Mid-winter is peak flu season and a time when respiratory conditions like asthma tend to flare, so it seems like the ideal time to try out halotherapy, or salt therapy. The concept of holing up in a cave full of salt -- purported to have all sorts of healing properties for such conditions along with cosmetic benefits -- is extra appealing in February. This month, we prepare for romantic holidays and the eventual reemergence of our skin from underneath the cozy layers with which we've been blanketing our bodies all winter. Blue Ridge, Georgia, is interestingly home to a Himalayan salt cave at Serenity in the Mountains spa, which seems to tick all the boxes when it comes to the ideal wellness-focused day trip from Chattanooga.
WHAT IT IS
Serenity in the Mountains' Himalayan salt cave was built by hand using Himalayan rock salt boulders, bricks, rocks and sand shipped from Poland to the mountains of North Georgia. The air is ionized and infused with a low concentration of dry salt, creating a therapeutic microclimate that mimics the atmosphere of a salt cave.
"The floor, the ceiling, the walls -- everything surrounding that whole room is Himalayan salt," spa manager Tammy Stewart says. "Even the lights in the ceiling are made of crystals of Himalayan salt."
WHAT IT DOES
The idea dates back centuries, when European monks would send the sick into salt caves because the salt-saturated air made it easier for them to breathe. A Polish doctor observed in 1843 that salt mine workers displayed a low incidence of respiratory conditions, suggesting that something about the salty air contributed to their respiratory health. Anyone who's read Victorian era novels knows that doctors of the time commonly recommended spending time by the sea to cure a variety of respiratory ailments.
The salt cave offers similar benefits to a day at the beach, Stewart says.
"It just opens up your sinuses, and you feel like you're breathing better," she says.
Inhaling small particles of salt reduces inflammation in the respiratory tract, widening the airway passages and eliminating mucus and allergens from the lungs, according to the spa's website.
A cave session is helpful for all types of lung conditions, such as asthma and COPD, but it's beneficial for healthy people, too, Stewart says.
Microparticles of salt in the air improve skin condition by influencing the protective layer, according to the website.
"It's really relaxing on top of the health benefits," she says.
WHAT TO EXPECT
You can wear your regular clothes, or the robe you receive if you choose to book a spa treatment in addition to your salt cave visit. Everyone who visits the cave receives a pair of socks, which are included in the cost and prevent contamination of the salt. Gum, food and drinks are banned for the same reason, and cellphones, watches and other electronics are prohibited because they could be damaged by the salt mist, Stewart says.
During the 45-minute sessions, guests can meditate or just relax in zero-gravity chairs in a calming environment with low lighting and soft music. Like any cave, it's a little chilly, so blankets are provided for guests. The temperature also keeps the salt from melting, says Stewart, who recommends people take deep breaths to really get the salt into their lungs.
IF YOU GO
The cave fits 10-12 if you want to bring a group. Guests must be 18 or older.
Cost: $30 for a 45-minute session
Details: Serenity in the Mountains, 59 McKinney Road in Blue Ridge, Georgia; 706-258-2244; serenityinthemountains.com.