What I think of when I think of a salt grotto:
1) a holistic cure for a common ailment in Renaissance Italy
2) a deep, cavernous setting of a heart-rending opera where the heroine’s blood blooms across the jagged daggers of salt
3) a hidden rendezvous for daring lovers secreted away between the blushing crystals
4) the preferred venue of the philosophers of Ancient Greece
5) a retreat in the 12th district of modern-day Vienna
warning: one of these things is not the like the others.
The Salzgrotte Meereskristall is completely unassuming. Just off of the main artery that feeds into the busy Wien Meidling train station, the salt grotto looks downright out of place on Tanbruckgasse. Looks, however, can be deceiving.
Entering the reception room, I was met with genuine warmth -the temperature in the waiting area was slightly humid and very relaxing as is the soothing music, artful arrangement of furniture, and calm lighting. Entering the salt grotto was a surprise. Behind a closed door in this modern place of business is a cavernous space that invites curiosity and relaxation. The floor is covered in loose salt crystals that crunch under your feet. The walls are constructed of large blocks of slightly pinkish salt that are smooth and cool to the touch. In fact, the entire room is quite cool – the blankets that are hung on the lounge chairs are thoughtful and welcome as is the ability to stretch out and fall peacefully into a wakeful dream or a sweet sleep.
Upon entering the salt grotto, the door closes behind you. The white lights are dimmed and replaced by an alternating sequence of cool, green lights followed by deep blue lights that seem to pulse. Instrumental music provides a soundtrack for the 45 minute session.
Stretching out on the lounge chair, I covered myself with a blanket and shut my eyes. I breathed deeply and concentrated on my breath. I let my thoughts run wild and then I returned to concentration. I stopped biting my cheeks. I stopped listening to the music. 45 minutes never went by so quickly. I literally felt as if I was in a different universe – returning to the streets of the 12th district was something of a shock after 45 minutes of reflection and deep blue calm.
Why does one go to a salt grotto you ask? There are many benefits, among them: increased blood circulation, calming of irritated skin and allergies, alleviation of blocked airway passages, and general relaxation and stress reduction. I went to relax because exam week is coming and I’ve nearly gnawed my cheeks raw – a terrible habit that I am well aware of and yet can’t seem to shake.
The experience was indeed calming. I felt peaceful and I enjoyed the quiet. The salt grotto is a sanctuary. Health benefits aside, it offers a moment away from the city with all of its noises and challenges and speed and bruskness. Slowing down and breathing deeply seem like obvious ways to restore inner peace and ward off toxic behavior. Unfortunately, we don’t always find the time or the place to exercise such common sense and even if we do, a salt grotto isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind.
So be daring and travel back in time – I highly recommend a visit to the Salzgrotte Meereskristall though I don’t know if I will make it a routine.