The ancient rock massage incorporates hot and cold to relieve tension.
By L. CROW
The use of stones in massage therapy is an ancient yet modern technique, which for many people promotes deep relaxation, spiritual well-being and physical healing. Some sources date the use of hot and cold volcanic stones to the Chinese Shang Dynasty, which approximate dates are from the mid-1770s to almost 1100 BC. The stones were called Bian Qi. Other sources date stone therapy back 5,000 years, to Indian and Mayan cultures. Modern usage was developed in 1993 by Mary Hannigan, of Tucson, Ariz., a therapy which she calls LaStone.
Laurie Thomas, a massotherapist in Boardman, added hot/cold stone therapy to her practice in 2002. She uses black basalt rocks for both hot and cold therapy. (Some therapists use marble for cold stones.) The temperature range varies according to therapist, too, with some using stones as cold as 32 degrees and as hot as 140 degrees. Thomas stays the middle ground.
"The rocks are made of basalt, which contain iron, so they can't be heated in a microwave," says Thomas. "I heat them in a crock pot to about 105 to 110 degrees. The metal allows them to hold their heat." Thomas keeps her cold stones at 70 degrees.
"Everybody has a different heat threshold," says Thomas. "The red marks made from the stones indicate congestion, and the redder the area, the more congested it is. This also tells me which areas need more work." Stone therapy is a combination of placing the stones on the body in conjunction with massage.
To begin a session, the client would lie on his or her side as Thomas lined up two rows of stones to match the spine. The client would then lie on the stones, as Thomas begins the massage. With a stone in one hand and the other hand free, she moves in an upward motion on the arm. The smooth stone creates a soothing, relaxing feeling. Then she works on the back of the neck, across the shoulders, and the legs. Later the client would lie on his or her stomach, as Thomas works on the back/spinal area. All hot stone massage is directed upward toward the heart. "The hot stones promote circulation, so the pushing is always directed toward 'the pump,'" she says. "They are pushing out what is laying in and around the muscle. This could be lactic, uric or carbonic acid, all waste products of the body, or other debris, such as calcium or scar tissue." A full body treatment would last about an hour and 15 minutes.
Word of caution
Because of this pushing toward the heart, people with heart disease should not have stone therapy. "Other contraindications include skin disease, such as eczema or psoriasis, and kidney disease," says Thomas. "The stones promote an increase in circulation, so it might cause skin disease to spread. And unhealthy kidneys may not be able to process elimination fast enough."
In addition to increased circulation and detoxification, the heated stones also soften and relax muscles and ligaments, promote functional activity of the cells and free nerve endings, thus reducing pain. Many people also feel a sense of spiritual well-being and reconnection to the earth during stone therapy.
"Hot stone therapy is very effective for people with fibromyalgia," says Thomas. "They have pain that comes and goes at random, and may be in a different place each time. The stone therapy isn't a deep treatment, but relieves the pain because of the circulation it promotes. Carpal tunnel is treated by placing little stones around the wrist area [the stones come in a wide range of sizes]. I then would gently massage in between the ligaments moving upward from the wrist."
Arthritis, menstrual cramps, migraines and stress may also be relieved by hot stones.
Cold stone therapy works in the opposite way, to restrict circulation. "When someone has an injury, the nerves endings are in spasms," says Thomas. "The cold stones slow everything down, and blood is directed away from the area, allowing the nerves to calm down. As the surface blood vessels contract, the blood is drawn to the interior of the body."
"When the cold stones are removed, the skin becomes warm and relaxed," Thomas continues. "The surface blood vessels now expand, bringing more blood to the skin. Adjacent body cells are stimulated, and the body returns to its normal state."
Cold stones are used to treat inflammation, new injuries and swelling. "Ten to 30 minutes of cold stone therapy will depress metabolic activity," Thomas adds. Sometimes hot and cold stones are used in alternation, like ice packs and heating pads.
Lucinda Parsons, of Youngstown can attest to the effectiveness of stone therapy.
"I had torn a muscle in my right knee," she said. "I was in constant pain. The doctor told me surgery would be the only solution to correct the problem, but because I was overweight, he didn't think surgery would be safe. I went to Laurie, and she did cold stone therapy on me. The pain is now gone." Parsons said she also receives full body massage from Thomas, and feels she does very effective work.
Thomas received her license in relaxation (Swedish) massage from Youngstown College of Massotherapy in 2000. She learned stone therapy from Tri-State College of Massotherapy in 2002, then reflexology in 2003. She has just received her MMP (Master Medical Practitioner) degree and can now treat sports injuries, falls and other accidents. "The difference is in the extensive training on trigger points and how to release pain without extreme discomfort," she says.
XLaughing Crow is a practitioner of holistic healing. She may be reached at email@example.com.