KOCHI: Shankar struggles past the last two steps and is beset by a bout of cough as he collapses into a chair. The inhaler on the bed-side table is a constant reminder of the moments that find him gasping for air. A few agonising moments later, normalcy returns as he regains his breath. And he silently resigns himself to the fact that many such breathless moments are yet to come.
What might prove to literally be a sigh of relief for the likes of Shankar is the advent of salt therapy in the country. With the therapeutic value of salt being successfully channelised into curing respiratory and skin diseases across the seas, the secret of the East European salt caves now reaches Indian shores. And Kochi appears to be taking life with a ‘pinch of salt’ as it plays host to the first halotherapy (halo means salt in Latin) centre in India. Set up a year ago, the Salt Cave at Ravipuram sees a steady trickle of people as many seek the goodness of salt to breathe easy.
The salt lamp, at the reception desk, greets a perfect welcome as a blast of cool air from inside washes away the visible signs of the ‘too-hot-to-handle’ weather. As one steps into the salt room, it is difficult to not imagine the sound of waves lapping at the shore or the salty breeze combing through one’s hair. The sight of salt, across the length, breadth and height of the room and the feel of grainy salt beneath one’s feet makes for a picture of the beach sans the waters. The golden glow of salt lamps, placed around the room, offset pristine white chairs. The crumbly walls are coated with tonnes of imported rock salt. Soon, it begins to feel like a cozy den with temperatures within the room dropping to a comfortable 20-25 degrees and humidity kept at bay through cross-ventilation.
A session at the salt room lasts for an hour where visitors relax in cane chairs and inhale fine salt particles sprayed into the room by a halo-generator. The contraption is the backbone of the process as it recreates an atmosphere of naturally-occurring salt. This salt dust contains negative ions that when inhaled, binds impurities within the respiratory system and when exhaled, it cleanses the breathing mechanism of bacterial and fungal infections. The salt lamps also emit negative ions and the net effect results in a noticeable easing of the laborious breathing process.
The therapeutic value of salt was first realised when it came to light that salt miners rarely suffered from respiratory diseases. Today, salt therapy has takers in over 60 countries and what’s more, the salt used, inthuppu, is a household name among traditional medicine practitioners in the state. Krishna Kumar, owner, Salt Cave, says, “ The idea of the salt room is only an extension of the common act of gargling salt water. However, while the effect of saline water reaches only upto the throat, the inhaling of salt particles ensures that the curative air reaches the lungs and cleans the nasal passages too.” Salt therapy is said to provide respite from asthma, allergies, cough and cold, bronchitis, snoring, sinusitis and reduces hypertension, increases blood circulation and metabolism and strengthens bones.
It also rejuvenates the body and cures skin diseases on long exposures to salt. However, a minimum of twenty sessions are required to cure ailments for the long run and if not done periodically, it may fail to show results.
While the concept is relatively new, doctors, in the city are willing to experiment with the healing technique in their treatments. Dr P E Alexander, an asthma allergy specialist for over 30 years, explains, “ I sat through a couple of sessions and personally, I feel it has benefitted me. However, I am still researching on the long-term benefits of this practice and only when I am completely convinced will I recommend this to my patients. Also, salt therapy, in isolation, cannot combat respiratory diseases and as the chances for relapse are high, integrated medicine holds the key.”