Lomilomi is an ancient Hawaiian restorative healing system, one component of which is the art of compassionate touch.
Lomilomi goes far beyond massage, however; it also reflects the connection we have with the land (‘aina), the spirit guides or ancestors (‘aumakua) and the breath of life (aloha).
Lomilomi, sometimes called Hawaiian massage, is beneficial for many ailments and to increase spiritual energy and personal power (mana). The nurturing strokes are relaxing; however, one soon learns this work is therapeutic on all levels.
Lomilomi kumu (master) Brenda Ignacio of Oahu, Hawaii, describes lomilomi as being a distinctly Hawaiian healing art form that is passed down through the generations by master practitioners. She says the basis of this spiritual work is the “embodiment of reverence of life, wisdom, knowledge and compassion.”
Lomilomi is now popular throughout the world. We can find versions of lomilomi offered in private practices and spa settings; yet, some lomilomi sessions practiced today are quite diluted from the traditional methods, due to constraints created by one’s work environment or abbreviated trainings.
Many Hawaiian elders have expressed to me that the Western version of lomilomi does not fully represent the traditional styles in its true wholeness and spiritual context. They feel that often these versions have become more “New Age” than Hawaiian.
The purpose of this article is to describe the traditional aspects of lomilomi as taught by generations of Hawaiian practitioners.
Lomilomi includes many techniques, some of which are similar to what we learn in Swedish massage, while others are similar to Asian bodywork techniques. (Watch the video, “What Lomi Fusion is All About.”)
The strokes are done with the hands and forearms and are often long and sweeping, much like long, rolling waves traveling along the body.
The foundation of lomilomi in many lineages includes the practice of a martial art, lua, which builds strength, focus, endurance and discipline. Traditional lomilomi sometimes also includes joint adjustments, although to practice that aspect of the work would require licensing as a chiropractor.
Lomilomi also includes range-of-motion work, deep-tissue techniques and, most importantly, the full presence of loving touch. Every cell is blessed to create balance (lokahi). The nervous system is encouraged to slow down, thereby creating the space for techniques to be received rather than pushing through a blockage in the muscle tissue.
Creating movement in the spine is a primary focus of lomilomi. One might even experience unwinding similar to that which occurs in myofascial release.
Lomilomi massage on the abdomen is always emphasized in traditional teachings, in order to help the elimination process and improve the energetic function of the organs. Lomilomi may also include a detoxification program and the use of herbal remedies prior to the actual bodywork.
As Nancy Kahalewai, author of Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Big Island Massage, says, massage might not be done at all; rather, the lomilomi practitioner might ask the client to return for massage after a condition has subsided.
Beyond Hawaiian Massage
Aunty Margaret Machado (1916–2009), the first native Hawaiian to receive her massage license, defined lomilomi as “the loving touch, a connection of heart, hands and soul with the source of all life.”
(The terms “aunty” and “uncle” are used to show respect for Hawaiian elders.) Aunty Margaret wanted to share the loving touch of God with others. All traditional lomilomi practitioners humbly create sacred space through the power of prayer, or pule, and intention, and each lomilomi session begins with prayer.
Aunty Angeline, who lives on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, describes lomilomi as “open heart surgery.” This is an interesting description of a healing art that encourages the practitioner to bring divine love to the receiver through the healing powers of intention while creating the sacred space for receiving.
“All things Hawaiian are sacred,” adds Aunty Angeline’s son, kumu Michael Locey, also of Kauai. He emphasizes that what is real to Hawaiians includes the air we breathe being a conductor of the source of life force. He says one must connect to the fullest extent possible and breathe the air of Hawaii, sharing the breath of the elders, before one can say the aloha spirit is within them.
The reverence and respect passed on through the Hawaiian lineage from the elders is something one cannot learn just through a technique-based massage course. It is felt and received from the heart with the elders’ blessings.
When I recall my first lomilomi experience, I remember it as transcending time and space. The practitioner provided a safe and healing environment where the energy felt magical, mystical and divine. Intrigued by this intense present of spirit, I was led to further explore this ancient healing method that provided a sense of the sacred connection with our creator.
“Lomilomi is our spirit having a human experience,” says lomilomi kumu Harry Uhane Jim, who is originally from Kauai and now resides in New York, New York. He describes it as a “holy experience of gratitude when we connect to the echo of our ancestors and receive their grace.”
He said he feels this is the vibration one must manifest that distinctly defines the current of the sacred space, or temple, one creates for lomilomi.
“Lomilomi happened in a particular place, with pule, sounds, smells and an atmosphere that evoked healing before the massage ever began,” says Makana Risser Chai, author of Na Mo’olelo Lomilomi: The Traditions of Hawaiian Massage and Healing. “Imagine how you would feel if you found yourself in this place.”
Beyond the techniques and graceful movements, a practitioner must experience this depth of collective, sacred consciousness. All the Hawaiian elders I spoke with for this article emphasized the importance of establishing a connection with the sacred prior to a lomilomi session. I asked kumu Brenda to explain how a practitioner creates this sacred connection.
“It begins with pure intention in every session,” she says. “This starts with pule. Our emotional inner space must be clear, as well as our physical space, [and] we ask permission at a soul level for imparting the trusted touch to come [through us] as a vessel, not personally.”
There is no question, she says, “living lomi means trusting, loving unconditionally and learning how to forgive and let things go. Only in this way can we teach and assist others to heal and spread this much-needed precious cycle in our world.”
From his home on the Big Island, kahu Dane Silva says, “Ho’omae’mae, a protocol for creating a special place, includes clearing out any discordant elements that affect the energy flow of giver or receiver. Nature amplifies the natural energy.” Kahu refers to someone in training to be a Hawaiian shaman, or kahuna.
The practice of conflict resolution, or ho’oponopono, also clears the energy, while chants and intention set the vibration, says kumu Michael. Pono is the greatest aspiration to connect to the source of life, he says, and the lomilomi practitioner works to achieve this balance.
If you are interested in studying lomilomi, I suggest you prepare yourself for a lifestyle change and a spiritual commitment. Remember, lomilomi is not just Hawaiian massage. Many students will take classes several times to gain a deeper sense of this healing work.
In my more-than-30-year career in the healing arts, I have studied various styles of lomilomi with many Hawaiian elders, with my original training in temple style taught by the lineage of kahu Abraham Kawa’i. I have continued to learn from many kumus and mentors of different families.
If one is called to follow and study the sacred Hawaiian healing arts, he will embark upon a journey that will increase his awareness of self. He will learn more than a style or technique; he will discover who he is from the fullest sense of his soul journey. The healing touch he provides to another will be intuitive and guided by the contract between spirit and the recipient.
Lomilomi continues to spread and heal our planet by blessing each recipient with the spirit of aloha. We can clearly see that merely learning a technique is not the avenue to this sacred healing work. One must truly learn and live the ways of the indigenous ones and connect on the deepest levels with spirit.
Through lomilomi, “we transfer mana and spiritual power,” explains kahu Dane. “Hawaiian healing is for everyone. If we use it daily for ourselves and others, we will live long and prosper spiritually.”
In humble gratitude to all the Hawaiian elders and mentors who continue to open my heart, may the spirit of this sacred work continue to be respected across the nations and bring loving touch to those ready for healing.
About the Author
Gloria Coppola has been working in the healing arts for more than 30 years. Her passion for learning and teaching massage can be seen through her hands and her heart. She is the former owner of a massage school and is currently a continuing education provider and lifestyle consultant who leads retreats.
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