HEALTH & FITNESS - Hot rocks roll smoothly into use in massage therapy

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It's hard to imagine that having a massage therapist use stones during a session would even be considered relaxing. Usually, stones are rough and unpleasant to the touch, so how in the world is a person supposed to enjoy a "hot stone massage" where heated stones are actually used on the skin?

Well, in reality, the heat actually makes the massage more relaxing. Just think about how you feel when you take a hot bath or when you use a heating pad to relieve your aches and pains. The heat is both deeply relaxing and helps tight muscles release, improves circulation and calms the nervous system.

Hot stone massage is a specialty massage that uses smooth, heated stones. They are often basalt, a black volcanic rock, that absorbs and retains heat well, but river rocks can also be used because they are smooth from being in the water for so long.

Thermal transmission in the warm stones brings about local and total changes in the body, and influences the energy centers for body and mind balancing. The use of the heated stones along with Swedish massage techniques helps produce energy that assists with and directs vital flow to areas of blockage.

Some massage therapists place stones on meridian points that are thought to be energy centers of the body to rebalance the body and mind while others use them as "tools" for a deeper tissue massage.

In the U.S., hot stone massage is not as popular as traditional therapy, mainly because a lot of people simply don't know about it. And even if they did, it might be difficult to find a massage therapist who knows how to do the technique properly.

However, this does not mean that the hot stone massage is worthless. In fact, there is actually a lot of history behind this technique, especially in ancient Native American culture. Hot rock massages were used during sweat lodge ceremonies.

As the people were sweating out their physical and spiritual impurities, hot rocks were used for added relaxation. They worked so effectively, they became known as "Grandfather Stones." In Hawaii, stone massages were used for similar purposes but in a different form. Hawaiians had access to "Pohaku", or lava stones. They knew that these stones retained heat longer than beach stones and since most massages were done outside, there was no need for linens as the stones provided the heat.

As far as the U.S., the hot stone massages came into being around 1993, popularized by massage therapist Mary Hannigan, who developed a new technique called the "LaStone Therapy."

A general idea of what to expect is this: Before you arrive, the massage therapist sanitizes the stones and heats them in 118- to 130-degree water (in a crockpot or roaster). The therapist warms up the body with a traditional relaxation massage using oils or creams to make the stones slide across the body and then massages you while holding the heated stones. As the stone cools, the therapist replaces it with another. The therapist might also leave heated stones on specific points along your spine, or in the palms of your hands to improve the flow of energy in your body.

A hot stone massage is more expensive than a basic Swedish massage because it requires more preparation and cleanup and usually runs longer. A typi-cal hot stone massage is $65 to $125, but can go higher.

People not only get hot stone massages for relaxation but for a variety of health conditions such as back pain, poor circulation, osteoarthritis and arthritis pain, stress, anxiety and tension, insomnia and depression.

There are contraindications and this technique is not recommended for certain people with the following conditions:

People with infectious skin disease, rash or open wounds.

Immediately after surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

People prone to blood clots.

And finally, pregnant women should check with their doctor first.

D. Shannon Smith, LMP, is a state-licensed massage therapist and is also nationally certified through Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals. She owns and operates "2 UnWind Massage Therapy" located within Many Waters Wellness Center at 800 Sprague Ave. She can be contacted through www.2UnWindMassage.com, Facebook, or at 509-956-8688.

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