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In the town house of a little winding street close to the sea in the Old town of Antibes the laying on of rocks begins. I have come for an hour’s massage with hot and cold stones that promise to undo the knots of ages in my body – the clumps of taut muscle formed by years of computer use and an inconvenient habit of holding tension in my shoulders.
I don’t expect it to be more than a vaguely pleasant experience.
The therapist is Natalie Dalonis, an Australian who arrived in the South of France 10 years ago after training in Lithos therapy, as the stone treatment is called, in her native Brisbane. Natalie, 41, describes the rocks she will use as “hand carved marble sculptures” all coming in different shapes and sizes to mould themselves to the body’s needs.She has 40 heated rocks and 80 cold ones. “The chilled ones act like ice,” says Natalie, “they take away inflammation.”
So this is to be a hot and cold pack … but one that is made of stone.
The leaflet she gives me explaining the treatment says that the therapy will encourage a release of endorphins and that the therapy helps to increase the elasticity of collagen fibres in tendons, thus increasing flexibility.
She talks me through how the hand crafted, highly polished stones she will use can begin the healing process. And after application of the stones she will then use her hands for deep tissue massage.
I do not expect to switch off, to abandon my cares. But from the first stone she casts, I am a convert. I sink into the massage bed and let the pain in my right shoulder and wrist (my fighting arm) slip away.
Later, after my massage which she later tells me, has been mainly stones and very little massaging by her hands because my tissues are not ready for that, my brain returns to its usual sceptical mode, evaluating and judging my experience. I reflect that massages in the past have not been so effective and effortless at taking away the pain. And I think it is to do with the stones … that they do their work without me feeling the effort. During other massages I have always been aware of the effort of the therapist, and even on occasions have heard them talk of how massaging is hard for them physically – masseurs get RSI too – and so the consciousness of how the therapist may be striving and suffering has got in the way of my healing.
You cannot harm a stone and it cannot expect anything from you. And so my rough edges are worn down by the smoothness of these little stone sculptures.
Anne Horner is a freelance journalist who lives in London and has worked as a sub-editor on The Times's Body&Soul section over the past five years