The Ancient Healing Art of Hot Stone Massage

The ancient healing art of Hot Stone Massage has been around for thousands of years and used in a variety of ways in many different modalities. Since early stages of humanity stones were used to make tools and weapons. The ancient Chinese used stone therapy as a precursor to acupuncture and is considered “the mother of acupuncture”. In many religions around the world, stones of many varieties held prominence in rituals and spiritual significance. In Ayurveda specific stones are used to balance planetary influences and act on life forces. In Roman-Greco times the art of bathing was very important social event. Water and heat features prominently in any type of ritual. The word “spa” comes from a bacronym meaning sanitas per aqua (there were no acronyms prior to the 20th Century). In reality there is a place called Spa in Belgium which originated in the 14th Century.In ancient Aztec the word “temazcal” originated from Nahault the founder of the Aztect empire’s language and means bathhouse. There are said to be remains of temazcals in old Mayan ruins as well. In Turkey and Finnish cultures heat, water and stones are parts of the worldwide ritual of bathing and “cleansing of the both, mind and spirit”. “Hammam” is the Turkish name for bathhouse. In short each culture has had some kind of ritual and ceremony with water, heat and stones. In the past decade there has been an increased re-discovery and awareness and reworking of ancient rituals and modalities in innovative ways. One of the such therapies is hot stone massage therapy which has taken off in a big way whereby spas, athletic clubs and chiropractic offices have used hot stone massage to relieve sore, tired, aching muscles and provides stress relief.

In the book “Stone Journey” by Lynn J. Parentini she starts off by saying that there really is a science behind the use of stones as a sensory tool. Although there is no special hidden magic in the stones they do have certain attributes that make then extremely valuable in use for relief of aching muscles and stress reduction. Ms. Parentini goes further and explains the four basic scientific principals behind hot stone massage. First principal is the “gate control” theory using the stones as a way to release endorphins by cutaneous means. Endorphins, as we all know are released when we exercise, and promote a feeling of well being. The second principal is that of compression using the reflex of muscles and Einstein’s ‘for every action there is a reaction’ theory. Using slight pressure with a variety of shapes of stones muscles are forced to relax and release tension. The third principal is that of conduction or thermal heat of the stones. Certain types of stones such as basalt retain heat and slowly disperse it when applied to the skin. Heat nourishes, soothes the muscles underneath with increased circulation and allowing them to relax and release tension. The opposite occurs with the cold stones inducing and contracting the muscles and skin and thereby acting as natural anti-inflammatory. The fourth principal is that of “overburdening” a technique used in athletic training to trick or simulate weight with the stones on your skin and upon removal, the feeling of release of pressure. You feel “lighter” after the removal of the stones. We can easily “fool” our bodies within minutes (and not using your other senses) by using the above principals. For example have you had a four hand massage and within minutes not knowing where they are at and then letting go? What about then applying the principals (heat, pressure, weight and reflex) together and feeling the cumulative effects?

The skin is a the largest organ of our body and it’s biggest sensory organ too. It is equipped with thousands of receptors that give us clues as to how our body is feeling in the outside world without the use of our other senses. This is where the healing art of Hot Stone Massage comes in and it’s popularity as a highly sought after therapeutic treatment in spas, resorts, athletic clubs, and chiropractic wellness centers/clinics. It has become a worldwide phenomenon and is the most requested form of treatment when people think of massage at spas in the world.

The stones used in Hot Stone Massage are of the utmost importance. Some stones are fixed chemical composites, while others are of one metallic element in part or whole. This explains the differences in color and physical properties. There are three groups of natural stones which are igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic. Hot stone therapy uses all three stones but the most sought after ones are igneous stones which are formed at high temperatures from molten materials either above ground on Earth or below sea level. Because of the properties that igneous stones (they retain heat and disperse it slowly and evenly plus the absorption of moisture) offer, BASALT stones are used more commonly. Colors vary from black, dark gray, or to purplish and/or greenish tint. Basalt stones are frequently oiled with essential oils for the added benefit of aromatherapy. Most basalt stones are weathered naturally by Earth’s elements of wind, rain, sun and water which naturally oxidize the stones. Other kinds of stones are used and cut up or treated to make them a certain color or shape. Basalt stones have a high concentration of iron, aluminum and silica which makes them a good use for massage.

During the actual practice of Hot Stone Massage the above mentioned principals are used in a therapeutic way (heat, pressure, weight and reflex). The basalt stones are heated to a certain temperature mostly submersed in water at a comfortable temperature. The normal temperature would be between 120 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The actual massage and placement may vary along which theories you wish to use. Most therapists use pressure on the different muscles, placing the stones along certain muscle groups and having them stationary and “weighing down”, and finally massaging them for the reflex effect. Practitioners like Sonia Alexandra, who wrote the book called “The Art of Stone Healing”, further delve into the actual body, mind, spirit and Earth connection using magnetism, energy vortexes, and chi (qi, prana) along the meridians, acupuncture/acupressure, and chakra points in the human body using a variety of other stones including crystals. The actual procedure can vary amongst therapist and its use can be incorporated with other massage modalities.

Five Hot Stones” is a rating system devised by @MarktheSpaman to indicate something special, worth going to and something of substance (Five Hot Stones) or (One Hot Stone) to stay away from.@MarktheSpaman lives in Dallas and is a principal at McKenney Spa and Wellness Consulting which works with many aspects of the spa and wellness industries. Mark’s quest and passion for spa and wellness began years ago when he worked with the Upledger Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida as an educational representative. One of his favorite work assignments was the introduction of the Thai herbal ball/compress to the spa market at Mark can be found on Twitter @MarktheSpaman and other Social Media or by e-mail at and 972-415-4SPA in Dallas, Texas.