Choosing good stones requires a little knowledge and is not always easy as there are some myths that seem to be so common that they are even repeated by some teachers of hot stone massage. We set out the basics in an easy to follow format.
Do My Stones Have to Be Basalt? No. But basalt is the most widely chosen because it has very good heat retention, is widely available, and its texture has a degree of "grippiness" so that the stones "grip" the connective tissue rather than just sliding over it.
Other stones, such as marble, soapstone and quartzite have equal or superior heat retention to basalt, and many stones have good heat retention that is not far off the level of basalt. There is no need to reject a stone just because its not basalt. Marble, for example, has slightly better heat retention than basalt but is much smoother, making it less suitable for most working stone uses and may be more prone to slipping off some parts of the body when used as a placement stone. However, it works very well as a hot stone in the right place.
Should My Basalt Stones Be Black? This seems to be a very widely spread myth. All basalt turns black after it is oiled, but most of the basalt that is suitable for hot stone massage is grey.
Most black basalt is too grainy for use in hot stone massage (black basalt that isn't too grainy does exist, but is rare). This myth that stones should be black has led some manufacturer's to use chemical waxes to turn the stones black. If you see black basalt stones for sale you should ask if they have been photographed after oiling or if they are naturally black. Make it clear that you don't want stones that have been waxed or are treated with a chemical coating (see paragraph below for more on chemical coatings).
Should My Basalt Stones Be Super Smooth or Shiny? Smooth - yes and no. Shiny - absolutely not.
Smoothness - Shaped stones are smoothed in tumblers, while natural stones are smoothed by the tumbling action of ocean waves or rivers, but with most basalt the surface will have some texture. As hot stone educator Karyn Chabot points out in an article in Massage & Bodywork Magazine (read full article here) stones have silky and velvety textures: "Some stones have a slightly more velvet surface with some non-abrasive edges, while others are silky smooth and perfectly round. It's like the distinction between velvet and silk. The textured, velvet surfaces are perfect for deep massage as they grip the connective tissue. Their high skin-gripping factor means they don't slip off. The silky stones tend to slide with greater ease, making them ideal for gliding on sensitive areas of the face. The textured stones slightly exfoliate the skin, gently increasing kinesthetic awareness, bringing the client back into their skin, so to say. The textured stones are more porous by nature, giving them a sponge-like action. This sponge action soaks up energetic debris, negativity and bacteria. As a result, textured stones need more recharging and cleaning than silky ones. Silky stones are less porous and wonderful for a light, refreshing massage. Their radiance variable is low, which means the rate in which they give off heat is fast, intense and sometimes unpredictable - especially if they are basalt. Consequently, silky stones can be too hot and slippery to place directly on the skin."
Shiny - Basalt cannot be brought to a natural shine though polishing. If the stones are shiny there are 2 possible reasons. The most likely is that they have been treated with a chemical coating. This is the same coating that is used on basalt kitchen worktops. The other is that they are not basalt.
Those selling the coated stones claim that they are hand polished for days. Even if this were possible the cost of hand polishing for days would make the stones unbelievably expensive (which they are not, thus exposing the lie).
In the interest of accuracy we should point out that there is now a process, developed by a New Zealand company, for polishing basalt floors to a high sheen. However, there is no equipment (at this time) that can apply that process to massage stones.
Cold Stones. Marble is the most widely used stone for cold stones. Marble always feels colder to the toucher than other stones. Although marble is the most widely used stone for cold stone treatment you can use any stone, including basalt.
Natural or Shaped? This is your choice. Natural stones have a natural beauty. Many teachers, and I tend to agree, say that natural stones are energetically different from stones that have been shaped. Shaped stones have the advantage of flat surfaces and uniformity of size and, outside of the US and Canada (which have local sources of natural basalt stones) are often cheaper (it can take a long time to find and sort suitable natural stones). Natural stones have the advantage of being energetically pure and are more beautiful. With marble stones, shaped is the only choice as natural marble pebbles are never smooth.
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