Sunday, August 7, 2011


I wanted to look up some entry about ’massage’ in the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NATURAL MEDICINE, but instead of an entry on ‘massage’ I found at its place a reference to look the matter up under ‘bodywork’.  My kind of book”, I thought, “at least they understand that ‘massage’ simply doesn’t cover it all, definitely not the therapeutic fine points.  So, I looked and I read – and I feel that it would be a good thing to share the abstract with our readers as a further pointer in the direction that the AITHEIN ACADAMY is headed in its pursuit of excellence in bodywork.

There are numerous types of beneficial bodywork you choose from, including various massage techniques, chiropractic spinal adjustment and manipulation, Rolfing, reflexology and many more.  Fortunately, all of these techniques can work so it is really a matter of personal preference…”

Both of us (Michael Murray N.D. & Joseph Pizzorno N.D, the authors of the ENCYCLOPEDIA) are fortunate to have experienced a broad range of bodywork, from Rolfing and deep-tissue treatments to more gentle techniques such as Trager, Feldenkrais and Cranio Sacral therapy.  Our experience has led us to the conclusion that the therapist is more critical to the outcome than the technique.  The technique is only a tool; the result is largely dependent on the person using the tool….” In other words: the training, level of maturity and personal integrity as well as experience of the practitioner or therapist, is more important for the therapeutic effect than what kind of therapy he or she does.

Our own personal beliefs are that techniques that teach body awareness and address underlying structural problems are most effective. We have divided these techniques into two major classifications: deep tissue work and light touch therapies…”

“[Different forms of] deep tissue work… are probably the most powerful bodywork techniques that create change in body posture and energy levels quickly.  Unlike [simple] massage and spinal adjustments deep tissue treatments are focused not on the muscles and spine, but rather on the elastic sheathing network that helps support the body, keeping bones, muscles and organs in place.  This network is known as the fascia.  According to deep tissue practitioners, the fascia can be damaged by physical injury, emotional trauma, and bad postural habits.  The result is that the body is thrown out of alignment… Deep tissue treatments attempt to bring the body back into balance to restore efficiency of movement and increase mobility, by stretching and lengthening the fascia to its natural form and pliability.”

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bodywork Can Be Good Medicine – An Interview with Dr. Shikha Aggarwal of Healthy Healing Medical Center, Goa

ABA-BLOG: I’ve never before heard of a doctor publicly recommending bodywork quite as enthusiastically.  Why you? What do you see is the benefit?

DR. SHIKHA: If they were to look at bodywork as a kind of free flowing and intuitive physiotherapy that can balance both body and mind, many doctors would recommend it to their clients.  But then, they would need to know something about it – or be acquainted with a quality therapist.  As a matter of fact, in western countries doctors frequently recommend bodywork.  Like yoga or other forms of exercising, bodywork is an integral part of many detoxification and rejuvenation protocols, which is the kind of medicine that I myself mostly practice.  As to the benefits, there are both physical and psychological aspects.  Overall, bodywork refreshes the body and the senses, thereby refreshing the mind.  Of course, the benefits can also be quite specific, depending on the individual case, and ranging from healing sports injuries to help people overcome chronic low-level depression or lack of vitality.  You should know how well bodywork, can actually assist in dealing with medical problems as your boss and director of training programs at Aithein, in the past had quite a successful cooperation going with an orthopedic surgeon, in Pune.  She mentioned it in a previous post.

ABA-BLOG: That is true, but in your case, you were both physician and bodyworker rolled in one, at some point, I believe.  That is one step further beyond cooperating with a physician.  It is said that you have experimented with practicing bodywork yourself.  Is it true?

DR. SHIKHA: Well, I was actually more than experimenting, with it.  I treated people regularly and sometimes even daily with it for about two years.

ABA-BLOG: Was that before, or after you became a doctor?

DR. SHIKHA: After.

ABA-BLOG: As a doctor, did you not consider yourself much too superior to do manual labor, in the form of hands-on treatments?

