Hot Stone Massage

Most massage techniques make heavy use of the therapist’s hands and arms. Occasionally sticks will be used for certain specialized applications. But ‘recently’ a new tool has been added to the toolkit – hot stones. ‘Recently’ is in quotes since the technique has actually been practiced for thousands of years. But only in the past few years has it come into the modern spa where it is attracting clients by the score.

Hot stone massage uses smooth, heated stones (hence the name, not surprisingly) that are applied to the client’s various body parts, usually starting with the back. The rocks are often basalt, a black volcanic rock. They’re used because they absorb and retain heat well, making re-heating less frequently required. But to be of use they have to conduct heat well, too, since the heat must go into the client. Basalt covers all those needs.

The stones are sanitized, heated and applied to an area where they have a relaxing effect on muscles. The therapist tests them first, usually simply by holding one in order to ensure the proper temperature – between 120F-150F (49C-65C). For comparison, water boils at 220F/100C.

A variety of massage techniques can accompany the application of the stones, but Swedish is among the most common. The smooth, firm, long and gliding strokes complement well the relaxing effect of the hot rocks on the body. Stones can be applied along the line of the spine, but more commonly along the muscles beside it. The lower back (erector spinae), the middle back (latissimus dorsi) and the upper back (trapezius) are typical spots as well.

The stones are small and the pressure applied by them is comfortable but doesn’t have any particular therapeutic effect. The major work is done simply by the heat. Though there are, as usual, some mystics in the field who ascribe magical powers to stones of different types or ascribe application to certain points as having special effects.

Hot stone massage sessions are frequently much more expensive, in part because of the added preparation required. The largest part of the difference is simply demand for it. It’s currently a very popular technique and, as such, will demand a higher price. Whether the results are worth the added cost is an individual decision.

One variation involves using the stones in the therapist’s hand to apply heat to various areas and add pressure. The warmth is pleasant, but the added pressure is typically unnecessary. Any professional masseuse or masseur can apply more pressure than is desired without artificial aids.

Another variation alternates the use of hot basalt stones with cool marble stones, which creates a delightful experience for the recipient. Whether this should be called massage is beside the point, since the basic purpose of the experience is to create a pleasant, relaxing effect for the client.

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