The Breath In The Stone: The Benefits of Stone Bodywork
"Stones are alive, but they are in a sweet coma." — Dr. Vasant Lad
Some of the most progressive healers in the world have begun using stones in their massage work — not to replace the healing hand, but as an adjunct to traditional massage, facials and healing treatments of all kinds. Stone massage is an ancient, enduring form of therapeutic bodywork using heated and cooled stones as extensions of the hand. It is a harmonious collaboration of healing energies between the client, the therapist, the divine and the stones. Be mindful that the beauty of this therapy, and all therapies, is manifested by the transference of deep compassion and trust between the therapist and the client. This compassion becomes imprinted within the matrix of each stone.
Pointed, textured stones are used as tools for deep sports massage. Round, flat, warm stones are laid as balancing agents upon specific energetic points along the body known as chakras. Smooth, velvety stones are heated in water, then glided with firm pressure along oiled, sore muscles. Cooled white quartzite stones refresh the face (especially after waxing), refine the pores and soothe inflamed skin. For some people stone therapy can bring deep tissue release and alignment in body, mind and spirit. For others, it means gently allowing the heat of the stones to soften tension and melt worries away. The experience of an eloquent, deep, structurally restorative and spiritually uplifting stone massage is unsurpassed in its transformational potential. The key is in finding a skilled stone therapist who incorporates highly textured and charged stones at a comfortable room temperature with traditional hand and elbow massage. Add in just enough patience and healing intention and the stage is set for bodywork bliss.
Most people who have experienced good stone massage work will typically use the adjective “grounded” somewhere in the description of how they felt as the stones were glided and laid upon their body. Skilled stone therapists are taught to work with the earth energy, which follows the downward flow in the body called apana vayu, a Sanskrit term. The purpose of stone massage is to anchor the root (muladhara) chakra and the second (svadhisthana) chakra of the body. These chakras help our bodies stay connected to the Earth. Many people in our technological society feel disconnected, rushed, high on coffee, over-stimulated and stressed out. The quietude we are in search of comes from within. The warmth, energy and texture of the stones help distract us from our busy, scattered minds, imparting a quiet focus. This is especially true if you use sea stones. Sea stones soothe the body on all levels, similar to the waves of an ocean. When a stone therapist works with the downward flow in the body and anchors the lower chakras, the client experiences an oasis which restores wholeness and balance in a world where people eat their lunch while they are driving and read their email while listening to their voicemail.
The Shakti Factor in the Stones
In the Vedic tradition, Shakti can be described as the feminine vibration of prana in the cosmos. It is the counterpart to Shiva, the vibration of the male aspect. Prana, in Oriental medicine refers to “ki” or “chi” — life force. It is also a Sanskrit word meaning “before breath.” The Shakti factor in stones is literally the divine breath of the Mother within the stone. We know that atoms are made of swirling microcosms of energy, of life. Holding a stone is analogous to cradling a living stone galaxy within the palm of your hand! It is a microcosmic house of energy we can call divine, a true house of God. It tells us that life really matters since matter has life. In Latin, the word “matter” is cognate to mother (mater).
There are some things that greatly reduce the Shakti in the stone. Mechanically tumbled stones have less healing power than stones that have been naturally tumbled by ocean waves. Polishing a stone can be akin to sunburning human skin. It is a mechanical process that is weakening to the stone. When a stone is polished, the surface undergoes a sealing process, greatly reducing or even eliminating its frequency altogether. A stone’s chemistry, or the frequency at which it vibrates and its geometrical form will determine its healing potential.
SIX CONDITIONS THAT REDUCE THE SHAKTI FACTOR WITHIN STONES:
- Storing stones in plastic bags without thought or exposure to the elements.
- Harvesting stones without prayer, gratitude and reverence for Mother Earth.
- Mechanically tumbling or polishing stones.
- Overusing bacteria-ridden stones that have never been recharged.
- Using harsh chemicals on the stones.
- Using the stones without respect.