DR. SHIKHA: I must admit, thoughts and self-criticism of this kind occasionally came up, yes: the status issues.  They are deeply rooted and part of our culture – but in truth only silly, non-issues really.  Come to think of it, it is at the root not very Indian to devalue physical forms of treatment, as the vaidyas of old looked favorably upon therapeutic massages and exercise regimens. These were and still are an integral part of our authentic form of Indian medicine.  May be in this respect, in our habitual denigrating the body and despising working with our hands, we think and act more like the Victorian English, rather than Indian.  The English have left such hang-ups behind, long ago.  People from other European countries even more so.  A good German friend of mine, a naturopathic physician herself who frequently works with MDs, recently opened her own practice in Berlin and teaches and practices naturopathy, and therapeutic massage as well.  She’s successful.  People seek her out.  The MDs who send her clients cherish her expertise.  So, come to think of it, why should I be down on myself for having been a massage therapist or bodyworker as a sideline venture, besides being a doctor?  It makes no sense.  The bodywork episode actually made me a better doctor.

ABA-BLOG: How so?

DR. SHIKHA: Body psychology.

ABA-BLOG: How do you mean?

DR. SHIKHA: In order to do bodywork properly, you have to be aware of the client’s body.  You have to listen to and observe its subtle messages of how it may want to be touched, to be treated.  Otherwise your treatments will remain mechanical and effective only in the most superficial sense.  Likewise, when a client now sits before me in my consultation room, his body gives a lot of unspoken messages, which may or may not become part of the diagnosis.  But apart from the question of diagnosis, these messages tell me how I need to address a client in order to reach him, or how the American text books on doctor/client interaction call it, “Activate the patient.”  How do I start and maintain a meaningful dialogue, a real exchange?  In my medical college days, I had never even heard of ‘doctor/client interaction’, or the communication skills that a doctor needs to have.  However, doing bodywork for two full years, while also practicing medicine, definitely gave me an excellent education in the field, one that I am thankful for even now.  My patients say that I have the ability to reach them.  They can hear me.  Well, they can hear me because to a certain degree I am able to ‘hear’ and ‘read’ them.  All other medically relevant ramifications aside, this makes for much more pleasant doctor/patient relations.  I wrote a post about this whole subject in my own blog, If you care to learn more, look it up:

ABA-BLOG: How did you get into bodywork?  This is not the most natural thing to end up with, for an MBBS graduate?  Did your family not want you to get a post-graduate degree?  I mean, follow the usual career path?

DR. SHIKHA: Initially that was also my own plan.  Then, in the course of a longer-term internship, I started to become disenchanted with the allopathic approach.  I started to see the shortcomings necessarily involved in a form of medicine that only works at suppressing symptoms and is hardly ever interested in going to the root of the problem.  At that time, I even contemplated studying Ayurveda, but during further research found the quality of the college level Ayurvedic training deplorably low, much lower than in medical college.  At that point I received an offer to work as a doctor in an ozone clinic in Bangalore, which interested me.  This led to attending a 300-hour residential course in bodywork and further to accepting a position as a medical advisor for a day-spa, in Goa.  I guess, I was in an exploring mode and trusted that everything would eventually work out perfect, which it did; because only one year later I was able to open Healthy Healing Medical Center.

ABA-BLOG: What happened to your career as a bodyworker?  Are you still active?

DR. SHIKHA: No, there is not enough time left for it.  Besides, I never really wanted to be a bodyworker.  I had always wanted to be a doctor who also understands that aspect of the body – from hands-on experience rather than only from a textbook.

ABA-BLOG: Do your patients get good bodywork?

DR. SHIKHA: If they want it and ask for it, yes.  And to some I recommend it specifically.  Last season, I also offered three detox packages, all of which included up to five bodywork sessions.  Some people really liked these programs.

ABA-BLOG: You have someone working for you then?

DR. SHIKHA: They do not work for me but with me.  They are free lancers, very well trained with years of practical experience and a good college education in their background.  For the level of massages that I want to see delivered I need mature and well-established therapists.  According to my experience, I would have to agree with Dr. Michael Murray who in his best-selling ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NATURAL MEDICINE wrote, “That the therapist is more critical to the outcome than the technique.  The technique is only the tool; the result is largely dependent on the person using the tool.”  If the therapist is himself a deeply balanced person, not holding back, not uptight – then bodywork can indeed be good medicine.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Marilyn Ferguson on: Changing & Healing Your Life through Bodywork

Grappling with the task of explaining the healing as well as mind- and potentially life-changing effects of bodywork, we today share a few words on the subject, written by Marilyn Ferguson.  Marilyn was best known for her bestselling book The Aquarian Conspiracy.  However, her impact on the intellectual life of the last quarter of the 1900s was far greater and far- reaching through her position as publisher and editor of the Brain/Mind Bulletin (1973 to 1996), a newsletter that at its peak had over 10,000 subscribers worldwide.  

