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Spa owners earn their salt with a new therapy
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Spa owners earn their salt with a new therapy

Couple imports idea from Israel; it’s like ‘the beach on steroids’

Etya Novik reclines in one of the therapy rooms at the salt wellness center she and her husband opened in May. Photo by Elaine Durbach
Etya Novik reclines in one of the therapy rooms at the salt wellness center she and her husband opened in May. Photo by Elaine Durbach

If you can’t get to Israel, the next best thing might be to head to Berkeley Heights for a chance to breathe in air infused with salt from the Dead Sea.

Israeli-born Tal Novik and his American wife, Etya, have opened the Respira Salt Wellness Center, whose treatments include a dry mist of finely ground salt that some say has a range of health benefits.

The spa, on the corner of Springfield and Summit avenues, includes three treatment rooms, all with walls coated with a salt compound; one is specifically for children, and has a beach-like flooring of soft, ground salt, child-size furniture, and an array of things to do. The other two rooms, with a floor covered in salt gravel, have soft lighting, piped-in music, and lounge chairs. A 45-minute session costs $60 for an adult and $45 for a child.

Visitors come seeking relief for an ailment or from allergies, or simply for the refreshing effect of 45 minutes isolated in a pristine, serene environment.

First started in Eastern Europe in the mid-19th century, the treatment — known as halotherapy or speleotherapy — is fairly common in Europe and Israel, where it is offered on the grounds of Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

The Noviks came across the idea last summer when they were visiting family in Israel. One of their young nieces who suffers from asthma was taken for a treatment. Etya, a former managing editor of high tech-industry publications, was looking for something new to do, and this struck her as a wonderful idea.

Although some practitioners say the mineral kills germs and reduces inflammation, unclogging nasal and bronchial passages, Etya doesn’t make any extravagant claims for halotherapy. She describes herself as health-oriented — the family eats mostly fresh foods — but a skeptic when it comes to many supposed cures.

But she and Tal have been impressed by all they’ve learned about the salt-inhalation treatment. While they emphatically don’t recommend it as an alternative to medical treatment, they trust its anti-bacterial effect to be beneficial for respiratory disorders — short-term illnesses like bronchitis, or chronic ones like smoker’s cough or pulmonary disease — and conditions like sinus and ear infections and eczema. They plan to have their 12-year-old daughter, who has eczema, use the treatment.

No medical training is required to administer the treatment, but she and Tal studied everything they could uncover on the subject. They created their own center with the help of an Israeli based in Canada, and his team of construction workers originally from Poland — where such therapies have long been offered.

Since their opening at the end of May, Etya said, about a hundred people have come through, some to take up their offer — still standing — of a free first treatment; others returning for repeated sessions.

In the comment book in the foyer, one woman wrote that she came because she was fed up with congestion that she couldn’t shake. She said that to her amazement, before her 45-minute session was halfway over, she was breathing clearly.

Some choose to play with gravel; others zone out or meditate, or chat quietly with friends. Etya, who has done yoga for 20 years, encourages the use of Pranayama breathing, to maximize the inhalation benefits.

“People come expecting a smell like sea air,” Etya said, “but there is no smell at all. But the effect, I like to say, is like the beach on steroids.”

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