Massage is probably the most ancient form of hands-on-therapy known to mankind that easily predates written records. For thousands of years, people from practically every society have utilized a blend of thermotherapy (heat), touch, and stones as tools for healing. It’s quite safe to assume that almost every society has used either stones and/or heat to provide some sort of therapeutic effect on the body, regardless if they’re applying stones directly on their body as we do in a Hot Stone Massage, or indirectly, like an edifice such as Stonehenge that energetically affects the body from a distance.
A lot of therapists who have integrated heated stones into their massage practice believe that the Hawaiians, Native Americans and Chinese have made a huge contribution in the modern application of Stone Therapy (although the Pacific Islanders, Ayurvedic Medicine, Egyptians, and several other societies are also believed to have utilized stones in their therapy practice).
Traditional Application of Stone Therapy
The ancient Chinese were one of the people who first recorded the use of stones as a form of treatment. Ancient practitioners of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) in Spokane commonly used a diverse range of sharpened and shaped stones to heal illness long before metal acupuncture needles were invented. The stones used were called ‘Bian Stones’, and were utilized for bleeding, piercing, and pricking pressure points on the body (in addition to administering other skin-deep procedures such as lancing boils). It was also the Chinese who made use of heat to heal ailments such as in moxibustion (burning of a dried plant called mugwort directly or indirectly onto pressure points), to have a healing effect on patients and boost the heat/yang in their body. Almost all practitioners of TCM today still use Moxibustion therapy.
There is no doubt that both Bian Stones and moxibustion were simultaneously used in the same therapy; however, when talking about the specific application of stones to massage the body, differing opinions abound. To address a variety of illnesses, TCM healers will ‘scrape’ selected energy channels and muscles with a hard object such as a jade instrument. This healing technique is called ‘Gua Sha’ therapy and is also widely practiced today.
One of the more well-known ritualistic use of stones were practiced by the Native Americans and involved placing heated basalt stones into a ‘Sweat Lodge,’ which is a structure that looked like a tepee. This technique was designed to heal and cleanse both the mind and body. A number of other ancient societies, including the Romans, practiced a similar technique that eventually evolved into the modern day Sauna massage. One other Native American healing ceremony made use of a heated stone wrapped in bark or cloth. This heated stone was used to alleviate menstrual cramping by placing it on the lower stomach of a menstruating woman (this same principle is employed by women today but instead of stones, they place a hot water bottle on their lower abdomen).
It was probably the ancient Hawaiians more than any culture who used heated stones for healing on a regular basis. Traditional uses included heated stones wrapped in a special type of leaf called ‘ti-leaves’ that has medicinal properties. In order to relieve pain, these stones were wrapped and placed on aching or sore parts of the body, which is the same as using a poultice or a heat pack on an ailing body part. Hot stones covered with these same leaves were also placed in shallow pits. Then the patient would lie over the leaves, enabling the medicinal properties of the leaves to be absorbed into the body.
After a traditional Lomi-Lomi/Kahuna massage, the Hawaiians are believed to rub their bodies with volcanic stones (Lomi-Lomi translates to massage/rub/knead in the Hawaiian language). Because of the roughness of the stones utilized, this was probably more of an exfoliation process and less of a massage. The Hawaiian culture is one of the societies that’s most closely associated with modern-day Stone Therapy.
In many cultures, throughout the history of healing, there are also quite a number of references to the use of crystals, gems, and other kinds of stones.
Hot Stone Massage Practiced Today
Ever since it was ‘discovered’ in the United States in 1993, the truly unique massage method of modern-day Stone Therapy, has been growing in popularity by the day all across the world. The legend of modern-day Stone Therapy began when Mary Nelson, a massage therapist, was experiencing repetitive pain caused by injuries in her wrists and shoulders.
One day, she and her niece were having sauna and was about to receive a massage. Mary thought if stones were used in her massage therapy, could it help to alleviate her pain? She decided to use smooth stones in her massage. The feeling was so relaxing (both for the therapist as well as the client) and henceforth, Stone Therapy, as practiced today, was born. This first form of modern-day Stone massage is known as ‘LaStone Therapy’.
It was from Mary’s Native American spirit guide where much of the information was ‘channelled’ through her. This is why many journalists and Salons/Spas attribute Stone Therapy as a ‘traditional’ Native American healing technique. While LaStone Therapy allegedly originated from Native American healing practices, the fact is modern-day Stone Therapy is a blend of Hawaiian, Native American and Chinese healing traditions (and also by several different cultures who utilized stones and/or heat for healing).
What to expect during a Hot Stone Massage
Hot Stone Massage (aka Hot Rocks Massage) that’s practiced today commonly involves the application of hot basalt stones by the therapist on the body of a client (to be safe, most of the time, the hot stones won’t be applied directly on the skin, rather, to buffer the heat, they are placed onto a towel). The stones are applied onto various pressure points in the body (usually on muscles or parts where aching, soreness or pain is felt) based on the kind of Stone Therapy or Hot Stone Massage used by the therapist.
While these placement stones are stimulating and warming selected parts of the client’s body, the therapist will start massaging a different area of the body by applying another heated stone on that area. The warmth from the stones penetrates deep within the muscles, significantly amplifying the effects of the massage. Some say that a single stroke with a hot stone compares to 10 regular massage strokes. There are therapists who will include cold (often marble) stones into their therapy that may not be quite as relaxing as the hot stones but nonetheless contribute a lot in the treatment of various conditions. One session of Hot Stone Massage usually takes an hour to an hour and a half to complete.
Clients who have experienced Hot Stone Massage therapy are ‘blown away’ by the magnitude of relaxation they have received. Some of them have even ‘out-of-body’ experiences or dreams that are so vivid they thought they were awake in another world. Hot Stone Massage therapy is usually an extremely healing, relaxing and grounding experience. Besides deep level of relaxation, Hot Stone Massage can also be integrated into Deep Tissue or Remedial massage. When practiced properly, aside from receiving incredible benefits, the client will also experience relief from the strain felt on his wrists and hands.
Virtually every Spa in Australia. The US, and Europe, has some form of Stone Therapy or Hot Stone Massage offered on their menu. The variety of styles, is almost as varied as the stones themselves.
Just as with all kinds of massage, therapists should undergo professional training in Hot Stone Massage. To make sure you’re receiving the best massage from the most qualified practitioner, talk to a therapist before undergoing therapy.