Lava Shell massage is a relatively new form of heated massage. Some spas are adopting it because the preparation and clean-up is so much easier than hot stone massage. But what it's like for the spa-goer? Is it as good as hot stone? Better? Or just different? I had a chance to find out at The Spa at Four Seasons Resort Aviara, 30 minutes north of San Diego.
Four Lava Shells On A Tray
The Spa at Four Seasons Resort Aviara was a wonderful place to get a Lava Shell massage. It's a beautiful spa with five-star touches, like the locker room attendant holding a tray with water and a cool washcloth when I walked in. I waited by the fireplace in a formal lounge, with fireplace and a ceiling that showed the evening sky. My therapist Kristy picked me up right on time.
The Lava Shells were sitting on a pretty tray with glass pebbles when I walked in, just one way the the Spa at Four Seasons Resort Aviara stimulates the senses.
Like all good massage therapists, Kristy asked me what was going on with my body. I had had a lot of massage in the previous two days, including a deep tissue massage and my body just needed to relax and rest. The Lava Shell massage would be perfect, she said, warming and soothing the muscles without a lot of invasive pressure.
What Happens During a Lava Shell Massage?
I started face down and the therapist lightly massaged my body, using the long traditional strokes of Swedish massage while holding the shells. The shells are real Tiger Clam shells from the Philippines, a staple of the local diet. The heat comes from inside, due to a sachet of minerals, dried sea kelp, and algae that is mixed with salt water and essential oils. The combination causes a chemical reaction and heat that lasts one to two hours.
What I really liked was how the clam shell fit into the palm of her hand, so I could feel both the heat of the clam shell and the touch of her fingertips. They are also highly polished, so they glided easily over my skin and felt very nice.
I also liked the fact that the Lava Shells held their heat longer than stone, so she didn't have to interrupt the massage to switch out the stones as often.
I had two small complaints. The Lava Shells were a little too hot when they first touched my skin, but cooled quickly. The shells get hot the more they sit, and cool off when they're moved, and I'm told it can be a little tricky to control the temperature. I'm also sensitive to noise and noticed a hissing sound that was slightly distracting. It turned out that it was the two Lava Shells waiting to be used.
How Does Lava Shell Compare To Hot Stone?
The massage include a cleansing of the feet with a grainy exfoliator wiped away with hot steamed towels, which felt wonderful! The Lava Shell Massage was very relaxing and perfect for me after the deep tissue work of the previous day. It helped that I had it at The Spa at Four Seasons Resort Aviara, which included touches like putting flowers below the face cradle. And after the treatment Kristy offered me a tray with a water, a cool washcloth, and strawberries.
So how does the Lava Shell massage compare with hot stone massage? The Lava shell was very soothing and gentle. It's a good choice if you like heat and just want to relax. I wouldn't get it if I had specific muscle aches and pains that wanted the therapist to address.
In my opinion, hot stone has the potential to be more deeply therapeutic than Lava Shells. Most therapists use the stones to warm up the muscles, then get into them more deeply with their hands. They also place the stones -- on your belly, in the palms of your hands, even between your toes. I love hot stone massage when it's done well, but it is highly dependent on the therapist's technique. Some therapists just grind away at you with the stones, and very little sensitivity.
Lava Shells are probably easier to master because they're smaller and the therapist is just gently gliding them over your body. So get hot stones if you want more of a deep tissue massage. Try Lava Shells if you want to relax.