Here, she comes right to the point by speaking about the transformative power of good bodywork.  According to her, bodywork in all its different eastern or western approaches can offer ways through which “We can intervene in our bodymind loop so that we can take steps toward self-responsibility in the pursuit of our own health and wellbeing.” 

From this point of view, quality bodywork opens the doors to greater independence and self-reliance.  It starts out by easing surface pain and relaxing surface tension and then more deeply buried pain and constriction.  In the end it empowers.  It has a totally positive outlook - in the short term and in the long term.  Bodywork is optimistic.

“Wellbeing cannot be infused intravenously or ladled out by prescription.  Western medicine is beginning to recognize that health and disease don’t just happen to us.  They are part of the matrix: the bodymind.  They are active processes issuing from inner harmony or disharmony, profoundly affected by our states of consciousness, our ability or inability to flow with experience.  They reflect psychological and somatic harmony.”

“…All illness, whether cancer or schizophrenia or a common cold, originates in the bodymind… The old saying, ‘Name your poison’, applies to semantics and symbols of disease.  If we feel ‘picked on’, or someone gives us a ‘pain in the neck’, we may make our metaphors literal – with acne or neck spasms.  People have long spoken of a ‘broken heart’ as the result of a disappointing relationship; now medical research shows a connection between loneliness and heart disease.  So the ‘broken heart’ may become coronary disease; ambivalence a splitting headache; and the rigid personality, arthritis.”

“Over the years our bodies become walking autobiographies that tell friends and strangers alike of the major and minor stresses in our lives.  For instance, distortions of function that occur after an injury – like a limited range of motion in a hurt arm – become a permanent part of our body pattern.  Our musculature also reflects old anxieties.  Poses of timidity, depression, bravado, or stoicism adopted early in life are locked into our bodies as patterns in our sensory-motor system.

“In the vicious cycle of bodymind pathology, our body’s tight patterns contribute to our locked-in mental processes.  We cannot separate mental from physical, fact from fantasy, past from present.  Just as the body feels the mind’s grief, so the mind is constricted by the body’s stubborn memory of what the mind used to feel.”

“One essential way in which this cycles can be interrupted is through bodywork – therapies that deeply (and often painfully) massage, manipulate, loosen or otherwise change the body’s neuromuscular system and its orientation to gravity, its symmetry.  Bodywork alters the flow of energy through the body, freeing it of its old ‘ideas’ or patterns, increasing its range of movement.  Changing the body in this way can affect the entire bodymind loop.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What Were the Most Remarkable Bodywork Treatments You Received? – An Interview with Choyin Dorje

GAGORI:  Today, we are going to turn the tables on Choyin.  We are going to ask him some questions.  Usually it’s the other way around; as the writer he’s asking the questions.  Choyin, in your view and experience, what is good bodywork?
CHOYIN DORJE:  When a massage therapist knows what he or she is doing, and is with the process, and focused on the client, as he or she is doing it, that could be called ‘good bodywork’.  When a yoga instructor has plenty of experience and practiced many times over what he or she is sharing with others, and then shares it in awareness, the result is also good bodywork.  When a Tai Chi teacher has mastered the form and gone beyond it, without changing anything, he or she is definitely imparting the knowledge of good bodywork, for self and others.

GAGORI: So, good bodywork is anything that enhances our being in the body, delivered with perfect timing and technique – and imbued with spirit?
CHOYIN DORJE: We are alive, right?  The body is totally alive!  We may choose to be numb to how alive the body is, but it really is.  In this aliveness there is no separation between ‘body’ and ‘mind’, ‘body’ and ‘spirit’, ‘body’ and ‘awareness’.  There is only this awareness and a sense or a feeling of the parts and the sum of the parts being distinctly separate and yet, at the same time, indivisibly one.  Good bodywork brings you into experiencing that kind of a flow.  It can evoke an awareness of indivisibility of the presence of the different parts of the body and, simultaneously, the feeling of oneness, no matter if you are being massaged, climbing a mountain, or doing your exercises on the beach, or in your bedroom.

