Introducing Hot Stone Massage Therapy

woman receiving hot stone massage

Hot stone massage therapy is a relaxing treatment usually done in spas or by a massage therapist and sometimes paired with a full body massage. This therapy is complementary, so is often carried out in combination with other types of massage, particularly Swedish massage, and sometimes even with cold stone massage as prescribed by Lastone therapy.

History

The origins of hot stone massage date back to ancient times. Cultures as diverse as the Chinese, Japanese and American Indian all practiced variations of this technique. Several Polynesian cultures also make use of hot stones (hot lava rocks to be precise).

In its modern form, however, its origins can be traced back to the Lastone method developed in the early 1990’s. Lastone therapy encompasses a theory and practice involving the use of both hot and cold stones to encourage relaxation, the rebalancing of energy within the body, and self healing.

In the years since the popularization of hot stone massage in the West, several different schools have been established. The best known of these include the aforementioned Lastone, EarthStone and Spastone. There are also variations based on the particular part of the body to which the technique is applied, hot stone facial massage being one such example.

Stones

Good heat retention, in combination with a shape that is both smooth and flat, are the most desirable properties for stones used in this type of massage. River stones generally exhibit these characteristics and the majority of massage stones, therefore, fall into this particular category. In fact, hot stone massage is sometimes alternatively referred to as “river rock massage”. Although the cause of their smoothness is fairly obvious, the superior heat retention of river stones demands an explanation. This is, in fact, due to the presence of significant quantities of iron, characteristic of the basalt from which they are formed.

There are two basic types of stones used: larger placement stones, sometimes referred to as sacral stones, and smaller so-called tooling stones. Tooling stones are used as an extension of the therapist’s hands while working on the client, whereas placement stones are simply placed on the lower, sacral region of the lower back, along or on either side of the spine, and left for a period of time. When used in this way, the heat and weight of the stones alone can help produce a number of beneficial effects. A typical set of massage stones may include any number of stones of various sizes and weights, from small through to medium and large. The surface of the stones also varies in terms of smoothness. A slightly textured surface is generally preferable to a perfectly smooth one as it is believed this enhances the effects and it also makes the stone easier to grip.

Techniques

Preparation for a hot stone massage involves heating the stones in a device commonly referred to as a hot stone warmer and applying oil to the area of the client’s body to be massaged, which is most often the back. A sacral stone may be placed on the body during these initial stages and is generally wrapped in a towel to prevent burning. Additionally, now, or at some later stage, smaller stones are sometimes placed in a line along the length of the spine or in a more complex predefined pattern. Alternatively, the stones may be positioned underneath the client with the client lying face up on the massage table.

Using just his or her hands at first, the therapist will massage the client to warm and loosen the major muscle groups. After the stones have sufficiently cooled to allow them to be held and placed in direct contact with the client’s skin, the therapist can then begin massaging the client by sliding the stone or stones over the area being massaged using a firm and consistent pressure.

Of course, the exact technique used, duration and type of massage to be performed will vary depending on the needs of the client.

The Benefits of Hot Stone Massage

Generally speaking, hot stone massage offers similar benefits to other types of massage but with greater effectiveness due to the application of heat. These benefits can be summarized as follows:

  • increases circulation of blood
  • improves the tone of visceral organs and aids in elimination
  • it is a diaphoretic meaning it encourages sweating which helps to purify the blood
  • reduces excess muscle tension
  • improves joint mobilty
  • has a calming effect on the central nervous system
  • when used on the face reduces sinus pressure and pain

Besides these scientifically verifiable benefits, certain schools and individuals employing this technique also subscribe to a range of beliefs which are essentially holistic in nature and which are derived from various Eastern traditions. The belief systems of many of these traditions, and the movements they have influenced, also have a spiritual or quasi-religious element, Reki being one such example. Concepts such as meridians, chakras and qi are often alluded to in this context and the supposed benefits are believed to include those connected with re-balancing the body’s life force or qi.

Receiving a stone massage can, therefore, offer a variety of benefits for both your body and mind. It is said to produce a more complete sense of relaxation than a regular massage as the heat and pressure of the stones allow the beneficial effects to penetrate more deeply. Among the many benefits, therefore, are those associated with a deep tissue massage.

The heat of the stones, in particular, relaxes muscles, reduces tension and improves blood circulation. This can help with aches and pains as well as muscle spasms. While it helps ease sore, strained, and contracted muscles, there are besides numerous other conditions for which hot stone massage can provide significant relief. These include, fibromyalgia, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and other related conditions. Thanks to its ability to relax muscles, these massages also help improve flexibility, thus improving joint mobility.

Like most spa treatments, these massages can offer a mental recharge as well. They are especially good for reducing stress and tension and generating a sense of wellbeing. This, in turn, can help alleviate stress related illnesses and headaches.

Conclusion

Hot stone massage therapy is a complementary form of massage involving the use of heated stones. The stones can either be placed in a stationary position on the client’s body or used as an extension of the therapists hands.

Although a relatively recent phenomenon in the West, hot stone massage is an ancient practice that has been documented in a number of different cultures worldwide. Its adoption by the modern spa industry beginning in the early nineties, is most closely associated with Mary Nelson, the founder of Lastone therapy.

The stones used in hot stone therapy are carefully chosen based on certain favorable characteristics. These characteristics are most often found in river rocks and include a flat, rounded shape, smoothness, and the ability to retain heat.

Finally, hot stone massage has numerous restorative and therapeutic benefits, both physical and mental. It produces a deep sense of relaxation and can provide relief from a wide range of chronic and acute ailments, including a variety of joint and muscle related aches and pains.

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