In today’s fast-paced life, when stress, anxiety, and high burnout disconnect people from the healing rhythms of nature, it is essential to opt for relaxing massage therapies that can help unwind. Hot stone massage therapy is a holistic way of healing, which is an incredible combination of eastern and western massage techniques. The practice offers a distinctive experience of relaxation amalgamated with a whole lot of therapeutic benefits. In today’s post, we will tell you everything about hot stone massage therapy, including how it is carried out, its possible benefits to enjoy, and the risks involved in it.
What is Hot Stone Massage Therapy?
‘Hot Stone Massage Therapy’ or ‘Thermotherapy’ is a form of therapeutic massage treatment that helps us get rid of several mild to severe ailments through a combination of hot stones and explicit massage techniques. In this procedure, smooth round stones are heated to a specific temperature (precisely, to ‘luxurious warmth’), oiled thoroughly, and placed directly on specific points (acupressure points) of the body. Sometimes, the therapist also took the hot stones in her palms and rub gently for massaging the body.
Origin of Hot Stone Massage Therapy
This specialty massage therapy has its roots in three different cultures and approaches:
- For more than 2,000 years, China has been following the technique of using stones as a part of several therapeutic treatments. Subsequently, it has been adopted by many countries as ‘hot stone massage therapy’ for overall healing. (1)
- Ancient ayurvedic massage technique called ‘Shila Abhyanga’ has evolved into the ‘hot stone massage therapy’ to fit the present. Shila Abhyanga is a slow, deep tissue massage procedure, which turns the over-active and/or stressed-out mind quiet and tranquil with the help of herbal ayurvedic oils and basal stones heated in water.
- Native Americans have long been using hot stones warmed by fire to feel calm and relaxed. It provides relief to tense, aching muscles and eases damaged soft tissue all through the body. This practice was later turned into the modern ‘hot stone massage therapy’ by Mary Nelson, a native of Tucson, Arizona.
In Shila Abhyanga, the hot ‘shilas’ (stones) are firmly glided over the ‘marmas’ (physical and energetic key points), which are opened by oiling the body and dissolving the stress. Sometimes, crystals at room temperature are also positioned on the body in a particular sequence in order to produce harmony with the chakra system.
Why Use Stones for Massage?
So, why stones? Because they can work as an excellent tool for massaging. Here is how (2):
- Hot stones radiate heat, which aids in the softening of tension. It also brings about a relaxing, deep-tissue release by melting away stress and anxiety.
- Stones help eliminate imbalances from our physical body by altering the anatomy significantly.
- When heated, stones create a perfect alignment in the body-mind complex. As a result, we may experience a complete physically restorative transformation.
- Being rich in minerals, stones possess a magnetic quality. The more the magnetic intensity of a stone, the longer it retains the heat. This helps in extracting the suppressed physical and emotional pain successfully.
- Using hot stones in place of hands enables the massage therapist to apply strokes more closely.
Sometimes, hand-cut cold marble stones are also used for invigorating the body and controlling hot flashes on scorching summer days through detoxification. This cold stone therapy is also quite effective in treating injury and inflammation by calming down swollen blood vessels.
Key Features of Hot Stone Massage
Given below are the key points that make hot stone massage different from other massage services (3):
1. Use of Heated Stones
Typically, iron-rich ‘basalt’ stones (river rocks) are used for the procedure as they are lightweight, flat, smooth in texture, and can retain heat for a long time. These are kept in water and heated to (110-130)°F with the help of a professional heater. When placed at the key points (energy centers) of our body, these hot stones can restore the overall balance by elevating the relaxing experience as well as the benefits of the massage technique used.
2. Placement of the Stones
The placement of hot stones is usually guided by anatomy. However, the practice of positioning the stones on the points known to balance the mind and body energetically is also quite popular among massage therapists. Some common areas of the body chosen for this purpose are the face, back (along the spine), stomach, hands (in the palms), feet (along the legs and between the toes).
3. The Massage Technique
While there are several techniques to relax the long, skeletal muscles of the body after a tense and stressful time, Swedish massage therapy techniques are mostly preferred by therapists. These include specific movements such as long strokes, circular strokes, kneading, rolling, tapping, vibration, etc.
The basalt stones should always be heated in a professional electric massage stone heater. Unlike microwaves, ovens, slow cookers, and hot plates, it creates a temperature-controlled environment, which prevents burns during the massage.
How Does Hot Stone Massage Work?
When customized according to the individual health conditions and seasonal changes, the hot stone massage therapy heals on many levels and eventually restores overall balance. As the hot stones touch the surface of the body, the localized heat penetrates deep into the skin and this, along with the weight of the stones, helps in warming up the tight muscles. Hence, the massage therapist becomes able to get deeper into the muscles of the targeted areas without applying rigorous pressure, thereby ensuring maximum relaxation. This releases the flow of energy and stimulates the natural healing process of our body.
Who Should Opt for Hot Stone Massage?
People who are experiencing back pain, muscle tension, stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression, etc., should try hot stone massage. It is also beneficial in certain conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, hypertension, autoimmune disorders, and so on (4).
