BY CELINA KAREIVA
If you breathe deeply, you can actually taste the salt on your lips, says Matthias Riebe, as he leads a tour of the Saltminearium, a new spa in Bellevue’s Bel-Red neighborhood, and the only facility of its kind in the state. With the lights dimmed, the floor, walls and accents emit a pinkish glow. At first glance it looks the interior of a sand castle. But Matthias, who co-owns the space with his wife, Annett, points out that it’s in fact made of 38,000 pounds of rock salt.
Known as halotherapy, the secret to treatment lies not in the relaxation itself, but in the inhalation of a dry aerosal salt. A generator blows miniscule crystals into the air. Simple inhalation is believed to improve circulation, elevate the mood, have an anti-inflammatory effect on mucous membranes and even ease symptoms of ADHD.
“For me [it's not what] the people say,” says Matthias of halotherapy’s health benefits. “They come out and there’s a smile on their face…That’s for me, enough.”
The medicinal effects of salt caves were discovered several centuries ago when workers emerged much healthier than from the coal mines and other cavernous work environments of the age. Salt spas are common throughout Europe. In fact, Annett, who suffers from severe allergies, visited one in Germany, when the couple lived there. It was the first treatment to show noticeable results.
Eager to replicate that experience stateside, they traveled across the U.S. researching locations for their project. Both admit it was the overcast skies and dreary weather that partly attracted them to Bellevue. Matthias and Annett wanted their spa to provide an escape from the outside world – which is why they’ve housed it in a stout building, barricaded by a retail complex closed off from street traffic.
Matthias has also designed a light show to mimic the sun rising and setting in nature. Over the course of a half hour a constellation of stars forms on the ceiling, the room turns pitch dark and a giant orange orb appears on the opposite wall. Visitors emerge energized and glowing.
“We’ve already seen an incredible interest from the wellness community…who see it as a great alternative to doctors and pharmaceuticals,” says spokesperson Nina Cambern.
The spa is comprised of two main rooms – a space for adults and a room for children. In the children’s room, mini chairs are pushed up against the wall, a light show plays on one wall and a sandbox full of salt particles occupies one corner.
Rather than relying on costly prescriptions or frequent doctor’s visits, they hope visitors we’ll see their services as a welcome alternative. Already, they’ve been approached by a number of interested parties, including yoga teachers, instructors from Bastyr University, and most recently a hypnotherapist, who was brought to tears by the soothing effects of the treatment.
“People leave on cloud nine,” Cambern says. “It’s like they’re floating in space.”
One of the only salt spas in the country and state, designing the space presented its own set of obstacles. After about a year of construction and design, the spa opened in December of last year. The couple hopes to introduce several new programs over the coming weeks, including a HaloYoga class that promises to improve circulation while boosting the immune system. Depending on individual’s reasons for visiting, Matthias suggests coming several times a week at first. Afterward, he says, visits can taper off to just once a week. They hope that all walks of life will benefit from their treatment, including athletes, young children and those who are generally health conscious.
“One day [at the spa] is like one day at the beach,” says Matthias, shining a flashlight on the dark room as he points out the tiny particles. “This is salt in its purest form. “