A bed of cotton candy-pink crystals shift underfoot as you walk toward one of seven reclining chairs, complete with pillow and fleece blanket. The crystals are salt, and the entire room is filled with them: Large rocks form a mosaic on the walls, and tiny stones fill a net along the ceiling, interspersed with small lights that turn blue, pink, yellow and green. A water fountain bubbles nearby, and ocean sounds provide a backdrop rhythm.
This is SolA Salt Cave, located in downtown Asheville. Jodie Appel, 35, opened the therapeutic center seven months ago, inspired by her father. “My dad has asthma, allergies, and a punctured lung from an accident,” she says. “He and my mother went into [a] salt cave in Williamsburg, Va.” Not long after, her father called to say that he hadn’t used his inhaler in two weeks, she recalls. Typically, her father had to use it “once, if not twice, a day.”
Appel and her boyfriend decided to try a salt cave themselves. After relaxing at the Williamsburg Salt Spa and speaking with the owner, Appel knew that she wanted to offer such a service in Asheville. “I am a holistic healer, and I didn’t want to be just another massage therapist,” Appel says about moving from Greenville, S.C., and opening SolA. “A lot of clients said to me, ‘You should be healing more people on a bigger scale.’ This is my way of serving more people on that larger scale.”
Home to many alternative practitioners and businesses (and one other halotherapy center, The Salt Spa), Asheville “was just the right place,” says Appel. “I was looking for a place for three years, and it was not until my parents and the architect were sold on this location that I thought more seriously about it.” Wanting a garden and flowers outside her store, Appel was uncertain about purchasing a location on Eagle Street in downtown Asheville’s historic business district, The Block.
But when it came time to haul in more than 20 tons of salt, she realized she had made the right choice. “OK, I thought, maybe I need to buy some sort of machine or huge window,” Appel recalls. Instead, she asked her new neighbors for help and offered a little cash. “We got a line of 30 people who have lived in this community for many, many years. Piece by piece, they walked each rock of salt in here.” Her next-door neighbor at the DO Drop In said to her, “‘You don’t even know what you just did for this community,’” says Appel. “I’m the outsider, though, and I’m glad I can help. … I was asking for diversity, and here it is” on Eagle Street.
Appel emphasizes that the spa is for everyone. “I’m really trying to respond to what the community wants,” she says. In order to develop her business, she asks herself, “What is the community of healers here; who do they reach; and who is it I reach? I’ve had yoga with Kim Drye, didgeridoo with Corey Costanzo and massages by local masseuses. Whoever walks in the door and says, ‘I want to have a class here,’ I’m like, ‘Great!’”
Alison Colberg, a practitioner at Point Health Collective, offers community acupuncture at SolA once a month. “Acupuncture in the salt cave is very synergistic,” says Colberg, who has lived and practiced healing modalities in France and Africa. “That is often the case when you combine two different strategies. There is a certain level of benefit from one modality, and then the body is really able to connect that to another level,” she says. “Healing is a lot more tangible. Chinese herbs help bring acupuncture treatment to a permanent level in the body, and the salt cave has a similar effect.”
The response from patrons?
“My friend invited me to go, and I was like, ‘yeah, right, a salt cave? As if that would do anything,’” says Brett Krueger, an attendee for the Tuesday-night acupuncture session. “And now I’m hooked. My energy and breathing was like I was 15 years old. I have asthma. This is pure air to breathe.”
— Kate Lundquist is a freelance writer and yoga teacher living in Asheville.