The History of Hot-Stone Massage

by Pat Mayrhofer

The History of Hot-Stone Massage, MASSAGE MagazineRecently, there has been a growing interest in using stones as a part of massage therapy. Although some massage therapists and clients may consider this to be simply fashionable, the use of stones and gemstones for healing purposes dates back thousands of years.

Both verbal and written history confirm the Chinese used heated stones more than 2,000 years ago as a means of improving the function of internal organs. Stones were also used for healing work in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Egypt and India. These traditions included laying stones in patterns on the body, carrying or wearing stones for health and protection, using stones for the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and for ceremonial uses, such as sweat lodges and medicine wheels.

The healing practices of curanderas (literal translation: “healers” in Spanish) and other female caregivers often included dealing with disease as well as pregnancy and childbirth. These folk healers used heated stones to diminish the discomfort of menstruation, plus the application of cold stones to slow bleeding after labor. Some sources also cite instances of cultures in which women believed that simply holding stones during labor added to their strength and endurance.

Ancient Greek and Roman cultures have a long recorded history of many forms of massage and bodywork. The Roman Empire, which dates from 27 B.C. to 476 A.D., is noted for its creation of the Roman baths. This ancient tradition is still with us today in the form of modern hydrotherapy practices. The Romans also used stones in saunas and combined the effects of hot immersion baths with the cooling effects of marble stone and cold pools. 

The use of heated stones in massage was reborn with the introduction of LaStone Therapy, created by Mary Nelson, in 1993. Stone massage has blossomed since then into a multimillion-dollar industry. Stone massage, done correctly, is one of the most relaxing forms of massage a person can receive and because of its popularity, has once again traveled quickly around the globe. The full-body, hot-stone massage has evolved to include deep tissue-specific work, hot-stone facials, hot-stone pedicures and manicures, and hot-stone meridian therapy. Because of their incredible energy, stones are used in reiki, polarity therapy and cranial sacral work. 

There are many therapists who use their own variation of stone massage, from just placing stones on the body to a deep-tissue massage. Two important safety factors, however, apply to all uses of hot stones in massage therapy:

• Never place a hot stone on bare skin without moving it.

• Always use a barrier, such as a specific textile product designed for stone placement, or at least a sheet or towel to protect the skin. 

With this massage modality growing in popularity, the need for sources of massage stones became a necessity. To this end, stone-supply companies evolved, such as Desert Stone People, TH. Stone, RubRocks and Nature’s Stones Inc. The next challenge came with the need for heating the stones; incredibly, the initial suggested means of heating stones was in a turkey roaster. Other options included crock pots, electric skillets and warming trays, all of which carried the possibility of overheating the stones and burning the client.

The problem, of course, was that all these options were actually kitchen appliances as opposed to being professional heating appliances manufactured specifically for spas, chiropractor’s offices and massage-therapy treatment rooms. After much collaboration and cooperation between Nature’s Stones Inc. and the Metal Ware Corporation (makers of Nesco products), the Spa~Pro Massage Stone Heater, a unit designed specifically for hot-stone massage, was created. 

As therapists recognized the value of working with massage stones, they also saw the need for high-quality instruction in the use of massage stones. Nelson assembled a team of therapists to teach all around the world. Sonya Alexander from TH. Stone was busy teaching, while Carollanne Crichton, founding director of The Institute of the Healing Arts in Rhode Island, then produced a video showing her method of stone massage. As one of the first therapists on the East Coast to do stone massage, I was busy designing protocols for different modalities and teaching in Europe, the Caribbean and across the U.S.

Please look for future articles on www.MASSAGEmag.com, as I explore the exciting arena of stone massage. I will write about safety issues, contraindications, the expansion of stone therapy to different modalities, the evolution into cold-stone therapy with marble stones and now the resurgence of stone massage with the innovation of carved basalt stones. I will also discuss accessory products, such as massage oil, essential oils, heaters, textiles, DVDs and seminars. I look forward to an ongoing conversation with you.

Pat Mayrhofer, MASSAGE MagazinePat Mayrhofer is president and founder of Nature’s Stones Inc., an international massage-stone, education and supply company. She is a massage therapist with more than 15 years of experience, having taught for 13 of those years in Italy, Austria, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Mayrhofer and her staff have created a comprehensive series of live, hands-on training programs, educational DVDs available for distance learning and a line of associated stone and textile products. For more information, visit www.naturestonesinc.com.