Japan is an island formed by rapid volcanic activity. Thousands of Japanese hot springs filled with rich minerals have been known as healing places since ancient times. Many traditional Asian healing arts were born and practiced around these healing springs, such as acupuncture, moxabustion, massage and hydrotherapy. Each spring is filled with a variety of valuable minerals, which are traditionally known to heal many illnesses.
The therapeutic water that bubbles in these springs is quite hot, often just below the boiling point. Small streams seep into and mix with the springs lowering the water temperature. However, it is still very hot by western standards (about 110-120?XF). Those who soak in the springs often place cold towels over their foreheads to prevent heat-induced fainting. The springs also contain basalt and other volcanic stones, which readily absorb the heat from the water. Traditionally, smaller stones have been used to massage the neck, shoulders, and other tense areas. The art of Japanese Hot Stone Massage evolved from these ancient hot spring traditions and was developed to introduce the same therapeutic value into contemporary therapy environments.
Japanese Hot Stone Facial Massage was created and designed by Shogo Mochizuki, one of Japan’s leading educators of Shiatsu and Japanese Massage. This treatment uses traditional Asian stones known in Japan as yen stones. (Known in China as Pi stones). Yen means, ’rounded disk shape with a hole.’ Traditionally many Japanese forms of currency were made in this shape. This is why these stones share the name yen with the modern day currency.
In traditional folklore the donut shape of these disks is known as the symbol for heaven. (According to ancient custom when you anticipate upcoming problems in your life, rubbing these stones or massaging with them will prevent the problems from manifesting). Due to this ideology these stones became a favored object and have been formed from many materials into jewelry and decorations for thousands of years. Yen stones have been carried as good luck charms and used for massage since the beginning of Asian culture.
For the past 1500 years, practitioners of Zen Buddhism have often referred to these stones as a symbol for Karma and the perfect state of balance. This shape represents the natural tendency of the universe to reflect an individual’s energy back upon themselves and serves as a reminder of the old idiom ‘what goes around comes around.’ Therefore, if one is kind and generous good things will come to them and if they are mean-spirited and self-centered, ill fortune is the likely result. Many Shinto practitioners have adopted to the symbolic concept of this shape, and it is a common belief among them that these stones bring good fortune to their bearers.
We highly discourage the use of basalt stones on the face. The surface of basalt stones is far too coarse and will cause micro-scratches on the delicate facial tissues. Another drawback to using basalt stones on the face is that they are difficult to sanitize. The small pockets in their surface can collect excess facial product and bacteria, potentially causing bacteria to spread.
Why ‘Heaven’ Stones
1. Versatile Shape
During the creation of Japanese Hot Stone Facial Massage, Shogo experimented with many types of stones with varying shapes and sizes to determine which work best. After much testing, he determined that “heaven” stones would be the superior choice. The main reason is because of the hole in their center. This central hole becomes extremely important and essential for a smooth application of facial massage. Rather than gripping the stones edge, which creates unnecessary tension and a rigid application, you can place the tip of one finger into the hole. This technique allows very precise, nearly effortless control and extremely fluid gliding. Guiding heaven stones in this manner insures that you automatically conform to the natural contours of the client’s face.
2. Nothing but Stone
“Heaven” stones are made from real gemstones, which retain heat well and are believed to have healing properties. A ‘heaven’ stone’s central hole also allows you to give an entire hot stone facial massage without touching the client’s face with anything but the stone itself. If you grip the edge of the stone, you are likely to contact the client’s face with your fingertips. Performing a hot stone facial massage with nothing but the warm smooth stone greatly increases the subtlety, smoothness, and relaxing quality of the treatment.
3. One of a Kind Techniques
The heaven disk shape allows you to lightly grasp the stone between your thumb and index finger to administer rolling, wobbling, and percussion techniques not possible with any other stones. Turning the stones on their side to make use of the rounded edge is an important component of a hot stone facial. Being able to apply many types of stimulation and create different sensations greatly enhances your treatment. Rolling wobbling and percussion are excellent ways of stimulating the nerves increasing circulation and reducing muscle tension.
4. Smooth Flowing Heat and Easy to Clean
Unlike basalt stones, ‘heaven’ stones are highly polished to insure a smooth application and create the sensation of flowing heat. Other stones can be difficult to clean as they often absorb oil or other products. ‘Heaven’ stones are non-absorptive so they help conserve facial product and make clean up quick and easy.
How to Heat Stones
The best way to heat the stones is with an electric heating pad, layered with towels. The stones take approximately 10-15 minutes to heat. If you are doing an outcall, your stones should have ample time to heat while you massage the client’s neck at the beginning of the treatment.
You should not use hot water or a crock-pot to heat these stones for several reasons. First, this is an unsanitary method of heating. The combination of water and warmth facilitate the multiplication and spread of bacteria. This can be especially problematic when clients have acne or facial dermatitis. Second, wet stones repel oil and facial product. It is an unnecessary hassle to dry the stones and your hands each time you change stones. This creates undesirable interruption in the continuity of your treatment. Furthermore, ‘heaven’ facial disk stones are fragile and are likely to break if dropped. A common mistake when water is used is dropping the stones into the water and chipping or breaking them. Finally, the use of hot water increases the risk of accidental burns.
Likewise, never use a microwave to heat your stones as they will become brittle over time and break. Microwaving stones is one of the quickest ways to destroy them.
Some therapists purport that using a heating pad is undesirable because a heating pad causes electromagnetic interference. However, the amount of energy emitted by a heating pad is less than that required to heat water in a crock-pot. Furthermore, unlike basalt stones, which have been shown to retain some electromagnetic residue, the ‘heaven’ disk facial stones are extremely unlikely to hold much electromagnetic residue from the heating element because of their polish and makeup.
Adjusting Temperature Changing/ Stones
At the start of the treatment, be sure that the stone temperature is correct before contacting the client’s face. Remember that stones, which feel lukewarm in your hands, may feel too hot on the face. Practice by testing the temperature of the stones either on your forearm or your own face to determine how to proceed with your clients. With practice, you will develop a better sense of what temperature is safe and effective. Heat retention will vary depending upon the size of the stones, but each stone will generally hold heat for approximately two minutes.
The Importance of Practice
Practice each technique until you feel completely comfortable and can apply it with ease. Once you master each individual technique, you can create combinations for a soothing, seamless treatment. While performing one technique, you may think about the next, based upon the client’s needs and the goals of the session. As you become more experienced, your skill and confidence will steadily increase, offering wonderful sessions for you and your client.
It is important that you develop your own technique and style. In this way, Japanese Hot Stone Facial Massage will always retain its creative and inspirational element.
Shogo Mochizuki introduces Japanese Hot Stone Facial Massage to the Western world not only as a form of massage, but as traditional art and ancient wisdom. It is one of the most powerful and therapeutic facial treatments available today. Modern students who study this art and respectfully preserve tradition will follow in the path of many past generations and will contribute to the knowledge and well-being of many generations yet to come.
About Shogo Mochizuki
Shogo Mochizuki is the grandson of one of Japan’s most legendary practitioners of Japanese medicine. The Mochizuki family has been practicing traditional medicine for over 250 years. Shogo is one of the leading educators of Shiatsu, traditional Japanese massage and esthetics. He is the author of many books and videos, including Anma: The Art of Japanese Massage, Kobido: Japanese Facial Massage and Hand Maintenance Guide for Massage Therapists.