GAGORI: Well here, we are mostly interested in what you would call ‘massages’.  Do you remember some of the treatments that you received?  Four, five, which stand out from the rest?  I mean, knowing you, I assume that you must have received many.
CHOYIN DORJE:  Sure, I have received many massages over the years.  And for sure, I can also remember some memorable treatments, even if they happened more than twenty years ago.

GAGORI: Really?
CHOYIN DORJE:  Yeah, as if they happened yesterday, in fact as if they were happening now, in the present moment, provided attention is focused, zooms in like a laser beam.

GAGORI:  Can you be more specific?
CHOYIN DORJE:  Actually, you yourself gave one of these treatments.  Remember that one session of siddha marma?  Must have been seven, eight years ago, I believe during your second 300-hr Taosomatics bodymind therapy intensive in the role of an assistant.  Remember how the marma points opened up like flowers, because you were so 100% focused, yet so relaxed yourself, while giving the treatment?  That was a prime example of excellent bodywork.  It was so good that my body still can remember it: the texture of it, the flow and the feeling of it.  And this is not a poetic exaggeration.  As much as the body can act as a storehouse for trauma memories, the body can also act as a storehouse for bliss – or for feeling better than words can express.  Actually, you always give very good siddha marma sessions.  But this particular one stands out because you were so precise and professionally astute, yet in the natural progression of your pressing the points and doing your strokes, at the same time beyond all thoughts and concepts.

GAGORI:  More examples?
CHOYIN DORJE:  A Trager session given to me by a personal student of Dr. Milton Trager’s.  I don’ remember the therapist’s name and I don’t remember the date but it must have been when I was attending a Buddhist meditation course at the Nyingma Institute in Berkely, California, in April 1987.  I remember the room. I remember the quality of the light in the room.  I remember that the session lasted for almost three hours, and neither the therapist nor I as the client were the least bit exhausted from the effort.  There was a light breeze and you could hear the chimes on the porch, and sometimes the hum of the electric prayer wheels.  I mean: this session was just out of this world, but still totally in it.  Total body aliveness.  Really shaking loose and shaking off some old dross.  Amazing bodywork.  Milton Trager must have been a hell of a guy in order to teach such magic of the hands, and of the entire body.

GAGORI:  Describe one more of these wonderful positive imprints, just because for me, it is so good and so helpful to hear these things.  And may be for some of our readers and future therapists, too.
CHOYIN DORJE:  Definitely another highlight are the many Esalen sessions I received from Katharina Lutz, in Munich.  At that time, it also must have been in the mid-1980s, Katharina studied Tibetan yoga and Buddhism with me in our small sangha, and Esalen Massage with Deane Juhan of the Esalen Institute, a really great bodyworker and amazing teacher (for Deane’s take on bodywork also see:  Deane came to Germany regularly then, to give courses, and Katharina was what, here in India, you would call the typical ‘topper’, a really dedicated student; keen on learning all aspects of the work, from the technical, through the psychological to the spiritual.

GAGORI:  Going by the examples that you have given, the quality of the teacher is an important factor for the development of the therapist and the quality of his or her work.
CHOYIN DORJE:  Absolutely.  Bodywork, like the different forms of movement therapies, or really anatomically sound and logical forms of massage, cannot be taught mechanically as a technique only.  The teacher has to teach and lead by example.  He or she not only has to explain movements or strokes, as well as the underlying anatomical and energetic logic, he or she has to have the ability for the direct transmission of his or her own level of awareness.  It’s like a small awakening, a small enlightenment experience.  You have to have gone through something like that before you can share it with others.  And that’s the kind of teacher you need, if you want to become a really good bodyworker.  You need a teacher who through his or her awareness can inspire you to awaken to your own, and then come into your own.  This direct transmission of awareness is nothing like a ‘mystical experience’ at all.  It is NOT fuzzy, but clear.  It is very down-to-earth and straightforward.  I am sure, you have experienced it at various different moments in your own training, and now you are settled in it, in your own way.

