A centuries-old health practice reborn as a modern wellness technique has made its debut in the Capital Region with the opening this month of The Salt Den.
The new business sits on Watervliet-Shaker Road on the site of the old Handy Andy grocery store, which was demolished after fire damage.
Owner Robert Duff intends The Salt Den to be a therapeutic center, with other services including massage therapy, red light therapy and, soon, an infrared sauna.
But it’s the salt cave that is at the heart of the business and the root of its name. It contains 35 tons of Himalayan salt -- chunks of it on the walls, decorative formations made with it on the ceiling, several inches of it coarsely crushed on the floor, and fine particles of it dispersed into the air. The room measures 350 square feet but there’s only about 300 square feet of floor space left, because so much salt is stacked up on the walls.
This room at The Salt Den contains 70,000 pounds of Himalayan salt. (Photo provided)
Sitting in a salty enclosed space to promote wellness is a practice that goes back centuries, growing from such anecdotal observations as salt miners not suffering lung ailments as often as the general population. Today the practice is known as halotherapy, and is based on the theory that salt particles cleanse and open up the airways of the human respiratory system.
Duff said his father suffers from chronic asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and watching him benefit from halotherapy opened his eyes to the idea of salt caves as therapy.
It is therapy -- not medicine. It does not cure what ails you, it eases the symptoms.
“The halotherapy is complementary,” Duff said. “We complement other medicines. It does not cure anything, it just assists.”
He added however that some patients experience sufficient benefit that they can use their inhaler less.
Factor in the soft lighting and sound insulation, and there are potential benefits for stress as well as breathing disorders.
Session fees range from $25 for children to $35 for adults.
Duff is firmly grounded in conventional medicine: He’s a hospital corpsman with 21 years’ service in the Navy Reserve, and also an electrician at Albany Medical Center.
He sees The Salt Den as an extension of his work in the Navy, which included a yearlong deployment to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany, the main hospital receiving U.S. battle casualties.
“I've done a lot for my country, now I wanted to help my community,” he said.
“I pretty much made a place that people can disconnect from the stresses in the environment today.”
The Maine native came to the Capital Region as a K-Mart manager two decades ago and stayed after that job ended. He now lives in the town of Amsterdam.
When Duff retires from the military in four years or so, and only has two jobs, he’ll look at expanding his new therapeutic business.
He said the years in the military prepared him for doing it all at once.
“That's the nice thing: The military trains you on how to, I guess, enjoy the stress level.”
That reached its peak in during his deployment to Germany: “We were just going 150 miles per hour in multiple directions.”
Duff said some service members struggle with the sudden slowdown when they leave the military. “It's like, ‘What do I do, there's not enough structure,’” he said.
To make that transition smoothly, he plans to focus on his new business, has three employees plus three licensed massage therapists who practice there.
“I'm looking in the future to adding another one of these.”
Duff has limited experience running his own business, but he got an endorsement as he was ramping up to open The Salt Den, winning the Veterans Business Plan Competition in October at the Veterans in Economic Transition Conference in Albany.