July 13th 2017 - Hot stone massage is a form of body work that involves the application of heated stones (thermotherapy) to the body within the context of a therapeutic massage. Round, smooth stones are heated to luxurious warmth, oiled and used in the palm of the hands to massage the body. Heat penetrates deeply, prompting profound relaxation, increased detoxification, and relief of long-standing muscular tension, stress and fatigue.
The use of applied heat to create a healing effect is a technique of long-standing benefit. The roots of hot stone therapy can be sourced back to many ancient cultures including the Native Americans. Though the history of using heated stones reaches back centuries, this type of therapy has recently become popular again.
In 1993, Mary Nelson-Hannigan of Tucson, Arizona, formalized the use of heated stones to massage the body and open energy channels, facilitating self-healing and body-mind awareness. She named this modality LaStone Therapy. Since then, the use of heated stones within the context of therapeutic massage has become widespread.
And no wonder! It is deeply detoxifying and profoundly relaxing. By combining massage with hot stones, the circulatory system is stimulated and the muscles are relaxed. The increased circulatory activity promotes the release of toxins from the muscles, assisting the body in self-healing. In addition, tense muscles are softened and eased by the deeply penetrating heat of the stones. Pain and muscle spasms are banished and a feeling of peacefulness and spiritual well-being takes hold. The combined effect prompts a state of enhanced relaxation that washes away stress and sets the stage for re-energizing and rejuvenating the body, mind and spirit.
The stones are heated to approximately 120°F - 130°F or 48-54°C. Prior to the beginning of the session, two rows of hot, flat stones are placed on the treatment table in alignment with both sides of the spine and then covered with a thick, soft towel. The session begins by lying back onto these covered warm stones. Then warm stones are wrapped in towels and placed over the heart, on the abdomen and under the neck. With heat penetrating from above and beneath the body, the massage begins.
Legs and feet, arms and hands are worked gently with massage oil. Hot smooth stones, held in the palms of the therapist’s hands, are used to apply additional pressure and heat. Thin warm stones are placed between each toe to radiate heat after the feet have been addressed. Once each limb has been thoroughly massaged and warmed to the bone, the therapist moves on to work with the neck and shoulders. To end the face-up portion of the massage, pleasantly warm stones are used to work with the facial muscles.
Stones are then removed from between the toes, over the heart, abdomen, beneath the neck and spine and the person receiving turns face down on the massage table. The prone portion of the session includes working with the posterior (back-side) of the legs, back, neck and shoulders. Hot stones are used to massage these areas, melting away stress and tension, increasing joint flexibility and softening dry skin. Heated stones are placed over the covers along either side and at the base of the spine, radiating heat into these areas. The person receiving is also offered warm stones to cup in their palms, increasing the sense of comfort as the last part of the session progresses.
Falling asleep or entering a deep meditative state of mind is a common response to receiving this kind of healing session. This can be an indicator of a number of different factors. Most of us do not get enough rest, and the act of lying down for even short periods of time can prompt a state of deep relaxation. Add to that the penetrating warmth of the hot stones, the relaxation created by the massage, and the stage is set for the body to go into a restorative mode. Sleeping or meditating through a treatment is an absolutely natural response.
Once the massage is complete, the person receiving is invited to take a few minutes to absorb and integrate the work before beginning to sit up. It is common to experience a deep sense of peace and relaxation following a treatment. At least an hour of free time is recommended following the appointment to allow for full receipt of the benefits and a gradual reentry into the world. Drinking lots of water to re-hydrate the body, eating a healthy meal, taking a leisurely walk, or sitting quietly are activities which often serve as a good transition to resuming whatever is planned for the rest of the day.
From that description, you might imagine that this therapy is a delight to receive. And it is! There are, however, a few contraindications. As a general rule, hot stone massage should not be given to anyone who cannot or should not receive standard massage therapy. Beyond that, some of the conditions that contraindicate hot stone massage include specific pathologies of the heart, skin, liver, kidneys, and circulatory system. This information is reviewed in advance of the scheduled treatment. If there is any question whether hot stone massage is appropriate, the therapist will contact the primary care physician to inquire and receive permission to offer the therapy.
If you've seen a condition listed above that applies to you, please don't despair. Despite certain contraindications, hot stones can sometimes be safely and briefly incorporated as a luxurious 'spotlight' within a regular massage session. Properly trained therapists understand the health conditions that pose a risk and are well-versed in contacting doctors to explore possible alternatives to a full-body hot stone massage.
Now that you're better informed about this delightful therapy, one last piece of guidance: If you find this article has sparked your interest, be sure to seek training or treatment from qualified, licensed professionals.
Hallie Sawyers is the founder of Soul Song, a well known and respected educator with extensive training in energy work and body-centered therapies. Her mission highlights creating transformation on personal and professional levels through quality education in alternative approaches to prevention and wellness. She is certified in hot stone massage and has been teaching the discipline since 2007. Hallie is also an instructor at the Finger Lakes School of Massage, a Traditional Usui Reiki Master Teacher, certified in polarity therapy, a Master Instructor of Integrated Energy Therapy, Nationally Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Holistic Aromatherapy, and an approved CEU provider for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. She offers lectures and training in Hot Stone Massage, Reiki, Integrated Energy Therapy, Reflexology, and Aromatherapy in New York, Connecticut and other areas by request. To schedule an appointment, lecture or class, you can reach Hallie at 585.967.0009 or visit www.soulsong.abmp.com
Hallie Sawyers, LMT APP BCTMB
Other than specifically noted credits, the information in this article is derived from the curriculum of Hallie's Hot Stone Massage Training.
To schedule a Hot Stone Massage class, lecture, or individual appointment, contact Hallie at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website: www.soulsong.abmp.com