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.”