GAGORI:  True, and there is no end to the development in sight, yet.  I keep learning.  Once you stop learning, you start dying.
CHOYIN DORJE:  Each new treatment, each new client, and each new student teaches you more, right?

CHOYIN DORJE: I am happy to hear that someone is alive and thriving.  And I am looking forward to having one of these siddha marma treatments again.  It has been a while.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hot Stone Massage – Some Tricks of the Trade Part III: Choosing, Using and Caring for Your Equipment

Some of the things we will point out today may appear to many to be so obvious that we wouldn’t need to mention them.  Unfortunately, however, very often the obvious gets overlooked the most, which is why we want to address it anyway.  No doubt, for your stone massage you need the proper equipment and you need to care for it properly.  But, what is the proper equipment?  And where can you get it?  Does it have to be imported, or can you purchase it, here in India?  Finally, how do you care for it so that you can enjoy its use for a long time? 

1. What Kind of Stones Should I Use?
Different stones have different qualities.  Typically, basalt stones are used for hot stone massage, which are rich in metals such as magnesium and iron.  Due to its molecular structure basalt can absorb and enclose heat well, for longer than many other stones.  Stones from marble are ideal for cold stone massage.  Marble contains calcium carbonate, which makes it a ‘cold stone’.  Can you use your essentially ‘hot’ basalt stones also for cold stone massages?  Theoretically, yes; but you would need to apply a greater amount of lubrication, which then in turn makes it more difficult to clean the stone in order to use it later again for a hot stone massage.  And can you use a cold stone for a hot stone treatment?  No, you cannot.  But what you usually can do is use marble on the body without any additional lubricant, which is another reason for this stone to be so suitable for cold stone massages.  Best is, you keep different sets or depending on how they are packaged, different stones of one set for hot and cold stone massages (as some suppliers sell stones for hot and cold stone massages in one and the same set).  If you want to find about a little more, inquire with the Aithein staff over the phone as we have stone sets for sale and also more information at our disposal, or look up Patricia Mayrhofer’s site in the US, which gives clear and concise information on the different stones and their use.

2. What Shape & Size Should the Stones Have?
Particular applications in the course of a stone massage require stones of different sizes and shapes.  As mentioned above, you would usually acquire the stones in sets, and a set has all the kinds of stones that you will require for your work.  For example, the Aithein set of hand polished stones comprises 64 pieces I different sizes, and shaped for different purposes, from the two super big stones to be put on sacrum and solar plexus, through the big and medium stones for back, legs, hands and arms, down to the small face, toe and trigger point stones.  Especially for the super big and big stones extra caution must be taken when using them.  All placement stones must have sufficient barrier, like a towel, wrap, booties, mitts or at least a doubled sheet.

3. How Do I Heat the Stones Before Using Them?
There is only one answer to this question: With a professional stone heater.  Anything else is out of the question.  No frying pans, no oven.  You need good temperature control, and for the purpose of heating stones only a professional stone heater gives you that control.  After all, you’re not in the business of baking bread.

3. What Do I Do with the Stones After I Have Used Them?
Proper care for the stones and proper hygiene are more than important; they are essential.  You will definitely want to wash the stones after each treatment, in water with a little bit of dishwashing liquid added.  Likewise you will want to change the water in the heater after each session.  If your practice tends to be rather busy meaning that you schedule treatments in relatively quick succession, you will also need to have more than one set of stones and more than one heater at your disposal.  May be two will suffice, or you may even require to have three, if there is no supporting staff at hand to assist you with the cleaning (which in India is unlikely).  The stones themselves, by the way, require the hygiene as much as your clients deserve it.  After they have been washed they need to be dried.  It is not a good idea to leave stones wet and exposed to air for any longer period of time.  Remember, we said above that they have minerals in them, including iron.  If you do not take proper care, they can develop rust spots.

