What is Hot Stone Therapy?
Beautiful, flat, black, basalt stones, specially smoothed and polished, sorted into different sizes – these are the basic tools of the massage technique known as Hot Stone Therapy. Basalt is a black volcanic rock, which is able to absorb and hold heat, and when the stones have been heated (usually in a specially designed stone heater) to a temperature of 120 -130o Fahrenheit, they are carefully arranged in key places on the client’s body. Some may be laid on the energy centres or chakras; some smaller stones may be placed between the client’s toes or laid in the client’s palms. In addition, the therapist may hold the massage stones and glide them rhythmically across the energy lines or meridians of the client.
Besides the stones arranged down the spine and around the body, the therapist may use some stones as an extension of his or her own hands, to gently sooth, massage and release tension. The purpose of the massage is to use the heat of the stones to relax the individual and to help warm any tight muscles so the therapist can work more deeply, more quickly into tense tissue.
In some treatments, the heated black stones are alternated with cool white stones (generally marble), as the alternation increases the circulation of the blood, and is therefore seen to relax, detoxify and encourage healing.
The therapeutic properties of warmth are said to loosen tight muscles and improve the flow of energy in the body. The hot stone technique is particularly effective in relaxing muscles, releasing the build-up of toxins in the body, improving poor blood circulation, and it has been known to alleviate certain specific health conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and anxiety, among others. It is particularly beneficial when an individual feels themself in need of a personal pampering treat. The extra attention and soothing massaging effects (described as gentler than Swedish massage or Deep Tissue Massage) have been reported as giving an experience of extreme and deep relaxation and profound well-being.
Hot Stone Massage is growing in popularity not only in beauty spas and salons, but is increasingly being used by other types of massage therapists to add to their range of techniques and also by physical therapists, reflexologists, and many other types of bodywork practitioners and energy therapists.
What to expect
Before you even arrive, the massage therapist will be getting ready for you, by ensuring that the black massage stones are clean; the smooth surface ensures that they are entirely spotless. They will be heated up in a water tank of between 120o to 150oF. The stones themselves are usually basalt, a black volcanic rock that absorbs and retains heat particularly well.
Tips for ‘first-timers’ include a suggestion not to smoke or take alcohol before or very soon after a treatment, not to eat a large
meal, and to arrive early enough to chill out and put your everyday concerns aside so that you can fully enjoy the experience.
Your first appointment will begin with a confidential consultation, during which, you will be asked you about your medical history, current health, and emotional well-being. Treatments are 45 minutes or one-and-a-half hours long , and are performed while you are lying on a massage couch, covered with warm towels, or a light sheet. Only that part of you which the therapist is working on is exposed.
To begin with, the therapist may use one of the heated stones to stroke or massage your body, starting at the feet and moving upwards. At various locations along your spine a single heated stone will be placed at a key point, at the various energy centres or chakras. Additional smaller stones, the size of coins, will be placed between your toes and your feet may be covered with a towel or wrapped in warm bootees. Single stones may be placed in to palms of your hands for you to hold on to.
As each stone cools it will be replaced with a fresh hot one from the tank. The therapist will take care to test each stone before placing it on you, but obviously if you feel uncomfortable, you should let the therapist know at once.
The hot stones may be alternated with cold stones (often white and made of marble) This alternating technique is used to enhance circulation and to ease areas of inflammation or muscle injury.
To enhance the hot stone experience, you may choose to have Aromatherapy oils included according to your specific health needs. During your treatment, soothing background music may be played to help you feel relaxed and at ease. And afterwards most people report a thoughtful calm, almost meditative state, in which they feel deeply relaxed and also energised.
Effects and Benefits
The use of special heated volcanic stones enables Hot Stone massage to increase the health benefits of ordinary massage therapy. Clients report that they experience deeper relaxation and the deeply penetrating heat of the hot stones is claimed to have an enhanced effect on tense muscles and tired bodily tissues. Beyond the mere effect of heat, it is claimed that the layout of the basalt rocks on chakra centres also has an effect of balancing the body’s energies.
