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Rock On

Have you ever picked up a stone smoothed by water and time?

Without realizing it, you probably chose it for the texture or the shape, or simply how it fit into the palm of your hand. Throughout recorded history people have selectively chosen stones for their healing and therapeutic properties. Today that tradition continues in the practice of stone massage, a gentle art that helps balance mind and body. While there are almost as many variations to stone use as there are massage therapists, stones are generally applied in either a warm or a cold state, allowing the body to relax at its deepest level. Hot rocks "We concentrate on using the stones solely for their therapeutic value, as in a deep tissue massage," said Canyon Ranch Corporate Spa Treatment Director Diane Trieste. "The therapist is constantly analyzing and evaluating the temperature and positioning of the stones to ensure an optimal experience for the guest." Originally pioneered in the Southwest, stone massage is often complemented with essential oils and used with light Swedish-style relaxation strokes, which promote meditative qualities such as quiet, calm and balance. The most sought-after stones for massage are non-porous, such as marble and basalt - which are smooth to the touch, can be easily cleaned and do not absorb oils. Massage therapists often select their healing stones with specific sculptural shapes that fit ideally into their hands. Stones are also selected according to shape for particular body placements, such as a cylindrical stone for the neck or an oval stone for the palm. Healing properties "Stones have historically been used as tools and that is no different today. Some therapists have personal stones they have accumulated in their travels, others purchase them from places that sell stones specifically for the purpose of massage," Trieste said. "At Canyon Ranch, we pride ourselves on having stones that properly fit the palm of the therapist - because during a massage, the stone is used as an extension of the hand." Massage therapists will sometimes add gemstones as part of their massage or incorporate their knowledge of geomagnetism, geology and thermo-therapy. Others may seek semi-magnetized stones in the belief they possess additional healing properties. Choosing and using stones Professional licensed massage therapists doing stone massages require additional training - including education about physiological effects, sensory implications, optimal techniques, safety and hygiene. Trieste said only trained therapists can use warm stones for massage properly and without injury; however, anyone can use stones effectively as an ice-pack substitute. Here###s how: Cool it down. Begin by filling a bowl with ice and water. Place the stone in the bowl for a minimum of 10 minutes. Remove the stone, dry it off, and place it on the area in need of icing. This use is optimum when placed under the arches of tired feet or in the palm of the hand. Take a test drive. Stones come in all shapes, sizes and weights. If you select a stone you think might work, try it out. If it is not right, pick another. Some experts say the stones choose you rather than vice versa. Choose wisely. Stones with sharp edges and crevices can physically damage the skin. Porous stones can scratch your skin, and are difficult to clean because they absorb oils. When searching for stones, look where there is water such as the ocean, lakes and streams. Think smooth. Smooth, jet-black basalt and white marble stones are some of the most sought-after due to their solid texture and heat/cold retention. Be careful. Searching for stones can be hazardous. All sorts of creatures make their homes beneath rocks including spiders, scorpions and snakes. Also, choosing too large a stone may cause muscle strain during lifting. Know the law. In some places, such as national parks, removing rocks and other materials can lead to hefty fines. Be sure you know the law before you keep a stone. Copyright Canyon Ranch. For more information, go to