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History of Stone Massage

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Hot stone massage therapy is not a new modality anymore. Although some massage therapists and clients may consider this to be a trend, the use of stones and gemstones for healing purposes dates back thousands of years.
Both verbal and written history confirms that the Chinese used heated stones more than 2,000 years ago as a means of improving the function of internal organs. Stones were also used for healing work in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Egypt and India. These traditions included laying stones in patterns on the body, carrying or wearing stones for health and protection, using stones for the diagnosis and treatment of disease, as well as for ceremonial purposes, such as sweat lodges and medicine wheels.

The use of heated stones in massage was reborn with the introduction of LaStone Therapy, created by Mary Nelson in 1993. Stone massage has blossomed since then into a multimillion dollar industry. Done correctly, stone massage is one of the most relaxing forms of massage a person can receive, and because of its popularity, has once again traveled quickly around the globe. The full body hot stone massage has evolved to include deep tissue specific work, hot stone facials, hot stone pedicures and manicures, hot stone reflexology, and hot stone meridian therapy. Due to their incredible energy, stones are also used in reiki, polarity therapy, and cranial sacral work.
There are many therapists who use their own variation of stone massage, from just placing stones on the body to a deep-tissue massage. Two important safety factors, however, apply to all uses of hot stones in massage therapy:

  • Never place a hot stone on bare skin without moving it.
  • Always use a barrier, such as a specific textile product designed for stone placement, or at least a sheet or towel to protect the skin.

With this massage modality growing in popularity, the need for sources of massage stones became a necessity. To this end, stone-supply companies evolved. The next challenge came with the need for heating the stones; incredibly, the initial suggested means of heating stones was in a turkey roaster. Other options included crock pots, electric skillets and warming trays, all of which carried the possibility of overheating the stones and burning the client.
The problem, of course, was that all of these options were actually kitchen appliances as opposed to professional heating appliances manufactured specifically for spas, chiropractor's offices, and massage therapy treatment rooms. After much collaboration and cooperation between two companies a unit was designed and created specifically for hot stone massage. Now, a variety of these stone warmers are produced today – ranging from small counter top units to larger units encased in a movable cart.
As therapists recognized the value of working with massage stones, they also saw the need for high-quality instruction in the use of massage stones. Experts on stone therapy can now be found teaching classes, whether in classrooms or on videos, showing the different methods of stone therapy. All the while, establishing protocols for the many different modalities and expanding the knowledge of this therapy across Europe, the Carribbean, Canada and the U.S.
Stone massage offers many benefits to the therapist and client alike. The therapist finds less strain on the hands while working with the stones, both hot and cold. Massage stones become an extension of the therapist hands and share the work with the therapist, especially with the larger client or muscle-bound client. The stones allow the therapist to work much deeper with less pressure. In turn, the client experiences a deeper relaxation and less discomfort with deep massage on problem areas. The hot stones also help to increase the value of massage with stress reduction. For example, fibromyalgia can be a debilitating disease that is eased through the use of both hot and cold stones. Sufferers are amazed with the relief provided by stone massage. Additionally, using hot and cold stones makes working on an injury more effective. Working with cold and hot is more beneficial for sports injury work. One example of this is a therapist who worked on a professional football team. She was disappointed that she did not have stones to work with when she massaged the thick muscles of these large athletes.
There are times, however, when extra caution must be considered when using massage stones. There are contraindications for prenatal, diabetes, cancer, high and low blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, and the aging population. These precautions could range from not giving a full body massage or controlling the temperature to totally avoiding the use of stones.
To perform hot stone massage the best stones to use are basalt stones or Mexican beach pebbles (which are the most common). This type of stone is high in iron and magnesium which helps to retain the heat. A few other types of stones have been used such as jade, soap stones, and river rock; however, these stones do not possess the heat retention that basalt stones do. Pure basalt stones get hotter and stay hotter longer than most other stones, making them perfect for the massage therapist to use for hot stone massage.
Marble stones are best to use for cold stone therapy. Some companies offer Sardonyx which is glassier and chips more easily than marble. Marble is a very soft stone which is metamorphosed limestone. Marble always feels 11° cooler than it's environment and has a tendency to draw the heat and inflammation from the muscle.
The use of basalt and marble are a perfect combination. On the Mohs scale, which measures the hardness of stones, Basalt ranges seven on a scale of 10, and marble is a three on the scale making basalt and marble a perfect yin and yang. Massaging with hot and cold stones during a massage confuses the brain between vacillation and vasoconstriction. This is known as Vascular Gymnastics and improves the blood flow which aids in healing by transporting the oxygen to the affected area.
Most individuals think of stone massage as just a relaxing massage. However, hot and cold massage stones are an incredible aid in deep tissue massage. Deep tissue massage does not mean massage with harder pressure; on the contrary, deep tissue means knowing exactly which muscles to work to relieve the client's discomfort. Heavy pressure is not necessary when working with massage stones. The heat and energy from the stones seem to penetrate the muscle deep to the bone, creating a deep relaxation and healing. Any technique a therapist can perform with his or her hands can be achieved with stones with better results. Trigger point release with the stones is more effective in releasing restrictions in the client's muscle with less stress on the thumbs of the therapist. A quicker release with stones is achieved with Myofascial release than with manual release.
Learning stone massage is better accomplished by taking a seminar than by viewing a DVD, engaging in distance learning, or by being shown from a colleague. An instructor at a hands-on seminar can answer questions and help the student to properly hold the stones, explain sufficient pressure to be used, and demonstrate an introductory stroke as well as the discuss benefit of an introductory stroke. A quality seminar also teaches the proper cleaning and care of the stones and the heater; the stones and water need to be cleaned after each client. Contraindications and specific techniques should also be taught.
Stone massage is here to stay. When quality stone massage is offered, the therapist's book of business increases. Expand the horizons of stone massage by learning all the uses of hot and cold stones.

Pat Mayrhofer is president and founder of Nature's Stones, Inc., an international massage stone, education and supply company. She is a massage therapist with more than 17 years of experience, having taught for 15 of those years in Italy, Austria, the Caribbean and the U.S. Mayrhofer and her staff have created a comprehensive series of live, hands-on training programs, for a variety of stone therapies and now a full line of manual therapies. Pat has also produced six educational DVDs, and a line of associated stone and textile products.

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