to Breathe, which has three salt rooms in Manhattan and two in Westchester County, New York, for the most immersive experience I could find.
At the Park Avenue location I reserved 25 minutes in a salt bed, which is a single-person pod that strongly resembles a glass coffin. It’s in a private space so I simply took off all my clothes and lay there naked while “micro-particles of pure white salt are dispersed into the air, entering your airways to naturally cleanse and detoxify your lungs, sinuses and air passages,” as the website explained.
I couldn’t really feel the salt spraying on me, but after a few minutes, I could see it gathering on my skin like dust. I breathed. I tried not to think of the news. I was bored but in a pleasant way, like being on the sixth day of a beach vacation.
I returned a few days later for Salty Yoga, a yoga class in the main salt room. The room is set up like a tiny beach, with pink Himalayan salt the size of small pebbles piled like sand on the floor and bricks of salt lining the walls. There are chairs for other sessions in the room, but for yoga they’re replaced with mats.
The day before class, I had received a message to wear socks, along with and a warning that “there will be particles of salt dancing all around, so expect to get some salt on your clothes, but don’t worry! it comes off easily!”
Class was at 7 p.m., and I came exhausted and slightly wet from rain. I wasn’t in the mood to do sun salutations or anything that took much physical or emotional effort. Luckily, Salty Yoga is basically the equivalent of giving yourself a hug, which we actually did at one point in class.
There were five of us, and we spent the entire hour either sitting or on our backs in mostly restorative poses, like a modified child’s pose with a blanket rolled up under our wrists or gentle twists to the side. Each pose was held for two or three minutes while Masako, the instructor, whispered gentle instructions and encouraged us to breathe and let go.
I was so deeply relaxed that I didn’t notice until after class was over that I was completely covered in salt. A sweatshirt I had thrown off in class looked like an object unearthed from Tatooine, the desert planet in “Star Wars.” My lips stung. The car ride home to Brooklyn felt as itchy and restless as returning from the beach.
At home I took a shower, drank two liters of water, a green juice, applied a liberal amount of Kiehl’s Crème de Corps on my body, Glossier hyaluronic serum to my face, Elizabeth Arden lip balm and still felt parched from the inside out. For the next 36 hours, I continued to chug water and apply copious amounts of moisturizer because of a phantom sense of saltiness.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence as to the efficacy of inhaling tiny salt particles is scarce, I can’t say there isn’t something to it. After both sessions, I slept a full eight hours without waking up once, which is rare for me. I haven’t touched my allergy pills once, and a friend told me my skin never looked better. Maybe instead of trying to flee New York this winter, I’ll just make a standing appointment at the salt beach.
Breathe Salt Rooms
1 Park Avenue (Inside Oasis Day Spa), Lower Level, 212-725-1138; breatheeasyusa.com
Why: Halotherapy, as it’s called, is said to relieve everything from asthma and skin conditions to sleep apnea and stress, but take it with a grain of salt.
Where: A space between the locker rooms and the lobby of Oasis Day Spa. It’s neither fancy nor grungy, the air neither hot nor cold, the treatment neither expensive nor particularly cheap.
Service: The attendants leave you alone, which is appropriate for something that’s best experienced in a quiet and meditative way. But if you’re looking for someone to bring you cups of water with fruit or herbs in it, this isn’t the place.
Price: From $35 a session.