Winter is here, which means daylight is scarce and cold temperatures make most people want to spend a majority of their time indoors. This lack of exposure to sunlight can cause what is classically called “the winter blues,” a mild depression that is clinically referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Many people treat SAD with light therapy but others, including researchers from Wesleyan University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, believe that salt crystals may be a natural way to ward off SAD while also minimizing the symptoms of respiratory issues such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, sinus infections, a stuffy nose as a result of cold, flu or allergies. Why salt? Put simply, the positive power of negative ions.
When heated, salt generates negative ions. Negative ions are invisible, odorless, tasteless atoms that have experienced some action, such as evaporation or being vigorously tossed around in water, that causes them to gain a negative electron rendering them negatively charged. You can easily find them in nature near waterfalls or the seashore. The magnetic charge of negative ions helps to purify the air because it attracts great numbers of positively charged floating particles. Once sucked into the negative ion tractor beam, the particles become heavy and fall to the ground, away from your nose. Salt is also an antiseptic and antibacterial, and when inhaled, it clears mucus from cilia in the respiratory system, making it easier to breathe. Cleaner air and cilia means less junk going into your body, allowing more room for oxygen to go in.
Inhaling negative ions also has mood-enhancing benefits. It is believed that as the body processes those inhaled negative ions, a biochemical reaction transpires that increases serotonin (a good mood chemical) levels, which helps manage depression and, in some ion-sensitive people, triggers euphoria. I am one of those ion-sensitive people. I know this because I feel really awesome when I am at the beach. But I am also a skeptic—I needed to try it for myself.
Andi Senatro, manager of the Halo Salt Spa located off the Downtown Mall, says that clients have reported positive effects from time spent in a salt room. These rooms expose clients to negative ions through exposure to salt rocks and microscopic salt crystals pumped into the air by a machine called a halogenerator. “One client had severe sinus issues and had to give herself a facial massage before bed every night to facilitate drainage,” says Senatro. “She did one session here and could feel her sinuses draining without the aid of massage.”
On a recent visit to Halo, I was led into a quiet room lined with 8-inch-thick bricks of pink Himalayan salt—I immediately felt the kind of settled calm that one feels when entering a sacred space. I snuggled up with two blankets in a lounge chair in the corner of the room nearest a pipe opening that intermittently ejected the salted mist from the halogenerator.
Breathing deeply, I started to feel a little sleepy after about 10 minutes, which is a normal reaction, Senatro says. By the end of the session, I was about as relaxed as I would be after a deep meditation. My nose, which had been only a tinge of stuffy when I arrived, did feel clearer. The verdict: Yes, I was more relaxed and could breathe a little better, but I cannot say definitively that those results happened because I was sitting in the salt room—I might gain the same results from sitting in a quiet space anywhere and meditating.
In defense of salt therapy: Some proponents recommend sitting in the salt room for several days a week over the course of a few months to reap the positive effects and battle depression.
Good news for those of us who can’t make it to the Bahamas for the winter.