Introduced to North American massage therapists in the early 1990's, hot stone massage is a form of massage therapy that follows the same principles of a regular Swedish massage but with the addition of heated stones, which are believed to better open the body's energy pathways. Hot stone massage is a form of "thermotherapy" in which hot stones are positioned on specific areas of the client's body and allow for greater deep tissue manipulation. Massaging oils are used to allow the therapist to work with the muscles easier and the hot stones may be alternated with cold stones or room temperature stones to facilitate the massage treatment.
Hot stone massage is an age-old healing therapy with history reaching back to ancient Egyptians. The Native American culture has long used hot stones during "sweat lodge" ceremonies as a way to facilitate cleansing both the physical body and spirit. In Hawaii, hot molten lava rocks called pohaku are used. A type of hot stone massage is also used in the traditional Ayurveda, a natural alternative healing medicine practiced in India.
Legend has it that hot stone massage was resurrected by massage therapist Mary Nelson-Hannigan of Tucson, Arizona who experimented with the hot stones from her sauna by placing them on her niece's back. Nelson-Hannigan refined her technique using 54 hot stones, 18 cold stones and one stone at room temperature and traditional hand massage manipulations. The technique was later dubbed LaStone Therapy.
The stones used for a hot stone massage are usually basalt stones which are chalky grey in color but turn dark once oil is applied to them. Stones of marble are used for the cold stones. The stones are heated to 130 degrees F. and placed strategically along the spine and/or between the toes. The therapist gently rubs the stone into muscles and tissues on both sides of the body; the firmness of the stone couples with the heat enhance the therapeutic benefits of the massage.
"Hot stone massage therapy is a massage protocol designed with the therapist holding the hot stones as he or she performs a Swedish or therapeutic massage. The heated basalt stones become one with the massage therapist's hands to give the most relaxing massage possible," explains Patricia Mayrhofer, president of Nature Stones Inc. in Churchville, Pennsylvania.
Mayrhofer further explains that "the heat and energy from the stones penetrate deep into the muscles to achieve a soothing and therapeutic experience. When used with specific techniques, the stones allow the therapist to release tight muscle restrictions more efficiently and with less discomfort to the client."
Hot stone massage performed by a certified therapist can help relax the body's muscles and soft tissues, alleviate pain, improve circulation and help rid the body of toxins. This type of massage treatment can also reduce stress, promote calmness and increase relaxation. Many hot stone massage enthusiasts even claim they experience a sense of enlightenment, inner peace and renewed spirituality after a hot stone massage session.
According to Mayrhofer, there is an ever-growing body of research that confirms the positive effects of massage on the cardiovascular, lymphatic, integumentary (including fascia), musculoskeletal, endocrine, nervous and digestive systems. "The addition of hot stones to massage therapy helps to increase these benefits," the massage therapist explains. "The hot stones soften muscles and allow the therapist to work deeper and facilitate the release of muscle restrictions. The combination of hot basalt stones with cold marble stones increases circulation and speeds injury recovery."
Mayrhofer recommends hot stone massage therapy, in particular, for individuals suffering from fibromyalgia because the penetrating effects of the heated stones allows the therapist to deliver massage without the need for excessive pressure. Hot stone massage is also helpful in relieving muscle restrictions after orthopedic surgery. Hot and cold stones are particularly effective with sports injury or over-use injury. Hot stone placement is also used to relieve menstrual cramps.
Most massage therapists seek certification in hot stone or LaStone therapy after becoming certified in traditional massage. A qualified therapist will be trained in accordance with The American Massage Therapy Association, and/or the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork. The cost of a hot stone massage can vary, but is roughly between $50 to $100 for a one-hour session. Some extended medical group benefits will accept claims for massages that are administered by a licensed massage therapist; check with your medical health plan administrator to see if your plan covers this type of therapy.
"When making an appointment for a hot stone massage, ask if the therapist has taken a seminar by an accredited instructor," suggests Mayrhofer. "A well-trained therapist will have a certificate in hot stone massage therapy…and should know the proper temperature of the water, the pressure to be used with stones, contraindications for hot stone therapy and proper stone cleaning procedures. The therapist should explain that he or she will be massaging with the hot stones and not just using them for placement."
There are no side effects to a hot stone massage although if your skin is allergy prone, it is wise to mention this to your therapist and discuss the application of massaging oil. Also, if you are pregnant or have a medical condition, check with your doctor to make sure that hot stone massage therapy is right for you.
If you are feeling worn thin physically or mentally, a hot stone massage may be just what you need to reduce anxiety, heal your body, promote tranquility and revive your energy and spirituality.
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