Hot stone massage is a relatively new massage technique, invented in the early 1990s by Mary Hannigan, a resident of Tucson, Arizona. It uses the basic principles and movements of classic Swedish massage, but utilizes hot rocks to help relax the muscles and get a deep massage with less direct pressure being applied.
Swedish massage is characterized by, among other things, very long strokes, with deep pressure, and is intended to help with overall circulation. Hot stone massage makes use of these same long strokes, but instead of using their hands, the practitioner holds specially heated rocks to transfer heat to the recipient.
The rocks used in the massage are usually round, soft basalt river rocks, heated to between 120 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit (50-65C). The size of these rocks may vary, from being small pebbles to larger, weighty rocks. The practitioner may make active use of the rocks in their massage, switching them out as they become cold. They may also set the rocks on the recipient’s body, allowing the heat to work more deeply, and the pressure to be sustained and direct. Rocks are often used this way along the spine, or on the palms of the hands.
Hot stone massage may also make use of cold stones — making the name something of a misnomer. This is usually done if there is severe inflammation in muscles. In this case, the stones used are usually marble, as they hold the cold well. Often hot and cold stones will be used together, to stimulate the flow of lymph and moving waste through the body at an increased rate. Using this technique, the hot stones make the blood vessels expand, pushing the blood along, while the cold stones make them contract, helping to draw the blood, as well as stimulating the immune system.
Hot stone massage is ideal for people who need the deep work of a traditional Swedish massage, but dislike the strong pressure used. This type of massage can have the same effect on the muscles, relaxing them and stimulating blood flow, while still having a very light touch. Skilled practitioners need very little pressure to have a profound impact — be wary of unskilled practitioners who may feel the need to use traditionally hard Swedish techniques.
Relative to other forms of massage, hot stone massage tends to be somewhat more expensive. Obviously the preparation involved is greater than with a traditional Swedish technique — stones must be on hand, and must be heated in preparation for the massage. The training is also less available than traditional Swedish massage, so there is somewhat more of a demand for it. A hot stone massage can cost anywhere between 50 US Dollars (USD) and 200 USD for an hour to an hour and a half session.