Salt Cave's Massage Therapist Steve Graves and Assistant Manager Sara Gibson. (Dec. 21, 2012).

Paul Wellman

Salt Cave's Massage Therapist Steve Graves and Assistant Manager Sara Gibson. (Dec. 21, 2012).

Sucking in the Salt Cave

Santa Barbara’s New Speleotherapy Center

Shoes off, we ducked into the dark cave and walked in socks across the crunchy salt rocks that covered the floor. We eased into our zero-gravity lounge chairs, reclined gently, and adjusted blankets, our eyes focusing through the dim light and onto the pink hues of the surrounding walls’ crystalline bricks. Then came a bit of narration, some mellow tinkling music, and the hiss of steam from somewhere in the corner. As we inhaled in the strange scene, my companion exhaled, “Well, this is easily the weirdest thing I’ve done all day.”

Salt Cave's Massage Therapist Steve Graves and Assistant Manager Sara Gibson. (Dec. 21, 2012).
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Salt Cave’s Massage Therapist Steve Graves and Assistant Manager Sara Gibson. (Dec. 21, 2012).

It was easy to concur, for in a career of sampling fringe wellness regimes, the 45 minutes we spent sitting still inside the Salt Cave — a carefully contoured basement beneath De la Guerra and State streets — took the cake as most curious, at least in terms of immediate effects. Of course, even ardent speleotherapy proponents — who believe exposure to the dry, minerally rich air of salt caves and mines confers health benefits, an idea around since at least Roman times — admit that extended visits are required to alleviate the various respiratory ailments that a salty atmosphere can counteract. The practice got a boost in the 1840s when a Polish doctor realized that salt miners weren’t afflicted with the dominant lung diseases of the era, and again during World War II, when German patients who hid from bombers in a salt cave got healthier. About five years ago, as studies began to show that salt sessions do help folks with asthma, bronchitis, and other conditions related to mucus and sinus inflammation, the trend emigrated from Eastern Europe to the United States, where it’s grown steadily since.

In October, after a year of development — which required 70 days of mining to get 90,000 pounds of pink salt out of the Pakistani Himalayas and meticulous construction to create an authentic space, rather than the spray-on technique used by other American facilities — Santa Barbara’s own Salt Cave opened its doors. Sister-in-law owners Pamela McCaskey (background: bodywork) and Kelly Egan (background: business) have been offering treatments ever since, ranging from salt scrubs with massage to exercise classes in the cave, as well as use of the unique venue for champagne spa parties and birthday bashes. They also have a retail store stocked with all things salt, from foodstuffs and crystals for cooking to skin care, candles, and more.

The Salt Cave
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

The Salt Cave

Business, they say, has been steady, so perhaps Santa Barbara is already stoked on speleo. And despite our initially dubious thoughts, by the end of our 45 minutes, my friend and I did note at least one marked benefit: We hadn’t checked out cell phones once while sucking in the salty air. If that’s the very least of what the Salt Cave promises, it was a session well spent.

See, call 805-963-7258, or stop by 740 State Street.

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