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 alter the temperature of the body for healing is a technique of long-standing benefit. The roots of this healing therapy can be sourced back to many ancient cultures including the Native Americans. Though the history of using heated stones as an adjunct to body work 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 this formalization of the use of heated stones within the context of therapeutic massage, the use of this type of therapy has become widespread.
Hot stone massage is deeply detoxifying and profoundly relaxing. By combining massage with hot stones, the circulatory system is both stimulated and relaxed. This circulatory activity promotes the release of toxins from the muscles, assisting the body in self-healing. In addition, tense muscles are also 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 area in which the session is offered is arranged to promote a feeling of relaxation and peace. It is normally quiet with only the addition of soft music. The recipient can focus on themselves, going deep within, and take a break from daily stress and tension.
The stones are heated to approximately 120°F - 130°F or 34°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 soft towel. The session begins by lying back onto these warm stones. Then hot stones are 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. Then 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, shoulders and facial muscles. To end the face up portion of the massage, pleasantly warm stones scented with essential oil are placed on the flat surfaces of the face.
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 legs, back, neck and shoulders. Hot stones are used to massage these areas, melting away stress and tension, increasing joint flexibility and softening dry, damaged skin. Heated stones are placed over the covers along the base of the spine, and on either side of the spine, radiating heat into these areas. Warm stones are also cupped in the palms to increase the sense of penetrating heat as the last portion of the session progresses.
What to Expect
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 absolutely natural and okay.
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.
When Not To Have Hot Stone Massage
As a general rule, hot stone massage should not be given to anyone who cannot or should not receive standard massage therapy. There are many specific health conditions which contraindicate hot stone massage. Intake forms completed prior to receiving services request information on medical history and are screened for any condition that could contraindicate hot stone massage. Therapists may also request permission to contact a client's physician prior to the appointment in order to clarify any questions about the safety of this modality.
Hallie has been practicing massage therapy since 1996 and is licensed in Connecticut and New York. She is Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, an approved continuing education provider for the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, and has been offering continuing education classes since 2000. She became certified in European Stone Massage in 2001 and has been teaching the discipline since 2007. Hallie has also been certified in Holistic Aromatherapy since 2002 and has been studying advanced clinical aromatherapy since 2005. She is an Associate in Polarity Therapy (APP), Usui Reiki Master Teacher, Master Instructor of Integrated Energy Therapy and certified labyrinth facilitator. She spent 4 years teaching the massage curriculum for Cortiva Institute (formerly Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy) and 13 years as an instructor for Finger Lakes School of Massage in both Ithaca and Mt. Kisco, NY. Her decades of experience in massage therapy teaching and program administration now support and inform her professional consultancy work with colleges, universities, and private institutions that want to add therapeutic massage to their degree programs and educational offerings.
Hallie is founder of Soul Song, offering training in a wide spectrum of complementary care alternatives. A well known and respected educator with extensive training in energywork and body-centered therapies, her mission highlights creating transformation on personal and professional levels through quality education in alternative approaches to prevention and wellness.