Hot stone massage is a specialty massage where the therapist uses smooth, heated stones as an extension of their own hands, or by placing them on the body. The heat can be both deeply relaxing and help warm up tight muscles so the therapist can work more deeply, more quickly.
Before you arrive, the massage therapist sanitizes the stones and heats them in a bath of 120- to 150-degree water. The stones themselves are usually basalt, a black volcanic rock that absorbs and retains heat well and has been smoothed by natural forces in the river or sea.
You usually start face down, with the therapist working on your back. First, the therapist warms up the body with traditional Swedish massage, then massages you while holding a heated stone. As the stone cools, the therapist replaces it with another. The therapist uses many stones of various shapes and sizes—big ones on the big muscles, smaller ones on smaller muscles.
The therapist might also leave heated stones in specific points along your spine, in the palms of your hand, on your belly, or even between your toes to improve the flow of energy in your body. Many therapists believe that the stones themselves have an energetic charge and that needs to be maintained by placing them in a spiral pattern, placing them in a full moon periodically.
Be sure to speak up if the stones are too warm or the pressure too intense. And you can always ask them to stop using the stones if you don’t like how it feels.
If you like heat but not the stones, steamed towels are another way to get heat into a massage.
Hot stones warmed by fire were used by Native Americans to treat aching muscles, but the modern revival of hot stones in massage is generally credited to Mary Nelson, a native of Tucson, Arizona.
Most spas offer their own versions of hot stone massage (they might call it lava stone massage, river rock massage, warm stone massage, and so on). A hot stone massage, however, takes a lot of skill and sensitivity on the part of the therapist.