From the moment he first took up the stones, Bruce Baltz fell into a natural rhythm, quickly learning how to use them in a massage. Eventually the stones would bring about profound changes, leading him to a spirituality that had been missing in his life.
Others, such as Melissa Hurt, who works as a makeup artist in Washington, D.C., found that the physical changes that took place during the massage were "phenomenal." During the hour and a half she spent on the massage table, Hurt experienced "a ballet of colors" in her mind.
No one it seems is lukewarm about LaStone Therapy, a new kind of massage that uses smooth hot and cold stones to relax muscles and release tension. LaStone is sweeping spas throughout the United States and overseas, where everyone is singing its praises and some are exploring its spiritual side.
Thermotherapy - the application of heat - relieves sore muscles, helping to alleviate the stiffness brought on by too many hours at a desk and the stress of everyday life. LaStone therapy, which has its origins in Native American culture, can be a spiritual experience for those seeking a connection linking body, mind and soul in their daily lives, according to company literature.
Its creator, Mary Hannigan, says that the idea for LaStone first came to her on Aug. 19, 1993, when a voice said to her: "Use the stones." At the time, she was sitting in a sauna with her niece. The voice became so insistent that Hannigan finally picked up two stones and massaged her niece's back with them.
That moment launched an industry based in Hannigan's hometown of Tucson, Ariz., and a movement that its followers say draws energy and spiritual strength from the stones.
For Hannigan, the stones are a link to Mother Earth. Contact with the stones connects an adult with nature, reminding him or her of what it was like as a child to roll down a hill and lay in cool grass on a hot summer day, "For others the spiritual connection can be on much deeper levels, taking you to places deep within your being for healing emotional distress and anger," she says.
LaStone at the Spa
During a LaStone treatment, the therapist places hot and cold stones on different parts of the body and massages to open the chakras or energy channels. During the more intense, deep-tissue massage, the therapist uses the stones and techniques of Swedish massage.
Baltz, who is with the Oasis Day Spa in Manhattan, experienced an immediate connection with the stones. After taking his first LaStone workshop in 1998, Baltz started reading about Native American spirituality. "Most indigenous people have worked with stones," says Baltz, who developed the deep-tissue workshop for LaStone. "I believe the stones have their own energy. I believe they have a lot to teach us."
Many therapists collect their own stones. Some come from riverbeds; others are formed from white marble. Hannigan uses 54 hot stones, 18 frozen stones and one at room temperature in each massage. LaStone sells stones, but only to therapists who are registered to take a training workshop.
At Spa du Monde in Washington, where Hurt works, the stones are kept in the front window where they are warmed by the sun. Prior to a massage, they are heated further in hot water. LaStone therapy is available in almost all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, said a LaStone spokesperson. Trained LaStone therapists also offer massages in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Austria, England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Spain. Treatments last from an hour to an hour and a half, and prices range from $60 to $180 depending on the extent of the massage.
According to Hannigan, many of her clients are in a deep meditative state by the end of a session. "My life is very different now, not just professionally but personally too," says Baltz. "In our culture, we tend to think of life as linear, that everything has a beginning and an end. Now I see that my spiritual life and my work are a circle."