By Jake Flannick
A small group settles quietly into the tranquil setting, relaxing in lounge chairs or lying on mats on the salt floor. Against a soothing backdrop of gently flowing water and ambient music, the lights dim, leaving only a soft glow in a cave-like space that is packed with tons upon tons of natural salt crystals from around the world.
They have come to rest, to meditate and to soak up the healing powers of the Asheville Salt Cave, which opened in its Eagle Street storefront less than five years ago. Before opening this salt therapy center, Jodie Appel spent years researching the therapeutic effects of the crystallized mineral.
Salt therapy, also known as speleotherapy, is a centuries-old practice that can help treat certain health issues, from arthritis to respiratory and skin problems. It also is said to help strengthen the immune system, reduce stress and even improve concentration and ease addictions.
The idea to open the spa emerged years ago when Appel’s father, who has asthma, visited a salt therapy center in Williamsburg, VA. It was a transformative experience, temporarily easing his condition immediately thereafter. “He was sold,” Appel says.
A vibrant woman who had practiced massage therapy and hydrotherapy, Appel was moved by her father’s experience and spent several years researching, discovering a wellness center in Poland that was a working mine in the 19th century. Miners there had managed to avoid falling ill despite working conditions, and researchers found that the mine contained a significant concentration of salt. “Most of our research came from there,” she says.
Tucked away on a side street in a part of town that is abuzz with construction these days, the Asheville Salt Cave is the only salt room in the country that is fashioned entirely from natural materials, including about 20 tons of soft pink salt crystals in different shapes and sizes. The salt has crystallized over millions of years and was unearthed from mines in Poland, the Dead Sea and the Himalayas.
Described as a “unique microclimate,” the 450-squarefoot spa is a serene retreat that resembles the natural conditions of a salt mine, kept between 64 and 68 degrees with 50 to 60 percent humidity. Featuring two natural water features, or ionizers, the space is alive, with the salt regenerating itself.
Each salt crystal is pure, meaning it contains all 84 trace elements and natural minerals found in the human body—things like calcium, iron and magnesium. They contain negative ions, the molecules abundant in natural environments like mountains and seashores that help lift the mood and improve alertness. Their presence allows you to “indulge all five of your senses,” Appel says.
Appel’s family-run business has grown considerably over the years. In addition to 45-minute salt therapy sessions, it offers massage and energy healing therapies that incorporate salt. Gatherings are held for acupuncture, meditation and sound healings.
It is also a store, carrying products like soaps, tinctures and Himalayan salt lamps, which cast a warm glow throughout the softly lit space. With a rotating inventory, it sources from local craftspeople, including handmade jewelry and glassware. There are even salt licks for pets.
While the effects of salt rooms vary by person, this spa has proved therapeutic for some, Appel says. Among those whom it has apparently helped heal was an older woman with radiation burns from chemotherapy. After three sessions, Appel says, the burns vanished.
“Water and salt,” Appel sums it up, “they are the essence of life.”
The Asheville Salt Cave is located at 12 Eagle Street, in downtown Asheville. For more information, call the spa at 828.236.5999 or visit ashevillesaltcave.com.