At the start of a hot stone therapy, smooth water-heated basalt stones are carefully applied to key points on the body. This direct heat relaxes the muscles, which means that the massage itself is more effective and intense than it would be otherwise. The size of the stones varies, according to which part of the body they're being used on.
The stones are coated in fragrant oil to increase your sense of relaxation and calm. When oil is smoothed gently onto the body, each stone in turn can be worked along by the therapist's hands. Most therapists will alternate the application of the warm stones with frozen or cooling marble ones, aimed at stimulating the nervous system.
What is hot stone therapy good for?
After a vigorous game of rugby, players will often sit in ice-baths to reduce muscle swelling; the less extreme among us have a hot bath! It is generally accepted that treatments of warmth and cold are beneficial, and help to soothe an aching body. What we often need to do is combine both hot and cold. There's a method behind the apparent madness of leaping from a toasty sauna into an icy pool - and hot stone therapy uses the same principle. The hot stones expand the blood vessels and the cold ones constrict them. The warm stones sedate the nervous system and the cooler stones gently wake it up again.
The combination of relaxing warmth and refreshing coolness is thought to encourage the body to detox and heal, increasing lymph flow and helping to flush out waste. The body becomes relaxed in a much shorter space of time, and the therapist can focus on a deep working of the tissues using both stone and hand strokes.
A good hot stone therapy should:
* boost your circulation
* release stored tension
* recharge your energy levels
* relax you.
Hot stone therapy is said to have health benefits for people with:
* muscular pain
* poor circulation
* rheumatic and arthritic conditions
* multiple sclerosis (MS)
* back pain
As with all spa therapies, you should never underestimate the feel-good factor. Hot stone massage will make you feel nurtured, pampered and special.
Before you go
You're in for a treat, so indulge in your day as much as you can. Arrive early so you have time enough to relax, absorb your surroundings and look forward to your therapy. You won't be able to wear much for this treatment, so check with the spa beforehand if you have any worries. It's usually fine to wear bikini bottoms or knickers during a massage and - worry not - your therapist will be highly skilled at preserving your modesty with strategically-placed towels.
The essential oils used in spa therapies will make you smell and feel beautiful, but they can be very hostile towards hairstyles. It's best to book hot stone treatments on a day when you won't have to rush out somewhere afterwards. Besides, you'll feel so relaxed and soothed after your treatment, jumping in the car and tackling the rush hour traffic might seem sacrilegious after a hard day's pampering.
It's not a good idea to eat a heavy meal or drink alcohol in the hours running up to your hot stone therapy.
Before your treatment begins, you will probably be asked about any medical conditions you have. It's important at this stage to share anything significant, as your therapist will take your medical history into account when choosing the right products and techniques for your body.
For similar reasons, it's also important to tell your therapist if you are, or think you might be, pregnant.
What to expect from a hot stone treatment
You'll be able to undress and lie down in private, while your therapist waits outside. When you're ready, she will place the warm, oiled stones on many different acupressure points around your body, perhaps even tiny ones between each of your toes. As you relax, you may start drifting off into a dreamy state and stop counting or noticing where the stones are being arranged.
Your therapist will then use a variety of strokes and techniques to massage you, working the stones and her hands over the kinks in your muscles. The massage may be quite strong, although you are unlikely to feel the intensity since your muscles will be relaxed by the stones. The therapist will probably alternate between the hot basalt stones and much colder, marble ones.
As your body sinks further into a state of relaxation, you may even stop noticing the extreme change in temperature. Your treatment is likely to last about an hour; plenty of time for melting away all your knots, aches and worries.
Don't be afraid to tell your therapist if the stones are too warm for you. You'll relax much more quickly and start enjoying that delicious feeling of total wellbeing.
You will probably feel deeply relaxed, blissed-out and meditative after your massage. Some people have reported closing their eyes and seeing bright colours. Enjoy the afterglow, float slowly back to the real world and re-hydrate your body by sipping plenty of water.
Different kinds of hot stone therapy
LaStone is a branded form of hot stone therapy and one you are likely to encounter in UK spas. But it is by no means the only stone treatment available. Nowadays, various treatments feature hot stones; they are sometimes described as "advanced" versions of their regular treatments in the promotional material. Hot stones also feature in more traditional massage treatments, such as Lomi Lomi.
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