4. What About Long-Term Care?  Do the Stones Lose Energy with Use, and Do They Need to Be Recharged?
In parts I & II of our 3-part posting on bodywork with stones, we hinted at the fact that this r type of treatment, whether in the form of hot or cold stone massage, originated in times and places when people were still connected with their environment and lived in greater harmony with nature than we.  It is therefore desirable that your treatments and the way you treat your stones reflect that same, should we say more ‘primeval’ attitude of empathy and connectedness.  For the Native American mind for example, the ‘grandfather stones’ were not a poetic phrase, they used, nor were they a mere concept to be read and understood like a ‘symbol’ or ‘archetype’.  No, their understanding was literal.  Since volcanic stones are the oldest manifestations, yes, of life on earth, and NOT of dead matter, connecting with the energy field of such stones was seen to be tantamount to connecting with the oldest form of knowledge and intelligence available to us.  The stones ARE literally our grandfathers, and we therefore would want to treat them with the same kind of respect.  No matter what your beliefs are in this respect, it is still good practice to also take the appropriate measures for the long-term care of your stones.  Simply put, your stones may need some time off, after you used them regularly for a while.  One therapist who has been working with hot stones for years put it like this, “Many therapists sense that the stones they use have their own energy, and that they pass along that energy and help balance they energy of the human body.”  In the process they lose some of their strength, which needs to be replenished.  If you have worked with healing crystals before, or with other semi-precious and precious stones, you know that you can recharge the energy of a crystal, by putting it in a light saltwater bath for a while.  The same is true for your bodywork stones.  In addition to washing them after every use, Gart, another stone therapist points out, “I addition to washing them after every use, give your stones a weekly rest on a tray of salt.  Being crystalline in structure like the stones, salt will recharge them… and for a real vacation, give them time back on or even in Mother Earth.  Bring them out and let them bathe under the moon and under the sun.” 

That’s after all, how they have lived not for thousands, but for millions of years!  Therefore, that is also how they can regain their life force.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hot Stone Massage – Some Tricks of the Trade Part II: Training & Practical Approach

As we have seen in yesterday’s post, hot stone massage can be practiced as a technique and tradition in its own right.  In which case you would follow the protocol of for example the Japanese art of Anma, or of some of the more unusual forms of Siddha Marma practice of Indian origin that also work with hot stones.  The majority of today’s practitioners, however, would take a simpler route.  They would prefer and integrate the use of hot stones into their own routine and repertoire, without learning a totally new form of bodywork, with its own sets of techniques and underlying theory. 

Is that possible?  Can you integrate hot stones into your present massages?  Yes, by all means.  One of the proponents of stone massage does it all the time.  He is Dr. Henry Roth, a chiropractor from New Jersey in the US who created a very potent combination of Swedish and hot stone massage, in terms of the therapeutic benefits.  

But there are a few pitfalls.  You need to know them in order to be able to avoid them.  So, if you think of using hot stones for your massages, think carefully.  The matter is not as simple and straightforward as the misleading glossy photos in Spa and Bodywork magazines suggest.  You cannot go on the net, buy some stones, put them in a pan or baking oven to be heated and then ‘just do it’ as some popular advertising slogan suggests.  You need to know the nuts and bolts aspects of the practice and approach it with the right attitude.  You also need to use the right kind of equipment.  Approach, attitude and style we will cover in today’s post and go into the equipment aspect tomorrow. 

1. Don’t Go It Alone
You cannot go it alone, if later on you want to have happy and satisfied clients.  This is the #1 and in a way the most important suggestion that we can make, as it sets you on your way, so to speak.  It is also not sufficient to buy a video or set of videos and expect them to teach you everything you need to know.  The videos will not give you any real experience.  They will also not answer your questions or remove certain doubts that inevitably will arise as you go through the curriculum. Only hands-on work in a class situation with a qualified teacher will give you real-time experience, answer your questions and remove your doubts.  There is another reason beyond customer satisfaction to be careful, and that is to avoid trouble.  The highest number for insurance claims for malpractice in bodywork or massage establishments in the west are filed, you guessed right, because a client left the place with burn marks on her or his back.  They were or they felt injured and they sued for damages.  So you need to learn how to correctly work with stones before you use the stones to work on others.

2. Don’t Fall for the Pretty Pictures
Almost all of the glossy promotional pictures for hot stone massage are misleading the aspiring therapist – as they likewise give the client wrong ideas.  They create a false image.  Contrary to what is being shown you CANNOT place heated stones along the spine on a naked back.  In order for them to work the way they are intended to, they need to have a certain temperature at the core.  They need to radiate heat from inside out for some time.  Therefore, the stones have to be properly insulated.  You have to wrap them.  And even then, rule of thumb is: If you as the therapist cannot hold a stone in your hand gently massaging the client with it because it is too hot for you to handle, it will be too hot for the client anyway, even when wrapped, and you should not place the stone.  Besides, you would want to ask for confirmation, if the client is comfortable with the temperature of particularly the larger stones you are about to place.

