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When Charles and Shannon Tanner tried the couples’ massage in 2015 at Breathe It In Salt Rooms in North Little Rock, they didn’t realize it was the beginning of their journey to owning the business. They were immediately drawn into halotherapy, the practice of breathing in salty air to treat a number of ailments. After regularly spending time in the salt cave, Shannon realized she no longer suffered from itchy eyes or ear infections. Her chronic inflammation and back pain had lessened. Charles also experienced similar benefits, from less arthritis pain and inflammation to helping him relax. The couples’ two daughters found relief from their allergies as well. When the opportunity came in 2019 to purchase Breathe It In Salt Rooms, the Tanners went from customers to owners, unwilling to let the salt cave experience slip away from Arkansans.
Halotherapy has its roots in ancient practices. Monks in Europe noticed patients with respiratory ailments seemed to benefit from spending time in salt caves. Eastern Europe is peppered with salt mines, some that have been mined since the Middle Ages. In the 1800s, several doctors noticed salt miners didn’t suffer the same respiratory illnesses as their counterparts in coal mining. A Polish doctor, Dr. Felix Bochkovsky, published a book on his observations, noting that salt miners appeared healthier than most people. In 1949, German doctor K.H. Spannahel recorded that people who sheltered in the German salt mines during bombings in World War II reported respiratory benefits, including less asthma. From there, the practice of halotherapy gained steam as locations around Europe began using old salt mines as therapy or creating their own salt rooms. The practice eventually traveled to the U.S., where nearly 750 salt rooms have been built.
Breathe It In Salt Rooms, located on JFK Boulevard in North Little Rock, allows customers to relax, read and listen to music while lounging in the salt lined rooms. The microscopic salt particles customers breathe in are what lie behind the claims of better health. Though scientific studies on the benefits of salt rooms are lacking, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence behind the practice. “The previous owners’ grandchild had severe allergies from birth. You can’t give allergy medicine to babies, so they took him to a Colorado salt cave to try salt therapy. It made a huge difference in his well being,” Shannon recounts.
Besides the Tanners’ own stories of well being, they have customers who highly value the therapy the salt room provides. “We have clients that come up from Louisiana once a month because we were able to help these sweet parents find a combination of natural therapies that have cleared their beautiful daughter’s psoriasis for the first time ever.”
When the Tanners assumed ownership of the North Little Rock business, they knew they had to look for ways to add value to the salt cave experience. “The cost to build a salt cave is high, the equipment is expensive and it’s also labor-intensive, so it’s not something you are ever going to find ‘popping up’ in every town. It is a destination,” the Tanners say. The couple have added two unique options for visitors: a negative ion room and a flavored oxygen bar.
Negative ions are molecules in the air that are charged with electricity. They occur naturally in ultraviolet rays from the sun, from electrical discharges in the air during thunderstorms and even from the growth of many plants. Studies have shown negative ions can boost mood, relieve stress and depression and improve sleep quality. The Tanners created the negative ion lounge, combining the ions with a relaxing atmosphere to provide a therapeutic effect.
The oxygen bar is another phenomenon increasing in popularity across the U.S. Scented oxygen is delivered through a mask for five to 20 minutes. Proponents claim the oxygen reinvigorates, relieves stress and headaches, though there is little scientific evidence to back these claims at this time. Breathe It In’s oxygen bar offers 12 different aromas “so you can enjoy a little aromatherapy with your oxygen! It’s a quick pick-me-up of natural energy after work, or before a big test or project, just to get you going.” Shannon says. “Lots of people come in for oxygen as a headache remedy. Many clients choose to get a few minutes of oxygen therapy AFTER their salt or ion therapy, because that’s when their lungs are nice and clear and open, so it really is the perfect time to boost your blood oxygen level all the way to 100%.” The oxygen bar can serve up to six people at a time, allowing small groups to come together, whether for a girls’ spa day, birthday party or bachelorette party.
The idea of lounging in a salt room might be a strange one. But the Tanners’ ideal client is anyone who is experiencing stress or breathing issues. These issues could include allergies, asthma, COPD, sinusitis, ear infections or cystic fibrosis. In addition, people have reported halotherapy helping with skin conditions like psoriasis, acne or eczema. “Salt therapy is great for anxiety and stress relief and clears your airways at the same time,” Shannon says. “We cater to pregnant women and small children because they can’t take allergy medicines. Anyone who either can’t or doesn’t want to take pharmaceutical medicines to improve their breathing should definitely give salt therapy a chance.” During the pandemic, Shannon also believes halotherapy can strengthen the overall immune system.
Photos are courtesy of Breathe It In Salt Rooms.
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