How to Do a Hot Stone Massage
A deep-tissue massage after a week of stressful work and other physical activities is truly a heaven-sent luxury. Nothing feels more relaxing than having all your stress being melted away by a skilled massage therapist. There are many forms of massage, but one of the more popular is hot stone massage. It is a service that many massage clinics offer in tandem with other wellness treatments.
What Is a Hot Stone Massage?
Hot stone massage is a unique form of massage therapy that uses hot flat stones as the main source of healing. It is also known as "geothermal therapy."
Hot stone massage came into modern popularity in the 1990s, but its history is believed to go back some thousands of years ago. The ancient Ayurveda of India used flat stones taken from riverbeds for massage. The ancient Japanese and Chinese believed hot stones placed on the belly would relieve stomachache and improve digestion.
In the Western world, records show that early Native Americans used hot stones rubbed on body parts to cure ailments, while people of Hawaii used heated lava stones to increase blood circulation. The use of hot stones was also part of protection rituals, ceremonies to ward off evil spirits, and other medicinal practices.
Today, hot stone massage has evolved into a more holistic system of wellness that also includes deep-tissue massage, aromatherapy, healthy diet, and yoga practices.
How Does a Hot Stone Massage Work?
The process of hot stone massage is simple. Smooth flat stones (river pebbles or lava stones) are heated, then placed on the body. They can be placed around the whole body, or on specific parts.
The heat from the stones is believed to expand the blood vessels, thus allowing better blood circulation in the body. Aided by this better blood flow, the hot stones also have a sedative effect that relaxes tired and sore muscles.
Combined with traditional body massage and therapeutic oils, the heat from the stones penetrates the deep layers of tissue, which helps in relieving pain and rejuvenating muscles.
Where Are the Hot Stones Placed?
The stones are placed along "energy points," or on the body parts where the main arteries are. Depending on the patient's needs, the stones are placed on:
What Are the Benefits of a Hot Stone Massage?
As mentioned, hot stone massage works through heat penetrating the blood vessels, skin tissues, and muscle tissues in the body. This leads to several health benefits.
Improved Blood Circulation
The massage therapist slowly places the heated stone on top of the target body part (known as a "trigger point"). Then the heat from the stone slowly penetrates the body up to the blood vessels. The heat expands the blood vessels which allows more blood to flow, thus improving circulation.
Improved circulation "wakes up" the muscles and encourages rejuvenation of muscle cells. Improved circulation also brings more oxygen to various parts of the body, which fights fatigue and improves overall wellness.
Improved blood circulation eases tension in the muscle so it stops contracting. The result: your muscles relax, which allows the massage therapist to perform massage techniques that penetrate deeper into the muscles.
A stiff muscle is hard to massage properly so, just like in baking, the hot stones "soften" your muscles so they will be ready for kneading.
The hot stones' heat acts like a sedative that eases your body and brings it to a state of total calm, thus fighting off physical stress. The hot stones also literally feel good on the face and body, which adds to the calming effect.
A relaxed body creates a relaxed mind. Having a stress-free mind combats mental issues like depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. It also improves memory retention and concentration (good for studying and mental tasks). A stress-free mind also produces positive physical effects on the body like better stamina, blood circulation, breathing, organ functions, and metabolism.
A 2001 study showed that a quick 10-minute massage can improve cardiovascular responses and post-operation recovery.
Pain and Fatigue Relief
The intense penetrative nature of hot stones helps release endorphins, the body's natural pain killer. This allows the body to cope with sore and painful muscles due to overwork. The brain also releases other hormones that aid in cellular rejuvenation and anti-inflammation.
The muscle-relaxation effects of hot stones also allow the massage therapist to go deeper into the tissue. Manipulating these tissues further improves cellular activity and blood circulation.
A 2006 study found that massage can improve sleep better than sleeping pills. Since hot stone massage relaxes the mind and the body, someone with sleeping problems like insomnia will find it easier to sleep.
The quality of sleep is determined by the state of the mind upon waking up. A 2006 study found that people who had a massage before sleeping woke up more alert and feeling energetic and positive.
May Help Relieve Symptoms of Disease
It is believed that hot stone massage may help relieve the painful symptoms of conditions like fibromyalgia, where the body experiences intense widespread and chronic pain. According to a 2002 study, patients with fibromyalgia who underwent a 30-minute massage experienced less pain triggers, had lower release of substance P (involved in pain signal transmission), had better sleep, and woke up with less pain attacks.
What Are the Best Techniques to Perform a Hot Stone Massage?
Here are some techniques you can use if you want to do hot stone massage yourself.
Pick the Best Stones
The stones commonly used in hot stone massage therapy are made of basalt, a volcanic rock known for its ability to retain heat. Basalt stones can be purchased online, from wellness stores or stone suppliers, who often know the healthcare use of these stones. In absence of basalt, smooth flat stones (riverbed stones) can be used.
Pick around 20 to 30 pieces of stone, although you can buy double this amount if you want to do cold stone massage as well. For the size, you should have at least two oval shaped stones measuring 6" x 8" (width x length), 8 small stones the size of a pebble, and seven stones as big as your palms (3 to 4 inches wide).
Get a Good Heater
Generally, any big pot like a Crock-Pot can be used to heat the stones, but you can opt for specialized heater pots sold online. The stones are heated via convection or steam. If using steam, place a towel at the base of the pot and pour water. The water level should be enough to cover the stones. Place the big stones first, then arrange the smaller ones around them. Turn the pot on and "steam" the stones one hour before massage. Use tongs to remove the stones.
The stones should be prepared 30 minutes before the massage. Place the stones in a bowl of water no more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure to rub some oil on the body part before placing the stone.
Don't Place Hot Stones on Bare Skin!
Unlike what you see in the posters, DO NOT leave hot stones on the bare skin; you should move them regularly. Always put a towel or a sheet on the skin, then put the stone on top. It takes about 4 minutes for the heat to penetrate the muscle tissues.
Only when the stones cool down can you leave them on the bare skin.
Apply Swedish Massage
When the heat from the stones has completely penetrated the muscle tissues, you can then perform the massage on the person.
You can apply Swedish massage techniques while using the now-warm stones as your pressure makers instead of your hands. Hold a stone carefully with your fingers and gently move it in a circular manner around the muscle. You can also do dragging long strokes, kneading and tapping techniques.
Cold Stone Massage
A derivative known as cold stone massage is also employed by a massage therapist. As the name implies, cold stones like marble are used instead.
Unlike the heat-driven effects of hot stone massage, the cold stone massage works the opposite way. The coldness of the stone constricts the blood vessels, which restricts blood flow thus retaining body heat and relaxing the body. The coldness also reduces inflammation and swelling of sore muscles, sprains, trauma, or scar tissue.
Benefits of Cold Stone Massage
Like hot stone massage, a cold stone massage has several benefits.
Hot stone massage really feels good but only when done properly. This technique takes time to learn so if you are not sure, do not perform it by yourself on someone and always seek the services of a professional massage therapist.