3. Don’t Hurry
From a certain vantage, all good massages could be considered a form of meditation, even when delivered with vigor at a faster pace.  Even in these cases, therapist and client together engender and follow the movements of the strokes, relaxed and aware of each other and of their inner responses to the give and take of the process.  And that IS meditation.  Hot stone treatments need to be particularly imbued with the presesence of awareness, on the part of the therapist.  The movement, the texture of the stone and the skin and othe tissue of the client need to connect in a special way.  In order to facilitate a closer grip on the body, the same Dr. Henry Roth already mentioned above developed and patented the ‘Rothstone’, a Y-shaped stone, the use of which can elevate an ordinary classical Swedish massage to a whole new level.  Roth himself describes the treatment, “The stone is moved slowly and methodically as though the therapist is the sculptor and the implication of heat emitted deep into the body structure, produces instant relaxation.  It is like no other stone therapy.”  In other words, slowness, precision, presence of awareness are key.  Only then can the stones together with the therapist’s attentiveness work their magic.

3. Hot Stone Contra-Indications
There are a few exceptions from the rule when you should abstain from treating a client with hot stones.  Hot stone treatments are NOT recommendable for clients with uncontrolled high blood pressure because the heat would dilate the blood vessels even more.  Be particularly careful when you treat clients who are also diabetes patients.  In advanced cases of diabetes the ability to sense and to feel has decreased, especially in the extremities.  Diabetics may just not be in a position to feel when a stone is too hot.  Likewise, heat is not good for clients with multiple sclerosis.  You can treat them with cold stones, though.  And finally you need to be careful when treating someone who is pregnant.  Their core body temperature should not go up.

4. Hot Stone Indications
Apart from the cases above, almost everyone can benefit from a stone massage.  But there are certain conditions for which the benefits are greater and more immediate.  Fibromyalgia is one of these conditions.  Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) share many features in common, one of them is low serotonin levels in the body, which translate into bad quality of sleep, and consequently chronic tension and chronic pain.  Individuals with fibromyalgia have altered sleep patterns: reduced REM sleep and increased non-REM sleep.   Pat Mayrhofer of Nature’s Stones Inc., in Pennsylvania, US, explains why hot stone treatments are helpful in this case, “You can work deep without putting on a lot of pressure.”  The heat combines with the relaxing of the muscles through sculpting them.  This in turn relieves stress and as a contributing factor, helps the body produce more serotonin.  Being passionate about stone treatments, not to mention a passionate educator, Pat does not shy away from blanket endorsement of the use of stones in massage also giving good reasons, “For the most part, stone massage is misunderstood… People think it’s just fluff and buff, a relaxing massage.  But it is very therapeutic.  Anything you can do with your hands, you can do with stones.  Trigger-point work.  Myofascial release.  It’s incredible.  It’s a great therapeutic tool.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Treatment with Hot or Cold Stones – Part I: Background and Overview

Today when you open a magazine on Spas and their aesthetics, or a massage therapy magazine addressing and informing the professional rather than the potential client, you cannot avoid noticing at least one, or more likely several ads that feature a female beauty lounging on her tummy and chest, while displaying a number of (in most cases black) round stones on her immaculate back, lined up along the spine.  Yes, treatments involving hot or cold stones are very, very popular.  Little does it matter that most of these glossy photos create a false, even dangerously misleading first impression.  No indeed, you cannot put heated basalt stones of the size shown in the images on someone’s bare back.  These poor women would get burned and jump off the treatment table; later they would probably proceed to call their lawyer and sue for damages.  Yet, despite this little image incongruity the fact remains that almost anywhere in the world hot stone therapy and hot stone massage are becoming some of the most requested treatments, with many establishments listing it on their menus specifically as one of their few ‘signature’ treatments.  Even among the equipment we sell at Aithein, as well as among the courses that we teach, hot stone equipment and hot stone massage are among the top selling items.