SEVEN CONDITIONS THAT INCREASE THE SHAKTI FACTOR WITHIN STONES:
- Instilling your stones with mantra, prayer or Reiki.
- Harvesting your stones according to the cycles of the moon with
reverence, gratitude and honor to Mother Earth.
- Storing your stones in sacred geometrical patterns or piling them in the form of Buddhist stuppas.
- Exposing your stones to the elements at least once a week for at least three days.
- Exposing your stones to an electrical storm. (Notice they subtly vibrate in your hand!)
- Cleaning your stones with gentle soap and recharging them.
- Using your stones for healing.
Stone Radiance Variable
Stone massage is a form of thermal hydrotherapy. If you integrate cool stones, then it’s a form of cryotherapy as well. When you alternate the temperatures, it’s called contrast hydrotherapy. This will expand and constrict the blood vessels, stimulating vascular gymnastics and supporting lymphatic drainage. Consequently, the skin will appear rosy and firm, pain and swelling will be reduced and vitality restored.
Stones radiate heat at various intensities. Clinical research describes the term stone radiance variable as the measured length and rate of time in which a stone gives off heat. Stones are rated in terms of high, medium and low radiance. Professor Don Hermes at the geology department of URI states, "New England sea stones can be classified as metamorphic, igneous or sedimentary. In Rhode Island, the stones are mostly igneous. These stones tend to give off heat at a slow, steady rate for an enduring period of time. They would be considered to have a high stone radiance variable."
Stones found along the inland rivers, near dormant volcanoes, tend to get hot very quickly, increasing the burn factor. The rate at which they give off heat is intense, accelerated and sometimes unpredictable. Basalt stones would be considered to have a low to medium radiance variable and these are most typically the stones available by mail order, over the Internet or used in popular spas.
Where to Find Healing Stones: Sacred Geology 101
People who wish to use stones for massage, should find them within close proximity to their homes, healing centers or spas, along beaches or riverbeds. New England beaches are blessed with an abundance of smooth and textured stones of all colors which are ideal for heated and cooled stone massage. Stones found along the coastlines reflect the kind of bedrock at their source (usually not too far away). Since the local bedrock may be quite diverse, the stones at the coast may also vary from one locale to another. Along the west Rhode Island coast for example, most of the stones are various granites and metamorphic gneisses derived from the nearby stones to the north.
Some granites contain small amounts of magnetite, which makes them slightly more magnetic. Magnet therapy is a highly effective way to re-align the electromagnetic field of the body, reduce pain and accelerate healing. Stones act like magnets on a subtle level, drawing out repressed emotion, deep sorrow and pain, and transforming them if the client is ready for transformation. They help re-organize the structure of the energetic human anatomy and assist in polarizing imbalances within the physical body. Nearly all minerals possess some magnetic character.
Darker colored stones tend to get hotter and stay hotter for longer periods of time. These have the most iron and the highest magnetic intensity. The grayish stones can get very hot too, but they don’t get as hot as the darker ones. The differences are very subtle. Be aware that using the hottest stones can also increase the potential to burn. The gray stones are very safe, predictable and easy to work with. Therefore, it is best to use a mixture of many different colors, shapes, textures and minerals.
SOME BENEFITS OF STONE BODYWORK
- Increases circulation and vitality
- Irons out tight muscles, softening the tissue with heat
- Sedates the central nervous system when the stones are laid upon the spinal column
- Improves the tone of visceral organs
- Aids in elimination by stimulating peristalsis
- Relieves sinus pressure
- Reduces inflammatory conditions with the use of cool stones
- Adds pranic energy to the session since stones are living, swirling microcosms of energy
- Grounds the body by reducing the wind (vata) element within the body.
- Increases kinesthetic awareness of the body by alternating textured and smooth stones
- Incorporates sound and vibration, i.e., clicking, tapping
- Residue of sea salt from sea stones purifies and balances the electromagnetic field
- Reduces cellulite dramatically when used with castor oil
- Gently exfoliates the skin, enhancing liver function
Personality Shapes the Stone
Stones are not just conductors of heat or magnetism; they are radiators of the vibration, disposition and personality of the therapist. The geological constituents within a stone are valuable pieces of information, but more importantly, the therapist behind the stone is what will determine the overall benefits of the massage. Both the therapist and the stones have distinguishing characteristics, and all of them should be carefully considered before you begin a stone massage.
