Massage is perhaps the oldest form of hands-on-healing known to humans, easily pre-dating written records. For millennia, people from virtually every culture have used a combination of touch, heat (thermotherapy) and stones as therapeutic tools. It’s pretty safe to say that almost every culture has either used heat and/or stones to have some sort of healing effect on the body – whether it’s using stones directly on the body like we do in a Hot Stone Massage, or indirectly, similar to a structure like Stonehenge affecting the body energetically.
Most therapists who incorporate heated stones into their massage routine agree that the Chinese, Native Americans and Hawaiians have played a major role in how Stone Therapy is applied today (although the Egyptians, Ayurvedic Medicine, Pacific Islanders and many other cultures are also said to have used stones in their healing arts).
Traditional uses of stones
One of the first recorded uses of stones for healing was by the Chinese. Prior to the invention of metal acupuncture needles, ancient Traditional Chinese Medical (TCM) practitioners regularly used various shaped and sharpened stones to treat disease. These stones were known as ‘Bian Stones’, and were used to prick, pierce and bleed various points on the body (as well as lancing boils and performing other superficial procedures). The Chinese also used heat, in the form of ‘moxabustion’ (burning ‘mugwort’ – a dried herb – over acupuncture points), to increase the yang/heat in the body and have a healing effect on patients. Moxabustion is still used today by almost all TCM practitioners.
Undoubtedly, both Bian Stones and moxabustion were used together in the same treatment; however there are differing opinions when it comes to the specific use of stones to massage the body. TCM practitioners did ‘scrape’ various muscles and meridians with jade tools (and other hard objects) to treat different diseases. This was/is known as ‘Gua Sha’, and is still practised today.
The Native Americans had many rituals which involved the use of stones. One of the more well-known rituals involved placing heated stones (generally basalt) into a tepee-like structure, otherwise known as a ‘Sweat Lodge’. This practice was used to cleanse and heal the body and mind. Several other cultures, including the Romans, had a similar idea, leading to the development of modern-day Saunas. Another Native American ritual used a heated stone that was wrapped in cloth/bark. This warm stone was placed onto the lower abdomen of a woman who was menstruating, in order to relieve cramps (women today employ this same principle when they use a hot water bottle).
Heated stones were perhaps even more frequently used in traditional Hawaiian healing practices. Customary uses included wrapping heated stones in ‘ti-leaves’, a special type of leaf with therapeutic properties. These wrapped stones were then placed on sore areas of the body in order to reduce pain – similar to using a heat pack or poultice. Hot stones were also placed in shallow pits and covered with these same leaves. The patient would then lie on top of the leaves, allowing the healing properties to infuse into the body.
Volcanic stones are also said to have been rubbed over the body after a traditional Hawaiian Kahuna/Lomi-Lomi massage (in the Hawaiian language, Lomi-Lomi simply means ‘to knead/rub/massage’). Due to the coarseness of the stones used, this was perhaps less of a massage technique and more of an exfoliation. The Hawaiians are one of the most closely linked cultures to modern-day Stone Therapy.
There are also endless references to the use of gems, crystals and other types of stones by many cultures throughout the history of healing.
About modern-day Hot Stone Massage
Modern-day Stone Therapy, a truly unique style of massage, has been gaining popularity throughout the world after being ‘discovered’ in the United States in 1993. The story revolves around a massage therapist named Mary Nelson, who was suffering from repetitive use injuries in the shoulders/wrists. She was having a sauna with her niece who was about to receive a massage, and was ‘called’ to use the stones. Mary chose some of the smoother stones and used them in the massage. It felt great (for the client as well as the therapist) and thus Stone Therapy as we know it today was born. This first style of modern-day Stone Therapy was/is called ‘LaStone Therapy’.
Mary ‘channelled’ much of the information about LaStone Therapy from her Native American spirit guide. This is one of the reasons why many Spas/Salons and journalists think that Stone Therapy is a ‘traditional’ Native American treatment. Although LaStone Therapy is based on Native American culture, it is much more accurate to say that modern-day Stone Therapy is a combination of Chinese, Native American and Hawaiian healing principles (as well as the many other cultures who somehow used heat and/or stones in their healing arts).
What to expect during a Hot Stone Massage
A modern-day Hot Stone Massage (also sometimes called Hot Rocks Massage) will usually consist of the therapist placing heated stones (usually basalt stones ) of various shapes/sizes onto the client’s body (for safety, most of the time these ‘placement’ stones won’t be in direct contact with the skin, instead they will be placed onto a towel to buffer the heat). These stones are placed onto different points (chakras, energy points, sore muscles, etc), depending on the style of Hot Stone Massage or Stone Therapy.
Whilst these placement stones are warming and activating specific areas, the therapist will take several other heated stones and begin massaging a different area of the body. The heat from the stones is released deep into the muscles, greatly enhancing the massage. It is said that one stroke with a heated stone is equivalent to ten normal massage strokes! Some therapists will also incorporate cold stones (usually marble) into their treatment which, although not quite as relaxing as the heated stones, do have a part to play for many conditions. A typical Hot Stone Massage will take 60 to 90 minutes.
Most people who have a Hot Stone Massage will be ‘blown away’ by the level of relaxation that is achieved. Some clients will have vivid dreams or even ‘out-of-body’ experiences. It is usually a very grounding, relaxing and healing experience. Apart form the deep level of relaxation, Hot Stone Massage is also great to incorporate into Remedial or Deep Tissue massage. Not only does the client receive the benefits, but when practiced correctly, the therapist will reduce the strain placed on their hands and wrists.
Practically every Spa in Europe, America and Australia offers Hot Stone Massage or Stone Therapy on their menu. The number of different styles however, is almost as varied as the stones themselves.
As with all forms of massage, it is important that therapists undertake professional Hot Stone Massage training. Check with the Spa, Salon or therapist before your treatment to ensure you are getting the best massage from the most qualified therapist.