There must be reasons for this, both in terms of therapeutic effectiveness and thus appeal, as well as in terms of a deep, almost primeval resonance in the human mind. 

Stones are ancient.  The Native American tradition speaks of ‘our grandfather rocks’ and uses volcanic rocks in their prayer lodges, falsely labeled sweat lodges.  Naming them sweat lodges is deceptive simply because the outer purification that these lodges afford to the body (very much like a sauna) is secondary to the spiritual purification, which is the lodges’ main purpose.  The grandfather rocks are treated with respect.  They are like living beings.  They are our ancestors, because rocks were formed long before the four-legged creatures and humans walked on mother earth.  Rocks have a long memory.  They sing when they are red hot and cold water is poured over them; then, in response the humans in the lodge sing their traditional songs and prayers.  The grandfather rocks purify the ceremony’s participants with hissing sounds and unspoken messages; their own songs uplift them so that spirit can soar like an eagle.  While in the sweat physical, psychological, and spiritual impurities are released.  

Even a hot stone massage when properly executed can have an element of deep spiritual connectedness, which is one of the reasons for the treatment’s popularity.  There is a deep yearning in everyone to be connected and connect to their own lives, to their own nature – and thereby connecting to all of life around them.

The other reason of course is the therapeutic benefit of a hot stone treatment.  Tania Hodder, a hot stone therapist from Australia summed this up to the point, “This effect is due to the fact that ‘heat is healing’ and when you have a hot stone therapy treatment the emanating heat from the stones is gently, yet continually penetrating into your muscle fibers and literally melting away layers of tension… As tension is the root cause of illness, when tension is alleviated, the body quickly returns to its natural state of wellbeing, promoting a sense of inner peace in the recipient.”

Recently, I found hot stone treatments explained as a form of ‘Geo-Thermo-Hydro Therapy’.  First I thought that the author just wants to be cute by creating a mouth-full of a word like this.  But then I saw the logic behind the idea.  Hot stone therapy involves what used to be known as the four great elements of Earth, Fire, Water and Air. 

‘Geo’ stands for earth, the hot basalt rocks or cool marble stones.  Lava stones such as basalt also are imbued with strong magnetic properties, which may assist in opening, clearing and balancing the energy channels in the body.  ‘Thermos’ stands for fire, or heat, as ‘hydro’ represents water.  The ‘hot heat’ of the basalt stones encourages the exchange of blood and lymph and provides a soothing heat for deep tissue work, which due to the warmth will be received as less invasive and also less painful.  The ‘cold heat’ of the marble or moonstones for example can reduce inflammation, by moving blood out of the area.  Naturally, water is used to either heat (the basalt stones) or cool (the marble or moonstones).  The unifying element is the air both in the form of the breath of the client, integrating the treatment into his or her bodymind, and in the breath of the therapist, which by the nature of its flow sets the tone, the rhythm for the treatment.  When the elements are in harmony, the ancients said, so is the body; so is the mind.  ‘Geo-Thermo-Hydro Therapy’ is but a new word for a time tested overall therapeutic concept; which is why it works.

Often, we also hear of ‘Japanese Hot Stone Massage’ because the technique of Anma or traditional Japanese hot stone massage is the form that is most often taught in today’s bodywork and spa courses.  However, there is nothing originally Japanese about AnmaAnma most probably originated in the great amalgam of Himalayan culture (of tribal northern and northeast India, Nepal, Tibet and western China).  It is about 7000 years old, and only in the 1300s of our common era was it imported and blended into what is now known as ‘Japanese’ culture.  Yet it is also true that the Japanese systematized and perfected the art.  They have maintained it so that we can learn it and use it now.

The art of Anma bodywork with hot stones is a whole new subject in and of itself.  To learn it takes time and devotion.  However, to conclude this brief overview we can state that mainly three types of massage techniques are applied in traditional Japanese hot stone treatments:

  1. Light stroking – the therapists slides the stones over the body in either up and down, or circular movements
  2. Kneading – this is the favorite anma technique; the therapist engages the tissue under the stone through rotating and kneading movements to effectively remove muscle tension
  3. Vibration – the therapist uses vibrating and shaking movements when treating sensitive areas in order to disperse the intensity of pressure; any vigorous shaking also shakes the toxins out of the body