Basalt stones are the residue of volcanic eruption, so their personality and energy is eruptive, stimulating and activating. Anyone searching for a new direction in life or in need of a change would do well with an active stroking basalt massage. This will also help alleviate stagnation on all levels.
The shape of a stone is something to consider as well. Herbalists know that the shape of an herb, bush or plant, can often resemble the part of the human body that it would have an affinity to heal. We can incorporate this principle into stone healing as well. Hence, a stone placed under the sacrum, would ideally resemble the shape of the sacrum bone. A stone placed on the heart would ideally have the shape of a heart. Stones placed along the erector spinae would ideally have the long shape of those muscles and so forth.
Many of the stones found in New England are round and flat. They simulate the feeling of an old fashioned flatiron smoothing over the surface of the muscles, covering a lot of space with one stroke. We can call them nature’s flatiron. They are very easy to grip and manipulate.
Several Ways To Recharge Your Stones
At the end of every week, your stones should be recharged and cleared. This can be done several ways. You may leave them outside for three days in the sun and rain. If your stones are from the sea, bring them to the shore and give them a quick bath or fill a bucket up with sea water to pour over them. You can also smudge the stones with frankincense or sage. Placing them on top of a large amethyst geode crystal cluster for three days will automatically clear your stones and crystals. According to Dr. Vasant Lad, world-renowned Ayurvedic authority, placing them in the freezer for three days will renew the stones. Arrange them in a Buddhist stuppa, which is piling them one on top of the other with a prayerful intention. Surround them with white light or use Reiki symbols directly on the stones once each day for three days. According to Ayurveda, soaking a crystal in milk for three days will remove negativity. Music and mantra will allow your stones to sleep sweetly in their comas.
Children, pregnant women and the elderly should be treated more gently and with less extreme temperatures in a stone massage. People with skin conditions such as eczema, rashes, acne and psoriasis should avoid the heat. People with numb skin due to skin graphing or neuropathy should be extra cautious. Anyone on medication that causes skin hypersensitivity, i.e., antibiotics, Accutane, should wait until they are off the medication. People who are extremely obese, perspire profusely, have a fever or swollen glands should avoid thermotherapy. People with heart conditions should avoid the extreme contrast between heated and cooled stones so as not to shock their delicate systems. People with varicose veins, open wounds or infected skin conditions should request that the therapist avoid these areas. People should not wear bulky jewelry during stone massage, as it interferes with the work of the stones.
If you have a ruptured, herniated or deteriorated disk, bony protuberances or osteoporosis, be sure the stone therapist doesn’t use heavy stones directly over your spine. Do not receive a micro-dermabrasion, waxing, glycolic acid peel or any other professional peel within one week of a heated stone facial. Your stone therapist should not put cold stones and crystals in your hands, as the hands are extensions of the heart. Cold temperatures constrict and repress emotions, shutting down the heart chakra. An exception to this guideline is people with high pitta conditions, since pitta represents the fire element in the Ayurvedic tradition. If you are in an angry mood, ask your stone therapist to turn the temperature of the heating unit down or do a traditional massage without heated stones. Using cool white quartzite stones on the face will help reduce anger.
If a stone slips off an area more than once, use your intuition as to why. It may be an indication that the stone doesn’t need to be on that body part. Stones have consciousness and awareness. Consider that a particular stone that has fallen or slipped off should be removed because it needs to be recharged or it should be placed on a different area of the body.
Karyn Chabot, D.Ay, MS, LMT, is a 1997 graduate from The Ayurvedic Institute, Universal Massage Therapeutics, has her bachelor's degree from Goddard College in Health & Wellness and her master's degree in Ayurveda. She is the founder of Sacred Stone Academy of Metaphysics and Ayurveda in Newport, RI. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 401-680-3934.