McMURRAY – Relaxing one's mind is difficult to do.

That is exactly what Salt of the Earth sets out to do with its salt cave in McMurray.

A first-time visitor to the business' salt cave found the session to bring calm and peaceful meditation.

"The time in the cave was relaxing and took away any stress I had been feeling," the customer said. "It's amazing how that not only was it stress-free but also how it took away some physical pain for a few hours.

"I think it convinced me to try this again. I understand how this can become a big part of one's mental health regimen."

Melanie McConnell, a regular customer of Salt of the Earth's salt cave, massage service, reiki and crystal boutique, said the offerings are "part of my stress management routine and used for relaxation and meditation."

McConnell, a Franklin Park, Ohio Township, resident, is a counselor who works from home.

"There's a lot of emotion and energy expelled in my profession," she said. "I meet with the massage therapist. The routine and consistency are critical for me."

Reiki is used to channel energy into a customer by way of touch, to activate the natural healing processes of the customer's body and restore physical and emotional well-being.

While there is no scientific evidence that crystals help heal people, at Salt of the Earth, it is believed that crystals can help people focus on what's troubling them and engage in mindfulness.

"People have used crystals for millions of years for healing," co-owner Lisa Mascara said. "They are natural attractions. People take them into the cave and just rub or hold them. They feel it helps their healing and relaxation."

Salt of the Earth was born in 2018 by Mascara and co-owner T.J. Gentile. The cave was designed and built by a Poland-based company.

The cave, which rests at the back of the Valley Brook Road, McMurray business, features 16 tons of premium Himalayan salt, valued for its large percentage of pure sodium chloride.

As Mascara recently explained to a couple of new visitors, "the salt is naturally anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory." She also explained the different backgrounds of the stones, smells, creams and other offerings in her shop.

In the cave, however, she said: "As you breathe it in, it tends to cleanse your respiratory system and helps to detox the body. It gives us another tool for our bodies to function optimally."

A 45-minute session in the 72-degree cave is $32. One can be covered with blankets on comfortable reclining chairs. One listens to peaceful, soothing music, with the lighting turned down for further comfort and serenity.

Salt of the Earth is not like most caves in the U.S. It does not use a generator for salt to the air. Mascara's cave uses the recirculated salt water.

"It's very organic," she said. "It's gentle and peaceful, and it's less harsh on the system."

Even in an abbreviated 30-minute session, a first-time cave participant found a relaxing experience where meditation was reached fairly quickly, and healing of some discomfort was felt as well as the removal of stress and any anguish.

She and Gentile will admit to not knowing much about salt caves before having theirs built. It has become the centerpiece of their original vision of creating an alternative healing center.

"I wanted to expand the holistic world in a comfortable way," Mascara said. "A lot of places have a mystical kind of approach that can be intimidating.

"It's so gratifying when people come and let go enough to be in the moment and find some peace and find themselves. To be part of that process is humbling. Not everyone who comes here is moved. People are touched in different ways and on different levels. To be able to help the people who get what they need ... it's just a good feeling to shepherd that for them."

Mascara is implementing yoga into her program, and that is conducted in the cave.

"I would just say that incorporating meditative, mindful breathing helps to benefit the body overall coupled with gentle movement of moving the body, stretching the muscles and inviting mobility and flexibility into the body while being at the salt cave is an added benefit to overall wellness," said Britney Strope Kwiatek, yoga instructor.

"It is such a beautiful and serene space which naturally invites relaxation and grounding."

McConnell said Mascara and Gentile are "down to earth," and she appreciates what they are doing.

"They are rooted and down to earth," McConnell said. "They are approachable, and they strike a balance. They can reach all kinds of people."

Mascara said the business has 8,000 to 9,000 customers in its database.

"It's grown more than I ever anticipated," she said. "One-thousand times more than what I thought. It's been such a wonderful response. There's nothing magical. It doesn't happen overnight. Getting people to accept this could be part of their wellness routine is my challenge."

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