Just Breathe

SaltRoom

words: Marla Cantrell
images:Marla Cantrell and Lowell Therapeutic Massage Center
On a mild summer day, just after a clutch of storms had moved through the area, I drove to Lowell, Arkansas to spend about an hour sitting in a room lined with 5 tons of pink Himalayan salt. Five hundred and seventeen chiseled bricks, eight pounds each, lined the walls. The lighting in the room was soft and orangey pink, the kind you might hope for if you were a woman of a certain age meeting someone you hadn’t seen in a decade or two. The only furniture was two zero gravity lounge chairs, similar to those you might have on your deck. On the floor, more salt formed a gravelly beach, and twenty-seven salt lamps, from a mere six pounds to a hefty two hundred and twenty-five, stood watch.

 

I had been hearing about this salt room for a few months, following the business’s page on Facebook. The name, Arkansas’ Only Authentic Pink Himalayan Salt Room, drew me in. If there were only one of anything in Arkansas, I’d probably jump through hoops to see it. They like to use the word “authentic” at least in part because their salt comes from the Punjab region of Pakistan, less than 200 miles from the Himalayas.

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 10.22.06 PMThe Salt Room is housed inside the Lowell Therapeutic Massage Center. When I arrived, owners Pamela Scott and Pansy Burke were waiting. As they talked about the benefits of salt therapy, they all but glowed with enthusiasm. While their evidence is anecdotal, it is impressive. The two shared stories about a woman in her sixties who bought fifteen forty-five minute sessions. Before she’d finished the last one, the staff at the bank she uses began asking her why she looked so much younger. Certain clients who have skin issues like eczema, and lung problems such as seasonal allergies, asthma or COPD swear by the treatment as well. “Exposure to the salt opens airways and helps the body eliminate toxins,” Pansy said.

 

Pam chimed in, “And I don’t snore anymore!” she said, claiming that the proof of the statement came from her family, who’d noticed the quieter evenings. “And I’ll wake up in the same position I was in when I went to bed, because that’s what the room does, it totally relaxes you, so you don’t toss and turn in the night.”

 

According to Pam and Pansy, part of the reason for the relaxation is the negative ions the salt releases. The beach, for example, makes nearly everyone destress, due to the sea water that’s filled with salt, which is ripe with negative ions. In our daily life, we’re bombarded with positive ions, in the cellphones that rarely leave our hands, the computers that fill our workday, the TVs that fill our nights. The theory is that forty-five minutes in the salt room helps restore balance.

 

Pam and Pansy aren’t the first people to believe in salt’s benefits. Hippocrates was said to have used salt therapy in ancient Greece. In 1843, Felix Bochkowsky, a doctor in Poland, wrote a book about the benefits of breathing salty air. He’d witnessed the robust health of salt miners. In deep contrast, he’d seen the waning health of coal and metal miners in the area who were plagued with respiratory illnesses.

 

While my lungs are fine, my stress level is sometimes high, and I wondered what my experience would be. I stepped out of my shoes and into the room, which is approximately nine feet by twelve feet. I could smell the essential oil that floated through the entire building. I sat in one of the lounge chairs and kicked back. I listened to the sound system that played ocean waves, birds chirping, and soft music. I’m not sure what I expected, possibly something bigger, or maybe a room where salt hung like stalactites from the ceiling. The word “cave” came to mind, due in part to my research on Poland before my interview.

 

But as I sat there, I decided it couldn’t have been more perfect. After a bit, it was hard to hold my eyes open. Pansy said people describe the experience of being there as “a big hug.” And Pam said sitting there surrounded by salt causes a “time warp,” so that you’re shocked when your forty-five minutes are up. Both these observations turned out to be true. I could feel my body relax, the worries of the day dropping like a weight from a great height.

 

I had not expected anything as profound as this. Even in meditation, I can typically feel the muscles of my neck strung tight, my hands unwillingly making fists, even as I will myself to concentrate on my breath, the moment, the act of being present.

 

Lately, I’ve been practicing mindfulness, which I’ll admit in the beginning I saw as a New Agey word that meant little. But early this year, I attended a class that clarified it. In one session, we each took a raisin from its small box, held it in our hands, considered where it had been, the road it had traveled to get to us. One woman said, “I can see it as a grape, the sunlight on it!”

 

She sounded a little evangelical about it. OK, at that moment, I maybe thought I’d signed up for the wrong class, but then I wondered if she was onto something I had become too jaded to see. The raisin had been a grape, resplendent in the sun, and now it was a raisin that would be eaten as soon as the teacher finished her lesson.

 

As I sat in the lounge chair in the salt room, I let my thoughts go for a small while. I breathed in, and the air felt clean and new. I noticed that my shoulders were not as close to my ears as they usually are. I looked at the salty bricks around me, swirled with pink and orange, and thought about their trip from Pakistan, 8,000 miles away.

 

When Pam knocked on the door, it felt like a jolt. Time sort of does stand still. She laughed and told me the story of a place in Texas where they have a Himalayan salt wall that you can lick.
I scrunched up my nose. Mindfulness is one thing. Licking a wall is unthinkable for me.

 

On the drive home, I hit rush hour and sat in a line of cars for a while. I don’t like waiting at all, but that day it didn’t bother me. I felt the looseness of my joints, the unwinding of my muscles. I have no medical evidence that the salt room was the cause; it’s all anecdotal as I said before, but I will say that for the long drive home and on into the night, I felt new again, and an easiness that made me notice the goodness of my life.

 

Pansy and Pam claim that forty-five minutes in the salt room is like spending three days on the beach. I haven’t seen the beach in two years, so I can’t be sure. But I do know that sitting with the salt restored something that had been depleted. Which felt like a tiny miracle that day, which still feels like a miracle as I look back and remember what it was like.

 

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Arkansas’ Only Authentic Himalayan Salt Room
320 North Bloomington, Suite F1
Lowell, AR – 479.387.4358
Find them on Facebook. Dress comfortably.

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