A Day at the (Indoor) Beach

Enjoying the Salt Caves

9 APRIL 2016,
A natural Salt Cave
A natural Salt Cave

When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s, I resolved not to lose weight, quit smoking or get out of debt in 2016. Instead, I made up my mind to wean myself off my many medications.

Already annoyed that I was taking three different drugs and several supplements just to control asthma and allergies, I had started investigating their long-term effects. Did I really want to continue putting myself at risk of:

• Glaucoma
• losing my sense of smell, forever
• weight gain caused by blocking the part of my brain that tells me when I’m full
• and more

Just to feel normal? After reading horror stories on the Internet, I determined to ditch the drugs for good. But how could I wean myself off these medications without immediately regretting it by way of sinus headaches, rashes and a stuffed-up nose?

Luckily, my birthday coincides with the start of the New Year. To celebrate, I enlisted four of my most curious and adventurous girlfriends to help me check out an alternative treatment: a salt cave.

Salt caves, common in Eastern Europe, are based on the idea that air with high concentrations of iodine are good for upper respiratory conditions, in addition to improving skin, circulation, blood pressure, hypothyroidism and more.

We chose Galos Cave & Spa, located in the primarily Polish neighborhood of Portage Park, Chicago. According to its website, Galos was the first of its kind in the U.S. Two other salt caves exist in the Chicagoland area, but they both use Himalayan salt, while Galos imports several tons of salt from the Black Sea. The cave’s temperature stays at 75 degrees and humidity is controlled. One 45-minute session supposedly equates to a three-day stay at the seaside. Ten sessions, the equivalent of one month’s stay, are recommended to cure ailments. You can also choose to dine on Polish food in a cave filled with less salt at the connected Jolly Inn restaurant, if your heart, or rather, gastrointestinal system, so desires.

My gaggle of girlfriends wasn’t quite sure what to expect. One exercise-averse friend worried I’d signed us up for indoor hiking. Another asked if we were supposed to wear swimsuits. I recommended we bring magazines or a book to keep our minds occupied because the website said we weren’t allowed to talk. As it turned out, the most important thing was to wear socks, preferably white ones, for walking on the salt.

We had an appointment at 5 p.m., but thanks to city traffic, we arrived at staggered times. Lucky for us, we were the only ones scheduled at that hour, so the spa was able to tweak our start time.

We were told to take off our shoes and hang our coats before being led to the cave. After the last of our group arrived, the lights went down and Canon in D played while we rubbed our feet in the salty floor and reclined in lounging chairs. Fake stalagmites hung from the ceiling, contrasted against glowing neon lights and seashells hung on the walls. In the corner, a sort of “saltbox” -- a sandbox -- but with salt, outfitted with toy trucks and buckets invited us to play. I half-wondered if someone dreamed up the room while on an LSD trip.

My cohort could smell the salt and nearly started coughing when we inhaled. We girl-talked while soaking in the salt since no one else was around. As my friend Liz said, “I could tell a lot of secrets in a place like this!” One girl tried laying down in the salt. Everyone claimed the experience was relaxing. But immediately after the session, I didn’t notice a difference in how I felt. Although I am open to alternative therapies -- I will rave about acupuncture and naturopathy -- I was skeptical. Many people who never heard of Galos warned me that it was probably a gimmick. My rational self wanted to agree with them, but my allergic-to-everything self wanted to believe in the healing powers of sea salt. As it turned out, the sinus headaches I had been getting around 2 p.m. every day stopped after the single birthday session.

This was enough for me to buy a Groupon -- $35 for five sessions -- for the cave. And I am planning to do the recommended 10. I’ve since been back four times. I still haven’t gotten any headaches. My skin glows, and I’m able to smell the differences between every aisle at the grocery store. A novelty for me. I’m also down one medication, with at least one to go. Hopefully, with the help of the next five sessions.

As it turns out, a month at the seaside is just what the doctor ordered.