Therapy stones are a great way to give a massage

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stone on back
Hot stone therapy can be an incredibly relaxing experience
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The warmth of therapy stones relaxes tense muscles and sooths stress

Warmth is relaxing.  An evening in front of a fire or a day stretched out in the sunshine –we have always known the power of warmth to sooth us and ease away aches and pains. Many people are discovering a new way to bring the power of warmth into their lives as a healing force, through the use of therapy stones as a part of relaxation and massage.

But the new in this case is really an ancient practice. The use of warm or hot stones as a healing aid goes back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians in one part of the world, the ancient Chinese in another and certain Native American tribes on this continent.  So what did these ancient peoples know about heated therapy stones that we are only now discovering?

Heat is healing
The reason we crave warmth when we’re sick is that we know instinctively that our bodies heal better when they’re warm.  And most injuries heal better when kept warm, even if ice is needed initially to reduce swelling.  So the person with the flu who heads outside to soak up the sun is actually participating in a healing act.  The same is true for the heat experienced when hot therapy stones are used.

But why stones?
In ancient times, microwavable hot packs and plug in heating pads were not an option.  But a stone warmed by the fire was available.  It’s impossible to know how stones came into use as heated healing tools, but there are good reasons for their use continued.

Stones heat up easily and hold heat well
Stones heat up quickly and unless they are made from more than one type of mineral, they tend to hold heat fairly uniformly.  Once hot, therapy stones retain heat for a long time, making them even more useful as relaxation or treatment tools. Hot therapy stone are typically basalt because of their heat-retaining properties and natural smoothness. (Cold stone thereapy is also performed, but marble stones are used instead of basalt.)

Where are therapy stones applied?
While warm stones can be used on many areas of the body, the most common use today is along the spine.  The patient lies on their stomach, arms crossed under their head or down by their sides, a cloth is placed over the bare skin to prevent direct contact, then a row of warm or hot therapy stones are placed gently along the spine.

What do the stones do besides warm?
Although the warm sensation of therapy stones is pleasant, there is more to this practice than simply warming the back. Warm stones are believed to aid in the movement of blocked chi (energy) along the spinal column and up through the head, thus improving health and daily function in a variety of areas from digestion to spiritual growth.

On a more physiological level, the warm stones increase blood flow around the spinal column, which is good for the health of the spine and surrounding nerve bundles. This is also the reason why it’s effective in reducing acute or chronic back pain, one of the most common pain complaints of Americans as they age.

Hot therapy stones also relieve muscle tension and help a patient to deeply relax before or after after a full massage.

Will any stones do?
Unfortunately, you can’t just run out into your backyard and gather a handful of rocks for this type of therapy.  The right stones need to be smooth and made of a uniform material.  The rocks in your yard could be sharp or rough.  And if there is any metal or other reflective elements in the rocks you gather, warming them could leave hot spots and lead to burns. That's why basalt stones selected by a professional are the only safe choice.

It’s best to purchase your stones from a reliable source to ensure that they are the right size, weight and shape, as well as uniform in their composition.

Do it yourself

While it’s probably a good idea to experience hot stone therapy with a professional, you can have some of the same benefits at home. Start with an “official” set of stones and follow the directions for heating them. Do not attempt to warm the stones in a frying pan, oven or other device not designed for therapy stone warming.

The stones will hold their heat for awhile, so resist the tendency to overheat them – a nasty burn is not the relaxing experience you’re looking for!

Set the mood with soft music and dim lights.  Or lie on a beach or other natural setting.  Just select a location where you can relax and your entire back can be exposed. Hot therapy stones do not work through clothing.

Work with a partner, with one of you stretched out face down.  Gently, place the stones in a straight line alone the spine, paying attention to the temperature of the stones and the patient’s reaction.  If they say the stones are too hot, remove them and let them cool at bit before trying again.

Remember, it’s all about comfort, healing and relaxation. And discovering once again the ancient practice of hot therapy stones.  

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