During a session, large heated ‘chakra’ stones are placed on: Crown chakra; Brow chakra; Throat chakra; Heart chakra; Solar plexus; Navel or sacral chakra; Base or root chakra. When the charkas are aligned and balanced, the meridians opened, by means of a hot stone therapy, positive energy is produced.
The positive outcomes of this treatment are listed as many: some general benefits include increasing deep muscle and tissue relaxation, clearing toxins, and promoting overall stress relief and calm.
The specific health problems which it is claimed can be alleviated by Hot Stone Massage:
- Back Pain, joint pain and Arthritis
- Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromylagia
- Stress and Anxiety
- Insomnia and Depression
Alternating between the sensations of heat and cold, by applying cold marble stones has the effect of boosting the blood circulation, and can assist with circulatory and heart problems.
Hot Stone Therapy is gaining popularity because of the immediate beneficial effect felt by clients, and therapists from a number of other hands on disciplines are adding this technique to their skills because they find that the heated stones act swiftly in releasing tension from muscles and enable to proceed to their own methods with less wear and tear on their own thumbs and wrists.
Fascinating Facts about Hot Stone Therapy
- Native Americans used stones heated by the fire to treat aching muscles, and the technique as it is widely practised today in salons all over America and Europe is generally credited to a practitioner called Mary Nelson, from Tucson, Arizona. In 1993 she trademarked her style of hot stone massage, called LaStone Therapy. Training is given in this method, which also includes elements of Native American spiritual practice.
- For a hot stone massage therapist, Basalt hot stones are the tools of the trade. These ancient black stones in basalt or basinite derived from volcanic rocks, the lava of erupted volcanoes and possess special qualities of being able to be heated quickly and of retaining heat during a treatment.
- A typical Stone massage kit can be acquired from specialist manufactures in a choice of sizes, from 25, 36, 38, 42, 56, even 90 pieces. These would need to be accompanied by an electric water heater to heat up the stones to a temperature of 120o to 150oF
- A professional 60-stone set would include: 42 Black Basalt Stones: (large, medium, small), 8 Toe stones, 1 Contour, 2 Trigger Point, 7 Charka stones. And white marble stones for the alternating cooling part of the therapy.
- It is claimed that the application of hot stones to the surface of the skin has significant therapeutic effects, enabling the heat to penetrate the tissue layers up to 1½ inches Using stones can access the muscle fibres at a deeper level than manual massage. The heat of the stones is conducted down to the deepest levels of the blood which brings about physiological and systemic changes to the body.
- the penetration to joints and muscle tissue; the process is claimed to increase the rate of metabolism by 10-15%. By introducing cold stones alternatively with hot ones stimulates the circulation and assist deep-seated tensions and blockages.
- Many beauty salons and spas now offer their own versions of hot stone massage (which could be called ‘river rock’ massage or ‘lava stone’ massage. The hot stone techniques may be incorporated with other massage methods such as reflexology, aromatherapy or Swedish massage.
- Similar treatments using hot stones have been documented down the ages: used for many hundreds of years by Chinese healers to relieve muscle tension and spasm; Romans alternated hot baths with lying on cold slabs of marble; in Japan suffers of digestive problems carried pre-warmed stones in sashes near their bellies to relieve symptoms; a Native American cure for menstrual pain was to place one stone by the abdomen and another by the patient’s feet; native tribes of Hawaii and Tibet have used hot stones holistically to ease tension in the mind and also help treat medical problems of the body.
The Federation of Holistic Therapists
The Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) is the largest and leading professional association for therapists in the UK and Ireland. With thousands of members offering a broad range of specialisms – from sports and remedial therapies, to complementary healthcare and holistic beauty treatments – the FHT includes practitioners of stone therapy among its members, and enables a search for local practitioners on its website.
British Association of Beauty Therapy and Cosmetology (BABTAC)
Established in Gloucester in 1977, BABTAC is the premier UK association for beauty and Holistic Therapies. It concerns itself with the well-being of its Members, regulation of the industry and public welfare. Headed by a Council of industry professionals, they also offer beauty expertise, a rigorous ethical code and a professional practice standard. BABTAC advises the public to check that practitioners display their purple BABTAC sticker to confirm membership.