There's a dark, small cave that thousands of folks visit in suburban Chicago. People stumble upon it between a Days Inn and an Aldi grocery store. It's not a historic land site, nor do bats dangle from its ceiling. Explorers with loads of gear and headlamps don't travel in its confines. Instead, many women and some men lie back in lawn chairs and breathe deeply while meditating. It's called a salt cave, and people visit with anticipation of serious relaxation. I recently tried it out for myself in Naperville, Ill., and walked out a calmer, more peaceful-minded college kid.

"I thought it would be something new and unique. It goes along with the natural lines our spa promotes," said Timeless Spa owner, Jody Buckle.

The spa offers your standard treatments — facials, massages and waxings, but it also offers alternative medicine therapies. The salt cave is one of them.

"As the economy took a turn, people became really stressed. Stress can impact your health, it can kill you," she said. "I knew that people who would get a massage to relax would have 20 dollars to try the salt cave."

When the cave opened a year and a half ago, it was one of five in the country. It's 400 square feet and covered with 11,000 pounds of Himalayan salt. Up to 10 people can relax for a 45-minute session costing 20 bucks.

"The cave is built for relaxing and de-stressing. Some people feel a difference the first time, for others it takes longer. The health benefits are an extra surprise," said Buckle.

The salt affects people differently, but has been found to help people with arthritis and those with respiratory and circulatory problems. Research has also shown that salt helps with dermatological diseases like acne, and even coronary heart problems.

The secret behind the benefit is the kind of salt used in the cave. It's no Morton table salt and it's not found on the city's icy streets. Because it isn't refined, the salt has 84 minerals. Some include calcium, sodium, bromine, iodine, iron and magnesium. It's completely natural, unlike man-made iodized salt. The salt is antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial. The spa's brochure says, "it's an oasis of fresh air in the heavily polluted environment which we live."

"It was really relaxing, but I have a non-stop thinking brain. I was thinking about the 30 things I have to do today. It's hard for me to just lie there for 45 minutes and not think of anything," said first-time visitor Missy Smith.

Smith and her sister discovered the spa after a recent Groupon deal. The spa got over 2,000 new clients after the 50-percent-off deal for a one-time visit to the salt cave.

When life is feeling crazy and chaotic, it's good to keep in touch with your inner self. Finding new, alternative de-stress techniques keeps it fresh. After all, variety is the spice of life.

Em-J Staples originally wrote this story for MNN State Reports.

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