A Step-by-Step Guide to Hot Stone Massage
Here is a brief guide on how the hot stone massage is done at a massage parlor:
1. Around 20 to 60 smooth, flat, and oval-shaped basalt stones (or river rocks) are arranged, among which two are large and wide (8-inches long and 6-inches wide), eight are small in size (like an egg), and seven are medium (fits in palms easily) in size.
2. ‘Hot stones’ are prepared by heating stones in a large crockpot / tabletop skillet filled partially with water. The temperature of the water needs to be at least 120°F to make the stones well-heated. Medium flame is maintained to reach the temperature as the water does not need to be boiled.
3. Then, the stones are removed from the heat and cooled down to anywhere between 100°F and 110°F. They are wiped carefully with a dry towel, and some massage oil is also rubbed on them nicely. There should be a gap of at least half an hour between removing stones from the heat and starting off the massage.
4. Meanwhile, a suitable place is determined where a bed/floor/massage table is available for lying down. A thick clean towel/sheet is spread on it. Also, a relaxing environment is created by lighting up some aromatherapy candles and turning on soothing music.
5. It needs to be made sure beforehand that the participant is comfortable enough with the temperature of the stones, as the heat takes at least 3 to 4 minutes to penetrate the skin. To prevent burn injuries, it is recommended that you place a towel/sheet on the skin’s surface before you put the hot stones on it.
6. The massaging techniques vary widely based on the ailments of the participants. Professional therapists need to identify their requirements and provide front and back massage with hot stones accordingly.
Benefits of Hot Stone Massage Therapy
Hot stone massage therapy enhances the benefits of the massage techniques and aids in treating several ailments. Here are the benefits you can enjoy by opting for this therapy:
- Boosts blood circulation throughout the body by stimulating the circulatory system
- Softens and relaxes tense muscles by sending more blood to the affected areas
- Relieves the symptoms of back pain, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. (5)
- Cures long-standing muscular pain, aches, and spasms
- Promotes muscle detoxification by releasing toxins
- Improves joint flexibility and range of motion by easing stiffness and swelling
- Reduces the levels of stress, tension, and anxiety (6)
- Cures insomnia by promoting restorative sleep (7)
- Improves bodily metabolism as well as immunity
- Offers profound relaxation to get rid of overall fatigue
- Balances the mind, body, and spirit energetically
Contradictions for Hot Stone Massage
If performed by a skilled, trained, and licensed massage therapist, hot stone massage therapy is considered absolutely safe. But no matter how beneficial it is, it should not be tried by everyone. Check out who must steer clear of hot stone massage:
- Children and pregnant women should never undergo this therapy.
- People with medical conditions like hypertension, varicose veins, diabetes, cardiac issues, liver disorders, kidney disorders, migraines, cancer, tumors, anorexia, lymphedema, epilepsy, thrombocytopenia, etc., should avoid it at any cost.
- Recently, those who have gone through surgeries or experienced acute fever, multiple sclerosis, infections, inflammation, burns, broken skin, open wounds, fractures, chronic muscle fatigue, etc., should also stay away from it.
- Do not give it a try if you are using metal implants, pacemakers, or blood thinners.
Hot Stone Massage Therapy is a form of therapeutic massage treatment in which precisely heated and oiled basalt stones are placed directly on specific points of the body for overall healing. It is a deep-relaxing procedure that not only helps us get rid of stress and anxiety but also cures a number of ailments. Typically, the Swedish massage therapy technique is followed by massage therapists for this purpose. The localized heat penetrates deep into the skin and warms up the tight muscles so that the therapists do not need to apply rigorous pressure to ensure maximum relaxation. This releases the flow of energy and stimulates the natural healing process of our body. People with chronic stress, anxiety, pain, and muscle spasms should try this massage therapy while children, pregnant ladies, and others with certain medical conditions should stay away from it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
How Long Do Hot Stones Stay Hot?
Once heated, the stones usually stay warm for an hour or so.
How Long Does a Hot Stone Massage Take?
Depending on the requirements and health history of the person undergoing the procedure, a hot stone massage session may last anywhere between 60 and 90 minutes.
How Often Should I Get a Massage?
Unless you are a sportsperson, you can go for a hot stone massage once or twice a month.
What Should I Do Before a Hot Stone Massage?
Ensure that you do not eat or drink anything (including alcohol) for a couple of hours before your massage session. Instead, go for a soothing warm shower.
Can You Put Hot Stones in a Towel Warmer?
Putting hot stones in a towel warmer does not allow to monitor the temperature. Moreover, it may dry out the stones and cause cracks in them eventually.
- “Five Benefits of Hot Stone Massage Therapy”, MedicalNewsToday.com
- “Shila Abhyanga – Hot Stone Massage Therapy”, ArtofLiving.org
- “What to Expect During a Hot Stone Massage”, VeryWellHealth.com
- “Massage Therapy Research Review”, ScienceDirect.com
- “Fibromyalgia Pain and Substance P Decrease and Sleep Improves After Massage Therapy”, Journals.LWW.com
- “Massage therapy as a workplace intervention for reduction of stress”, ResearchGate.net
- “Literature Review of Back Massage and Similar Techniques to Promote sleep in Elderly People”, PubMed. NCBI.nlm.nih.gov