A hot stone massage is one of those things I'd always wanted to try, purely on the basis that it just sounded so good - although I had no idea how they worked, beyond a loose, rather obvious notion that it somehow involved massage and the odd bit of warmed river bed.
And while both of those things are true, a good, hot stone massage for an hour or so is a revelation.
It's is like being run over ever so gently with a lightweight steamroller. It leaves you feeling simultaneously boneless and stretched out - and noticeably calm. I stood up afterwards feeling a little as though I was made of al dente spaghetti and convinced that my limbs were noticeably longer.
Variations of hot stone massage date back to ancient times, when it was used as a method of healing, but it was revived in recent times by an American therapist and was such a hit, it's spread all over the world.
Smooth basalt rocks are usually used, as the high iron content retains the heat for longer. They're submerged in water and warmed to the right temperature in a specifically designed heater.
Although a hot stone massage is an excellent way to de-stress and relax, or simply to warm up on a winter's day, it's still thought to have some health benefits, especially for those suffering muscular pain, poor circulation or insomnia.
The gentle application of the heated stones on key pressure points and the overall warming of the body are also thought to boost the immune system. Which makes right now, as the horrors of winter kick in, the perfect time to give it a try.
At the cocoon-like, Balinese influenced East Day Spa in Auckland, my therapist began with what seemed like a traditional relaxing massage. But then, starting with my back and neck, she firmly but gently began running the hot stones over my skin, switching for new, warm stones as each cooled down.
The process slowly and steadily continues over your arms and legs as well until you feel cold and your tired muscles simply surrender, one by one. Through the course of the massage, the East therapist also rested hot stones in the palms of my hands, on the soles of my feet and, when I turned on to my back, between my toes. It seemed like a random act, and for a moment I wondered if she had just had a few hot stones left over that she didn't know what to do with. But no, of course not. Silly me. After a few minutes, the warm, gentle weight of the stones travels along your limbs and leaves you with a fantastic feeling of relaxation and comfort.
As good as that was, the best part of the massage came as I flipped on to my back, and the therapist laid a line of hot rocks strategically on the table, so that as I lay back, each stressed kink in my spine was pushed out. Who would have though lying on a bed of hot rocks so could be darn comfy? Why does it not work that way on a stony beach in summer?
By the time the hour-long treat was over, I found myself clinging sadly to that one last pet rock in the palm of my hand, refusing to give it back, desperate for it not to be over.
East Day Spa, which has spas in Wellington and Auckland, offers a full range of massages and beauty therapies. A one-hour hot stone massage Stone Magic treatment costs $140. Visit www.eastdayspa.com
- Detours, HoS