Stone Massage and It’s Origins

You are laying down on a soft warm surface, eyes closed and mind floating. You are in a calm and serene environment. Envision glowing warm hands gliding over your muscles. Literally melting the tension from your body. Heat radiating down to the deeper levels of your muscular system.

That is a hot stone massage.  

Never had one? Well you should, they feel fantastic!

The addition of hot stones to a massage adds a deeply relaxing quality that brings the massage experience to a whole new level. The heat radiatiating into your body feels exquisite and melts away anxiety and stress with its calming effect.

A hot stone massage uses water-heated basalt stones that are smooth and polished. This is a deeply soothing and relaxing massage that creates sensations of comfort and warmth. The direct penetrating heat relaxes muscles, allowing your therapist to work with greater intensity and deeper relief without using deeper pressure.  Tight and sore areas soak up the deep warming sensation, melting the tension away.

The sedative-like feeling of hot stones floating over your body transport you to a completely different level of relaxation.  The sensation of the warmth from the stones, combined with the soothing massage, leaves you feeling tranquil and serene.

The use of heated stones for healing purposes is not a new idea. Cultures all over the world have utilized the practice of stone therapy or stone massage throughout history.

Some of the first recorded accounts of hot stones being used stated that the intention was to infuse heat from outside to inside of the body, which has a healing effect on the patient. Whether the healer used the hot rocks as tools along the muscles or placed them on top of an aching body part, heat played a crucial role in minimizing pain and releasing tension. All sorts of afflictions, have been treated by heated rocks for hundreds of years.

The most ancient account of hot stones being used to improve health and promote relaxation was in India. Called Ayurveda, they used to place hot stones on their bodies to relax and relieve pain. They would find smooth stones from local river beds, and used them, either hot or cold as a therapeutic massaging tool.

One of the first recorded historical accounts, the Chinese used heated stones more than 2,000 years ago as a means of improving the function of internal organs.  They would use shaped stones called Bian to treat disease, and would place stones on their stomachs to improve digestion and the function of internal organs. They would use the Bian Stones to prick, pierce and bleed different points on the body.  

There are also records of stones used in folklore and religious ceremonies in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Egypt. They would be used as healing tools, as well as worn as ornaments for health and protection.  And were also used for diagnosis and treatment of disease

Spanish healers called curanderas would use heated stones to treat menstrual pain and cold stones to slow bleeding after childbirth.

Greece and Rome utilized stone massage as well.  Stone massage treatments were combined with hot immersion baths in Roman bath houses.

Medicine shamans called Kahunas in Hawaii would wrap heated lava rocks in leaves and lay them directly on the body for pain relief and increased circulation. They would use leaves that had therapeutic properties, and make a poultice or heat pack when wrapped around the hot stone.

The Native Americans had many rituals involving the use of stones. The most common were used in sweat lodges or their version of a sauna. They utilized the heat produced by the stones to ease tense muscles and bring about whole-body relaxation. During ceremonies hot stones were heated using “the four elements – water, fire, air, and earth and then passed around to rub against areas of the body with ailments”

They would also rub hot stones on sore areas, and wrap them in cloth as a way to relieve abdominal cramping.

Each culture recognized the unique ability of a hot stone massage to ease tense muscles, heal soreness, and melt away stress.

There are references to the use of gems, crystals and other types of stones by many cultures throughout the history of healing.

The modality of Hot Stone Therapy used today was created by Mary Nelson.


She was a massage therapist, who was dealing with repetitive use injuries in the shoulders/wrists. While she was in the sauna with her niece, Mary picked up some of the hot stones and started massaging her niece with them.  She combined the stones with her massage and created a style of technique called LaStone Therapy.

Mary took most of her inspiration from Native American culture. But modern day stone therapy is really a blend of Chinese, Native American and Hawaiian healing principles.  Along with the many other cultures who somehow used heat and/or stones in their healing arts.

Hot stone therapy has evolved into full-body, tissue-specific work, but is used in many other modalities as well. Such as as hot stone facials, pedicures, and manicures. Some practitioners will incorporate hot stones into other Eastern wellness practices, like Reiki.  

There are many ways therapists can use hot stones in a treatment session. And as always each therapist may have a unique way of utilizing them.

The most widely recognized use has been termed “placement therapy.” This is when large stones are placed on the back to apply steady warmth and pressure, along the spine and the low back area. The stones are left on those energy pathways for anywhere from 15-25 minutes.

