LIFESTYLE Rooted in ancient healing techniques, hot stone massage is now popular in spas across the world. It is said to keep your skin youthful and glowing and induces deep rest and relaxation

It is a black, smooth, shiny stone, rather like a flat pebble. It is actually a volcanic rock, capable of withstanding high temperatures. The spa industry worldwide believes that this humble stone, when heated and applied to various areas of the body and the face, has the power to keep youth and vitality alive and to heal chronic hurt and pain.

More than 2,000 years ago the Chinese were the first to experiment with the healing effects of hot stones. Historians record their use by this civilization as a means of improving digestive function and enhancing overall metabolism. Other cultures too practised laying the stones across the body and wore these close to the heart as talismans. It was believed that the stone had intrinsic properties of the soil—properties that lent it great healing potential. When heated, its curative qualities were said to penetrate deep into the skin to relieve complex diseases. Stones were said to encapsulate the life force, or chi, that had the power to rejuvenate.

The use of hot stones for therapeutic purposes is recorded in the folk-healing practices of Brazil, America, Africa, Europe, Egypt and in our own country. Native folk healers used hot stones to diminish the discomfort of menstruation, and cold stones to stem bleeding after labour. In some cultures, it was believed that holding stones during labour added to one’s strength and endurance. The Romans too used the basic principles of stone therapy in their saunas, combining hot immersion baths with the cooling effects of marble and chilled pools.

Therapeutic and relaxing

Hot stones are placed along the key acupressure points. This enhances relaxation. While the penetrating warmth from the hot stone is slowly released, easing the accumulated tension, the therapist proceeds with the massage, using a pair of stones (one in each hand). The stones glide over the skin in slow, steady strokes with light, even pressure. Keeping the rhythm steady, the speed is then increased and the stones are moved in a circular motion. This boosts blood flow as the heat of the stone penetrates further into the muscles of the face, neck and spine. The massage is rounded off with the application of chilled stones. The cold stones, applied last, seal the pores, revitalizing and tightening the skin.

Improves circulation,

Working with hot stones on the face and body provides a deeper penetration of any skin-care products you may use later (including lotions and creams), more extensive relaxation of the muscles, and improved circulation, say massage therapists. Therapists believe that hot-stone massage can delay wrinkle formation, keeping one’s skin youthful and fresh. Spa professionals say this treatment not only significantly reduces stress and tension, but the stone facial massage also offers some relief to people suffering from sinus, migraines and headaches. They believe that the warm stones are relaxing and the cold stones help to shunt out toxins from the surface of the skin, also helping to ease acne.

Rocky choices

The most commonly used stones in hot-stone massage are basalt, a finely grained, thick stone with a black, brown or reddish tinge. There are many kinds of basalt, which is basically igneous rock formed by volcanic and sedimentary action. Basalt can naturally withstand high temperatures and cools off fast. Sometimes marble, jade, amethyst, Petoskey stones (fossilized coral) and other exotic stones are also employed.

Stone facial massage’s growing popularity is, at least in part, a backlash against the increase in invasive medical procedures offered at spas over the past decade. The consumers’ knowledge of and desire for natural health care these days is such that non-invasive techniques are increasingly sought out.