That time I went to a salt cave

June 9, 2021
Small white ceramic bowl of pink Himalayan salt on a round wood platter with a white and red textile in the background
Photo credit monicore via Pexels

When I wrote a blog post last year about how I would mark the end of the pandemic, I envisioned a party with my small social circle, with ice cream cake, sparklers, and maybe a face mask bonfire.

Fourteen months and two vaccine shots later, having an end-of-the-pandemic party doesn't seem appropriate.  It feels like there was too much loss, and there are too many scars.  I know that some people can set all that aside and celebrate anyway.  I am not one of those people.

However, I have been fully vaccinated for five weeks now, and my life is returning to what it was pre-pandemic.  I'm taking classes at my boxing gym, and I went to the Mall of America to try on a bunch of jeans.  Mike and I spent a day doing all of the indoor dining things that we mostly skipped for the past year—brunch with fancy lattes, sipping whiskey at a cocktail room, and sinking into a restaurant booth.  Josh and I splurged on the six-course tasting menu at Tenant, and it was exquisite.  I sat on Rachel's couch and watched my niece play with her Sesame Street characters, and that was exquisite, too.

But none of those experiences—as lovely as they were—gave me the closure I was looking for.  So much fear and pain and grief and stress had built up in my body over the past year, and I needed to find some way, as best as I could, to let it go.

Most people would turn to therapy, or maybe religion.  I went to a salt cave.

Close up of pink, coarse grains of Himalayan salt
Photo credit Eva Elijas via Pexels

The Salt Cave is not actually a cave—it's a storefront on Nicollet Avenue with a relatively small basement room (a.k.a. the "cave") adorned with salt crystals.  There's a sandy layer of pink salt on the floor (you remove your shoes before entering for a beach-like experience) and tiny particles of "pharmaceutical-grade" salt are dispersed through the air by a very noisy fan. 

Supposedly, all of this sodium can help alleviate asthma, allergies, stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, skin conditions, and various other ailments.  As a rule, I am doubtful of anything that purports to be a remedy for such a wide array of problems.  But the pandemic left me with a persistent tension embedded into every fiber of my body, and a vaccine, fancy dinners, socializing, and the end of the mask mandate hadn't exorcised it.  It's like when your laptop freezes, so you try to close the program and press control-alt-delete.  But none of that works, and the only thing left to do is to hold down the power button until your computer eventually restarts.  

I didn't think that salt had some sort of intrinsic ability to reboot my system, but I did think that sitting in a soothing environment might do the trick.  So I booked a private 45-minute session at The Salt Cave for $40 and headed down to south Minneapolis on a Wednesday afternoon.

When the owner checked me in, he asked me what brought me to the salt cave, and I said that after the past year I needed to relax.  He nodded knowingly.

"That's why most people are coming here lately.  And the salt cave can help you relax.  But you need to know that it can't make you relax.  It's what you bring to it."  Then he told me that I could use the rake in the corner to make a Zen garden, he put some calming ocean sounds on the stereo system, and he left me to it.

I sat in a zero-gravity lounge chair for a bit.  I raked the entire floor and then felt guilty when my footsteps messed up my perfect parallel lines.  I did a few yoga poses.  I thought about some text messages I had to send.  I burrowed my toes into the salt.  I drew a miniature Zen garden with my fingertips.  I thought about the past year.  I cried.

Tabletop Zen garden with raked sand and smooth polished stones
Photo credit cottonbro via Pexels

But mostly I stared at the cave's salt wall.  The salt crystals looked like translucent bricks, squares and rectangles covering the wall from floor to ceiling.  The crystals were backlit with dozens of small colored lights that faded from one color to the next in sweeping waves, like a slow motion, meditative Christmas light display.

For some reason (maybe this was the influence of the salt particles wafting through the air) it struck me as profoundly beautiful, in the way that cathedrals can be profoundly beautiful even if you're not a believer.  I watched the crystals slowly shift from cool pearly white to warm yellow to vibrant magenta and back again, and I experienced an existential sense of calm that nestled into every bit of my body.

When the fan suddenly ground to a halt (my cue that my 45-minute session was over), I thought it must have malfunctioned.  It felt like only 20 minutes had passed.  But then the owner came to retrieve me from the basement and I put my shoes back on.  I walked out into a world that felt a little brighter than it had before, and maybe, it was because I had finally rebooted.

The Salt Cave
4811 Nicollet Avenue S
Minneapolis, MN 55419

This isn't a sponsored post—I paid for my session out of pocket.