Some therapists like to use the stones as tools to massage the muscles with in place of their hands. Because the stones are so smooth and have been well lubricated, you won’t necessarily notice that your therapist isn’t using their hands if not for the difference in temperature.

Sometimes after using the stones to work into your muscles, they are then left in place to allow the residual heat to sink into your body

Tooling stones are about the size of your thumb, their purpose is to apply more pressure on a specific area to release knots and areas of tension.

Hot stone massage can also be thought of as energy work. Just like with massage, it can help calm and energize the body, the stones add a primal connection to nature to create a grounding experience.

The stones work with earth energy. It follows the downward flow in the body called apana vayu, a Sanskrit term. Stone massage tries to anchor our root and sacral chakras. These are the chakras that help us stay connected to the Earth. When those chakras are successfully anchored by the warmth and energy of the stones, your balance is restored and you feel grounded and centered.

There is also a type of stone massage that uses cold stones, usually made of marble.

Because marble is a soft stone and will quickly absorb the heat from your body, it’s ideal in the use of cold stone massage. Many times the use of cold stones is combined with hot stone massage in a technique called contrast therapy. Alternating between hot and cold stones can increase circulation more than just using one on its own.

There are some people who naturally run hotter, and would find cold stone therapy refreshing and invigorating.

Cold stone massage, whether it’s done with only cold stones or combined with hot stones, can help lower stress, improve circulation and soothe inflammation to address a number of issues.

One especially good use for cold stone therapy would be addressing migraines, or vascular headaches. The cold stones will cause vasoconstriction, (the narrowing of blood vessels). This has been known to help migraine sufferers.

Cold stone therapy also helps with sinus problems. The cold temperature of the stones alleviate nasal swelling and reduce sinus congestion.

There is a type of stone massage that uses Himalayan Salt Stone.

The salt stones are warmed and applied during a full-body massage just like with a regular stone massage. But the Himalayan salt provides added benefits compared to using basalt stones.

Himalayan salt massage stones produce negative ions, which may clean the air and create a deeper self of wellbeing by detoxifying and increasing the alkalinity of your body.

Just like with traditional hot stone massage, the salt stones are heated, so the relaxation affects go deep into the muscle and joints.

Unlike river stones and some other stone therapies, Himalayan salt has antimicrobial properties.

Salt has many benefits for your skin. With 84 minerals and trace elements, Himalayan salt benefits your body inside and out.

Your skin is the largest organ of the body and will absorb minerals, as well as toxins   The magnesium in the salt stones naturally helps relax your muscles and melt tension. The other minerals and trace elements are absorbed to alkalize and gently draw out toxins. It will also bring moisture to the upper layers of the skin, plumping and moisturizing, leaving the skin smooth.

Then there is gemstone massage.  

Minerals are important for replenishing, nourishing and protecting skin. Gemstone Massage are a rich resource of minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, silicon and manganese. These minerals can help reduce facial tension, improve skin tone, reduce inflammation and boost skin health. But for the most part gemstone massage tends to be more energy based. Different types of gemstones have different properties and can help with different things.

Black Obsidian has releasing properties and can help clear the buildup of negative energy. Angelite, soothes with calming vibrations to relieve tension. Garnet has a grounding effect that can help calm anxiety.

Rose quartz encourages an open heart and open mindedness, boosts empathy and the capacity of self love. Carnelian inspires the creative spirit.

Amethyst the ‘stone of meditation’ will expand your consciousness, promote sobriety and spiritual alertness, helps spiritually process experiences and perceptions. It brings lasting calm and inner peace and is used to treat muscle tension, headache, and stomach troubles.

Agate brings focus, protection and stability, promotes concentration and spiritual maturity and can be used to aid in detox, digestion, insomnia, connective tissue issues & skin problems.

When gemstones are used in massages, they can help balance your body and energy field to create stability.

“Stones are alive, but they are in a sweet coma.” Dr. Vasant Lad

Stones are a powerful tool to aid relaxation and reconnect with the Earth.  Healing Stones, crystal and semi-precious gemstones all have their own energies related to Earth and are very grounding.  

However you think about it, stone massage will transport you to a deep level of relaxation and serenity. It has the potential to be a meditative experience that will deepen the connection of your mind, body and spirit.


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