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What is Lomi Lomi?
Lomilomi, meaning "massage" in the Hawaiian language, is the word used today to describe Hawaiian massage, traditionally called lomi meaning "to rub, press, squeeze, massage; to work in and out, as the claws of a contented cat". Lomilomi is a holistic healing tradition beyond simple massage.
Lomilomi practitioners use the palms, forearms, fingers, knuckles, elbows, knees, feet, even sticks and stones. Lomilomi practices varied by family, ahupuaʻa (traditional region) and island.
Traditionally in ancient Hawaii lomilomi was practiced in four contexts:
1. As a healing practice of native healers -- kahuna lāʻau lapaʻau (healers) and kahuna hāhā (diagnosticians)
2. As a luxury and an aid to digestion, especially by the ruling chiefs (aliʻi)
3. As restorative massage within the family
4. By ʻōlohe lua (masters of the Hawaiian martial arts)
Although the term kahuna lomilomi is widely used in contemporary writings, traditionally the people who performed lomilomi were called ka poʻe lomilomi (the massage people) or kanaka lomi (massage person). A related term, kauka lomilomi, was coined in 1920 to describe osteopathic physicians. The word kauka is the Hawaiianized version of doctor.
Like all endeavors in old Hawaii, lomilomi was conducted with prayer and intention. Hawaiian kupuna (elder) Auntie Margaret Machado describes lomilomi as "praying" work. Emma Akana Olmstead, a kupuna of Hana, Maui, in the 1930s, said, "When a treatment is to be given, the one who gives the treatment first plucks the herbs to be used. He prays as he picks the herbs. No one should call him back or distract his attention, all should be as still as possible for they do not want the vibration broken. They knew the laws of vibration. They knew the power of the spoken word. They knew Nature. They gathered the vibration of the plentiful."
History of Lomilomi
The early Polynesian settlers brought their own form of massage and, like a canoe plant, it evolved to become something uniquely Hawaiian. It was practiced by everyone, from child to chief. As an indigenous practice that evolved over hundreds of years in isolated valleys throughout the island chain, there are many different "schools" of lomilomi with different approaches and techniques.
After American missionaries arrived in 1820 and converted many in the Kingdom of Hawaii to Christianity, traditional healing arts were scorned as heathen and primitive. Various laws prohibited "heathen" worship and any related Native Hawaiian healing practices. Lomilomi as part of medical practice went underground. But lomilomi as restorative massage remained popular not only among the Hawaiians, but among foreign residents and visitors as well. Charles Wilkes describes it being offered after his ascent of Mokuaweoweo in 1841 on the United States Exploring Expedition.
American writer Charles Nordhoff wrote about his experience with lomilomi massage in his 1875 book, Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands. For Robert Louis Stevenson it was "disagreeable", but English adventurer Isabella Bird found it delightful. Not only did foreigners receive lomilomi, they also gave it. According to the first Director of the Bishop Museum, writing in 1908, one of the most skilled practitioners was Sanford Dole, one of the leaders of the overthrow of the Kingdom.
Although the Legislature of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi banned curing through "superstitious methods" in 1886, massage was not subject to legislation until 1945. In 1947, the Board of Massage was established to regulate lomilomi and massage. The law required practitioners to pass a written test on anatomy, physiology and massage theory. Many renowned native healers were unable or unwilling to pass the test, and thus lomilomi as restorative massage was forced underground. In 2001, the Legislature passed Act 304, amending HRS section 453, allowing native practitioners to be certified by the Hawaiian medical board, Papa Ola Lōkahi, or by the various community health centers. This law is controversial among some native practitioners, but those who are certified can provide lomilomi without fear of prosecution under Hawaii state law.
Lomilomi is now a common and popular massage modality throughout the world, especially in Hawaii, Japan and Europe.
Many traditionally taught lomilomi practitioners find it virtually impossible to offer authentic lomilomi in a spa setting and are unwilling to work in most spas or massage offices. They prefer to treat selected clients quietly and privately, often in home settings. Lomilomi practitioners may also ask their clients to pray, meditate, change their diets, and engage in other self-help activities usually believed to lie outside the scope of massage in an effort to truly help the clients obtain optimal health.
Unlike traditional lomilomi kupuna (elder) recognized by the Hawaiian community who require students to study with them for years, some massage schools around the world purport to train therapists in lomilomi in a few hours. Some massage therapists may practice what they call lomilomi and incorporate techniques from other massage modalities during the session. While often pleasant, this style of massage is very different from authentic lomilomi.
Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage
by Tracey Lakainapali
Massage is one of the oldest and most powerful forms of healing. Lomi Lomi is one of the most profound forms of massage. So, what makes it so special, what is it, how does it differ from other massage, how does it "work"?
I"m often asked what Lomi Lomi means. The word Lomi Lomi simply means massage. What it is, is a unique healing massage derived from the ancient Polynesians and more specifically the master healers of Hawaii.
To understand the depth of Lomi Lomi massage, it helps to have an understanding of the Hawaiian philosophy called Huna, and how the philosophies of Huna relate to bodywork and healing.
A fundamental assumption of Huna is that everything seeks harmony and everything seeks love. So how does this relate to massage? Perhaps this can best be understood by one of the alternate names for Lomi Lomi, and that is "Loving Hands" massage. The reason for this is that it works gently yet deeply into the muscles with continuous, flowing strokes, totally nurturing the body and, enabling the recipient to relax, give in and simply be. So whilst technique is an important part of the massage and associated healing, much of the work is done by love, with the focus of the practitioner on the client being deep and complete, using loving hands and a loving heart.
This flowing with total energy, using the long continuous, flowing strokes, combined with the very loving touch, relaxes the entire being, assisting in a letting go of old beliefs, patterns and behaviours that cause limitations and which are stored in the cells of our body. People generally think of memory, beliefs, our "programming", as being stored in our head, in our brain. This is not the case, this memory and other programming is in fact stored in all the cells of our body.
The Hawaiians look at things in terms of energy flow, following the idea that an idea or belief can block energy flow as much as muscle tension can. Lomi Lomi helps release the blockages, whilst at the same time giving the energy new direction. Thus Lomi Lomi is not just a physical experience; it also facilitates healing on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels as well. The Hawaiians view all aspects of the body as one and believe that the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual are all part of the "whole" self - when healing is effected on one level, all levels are affected.
When harmony is lacking the effect is pain physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Illness is a state of tension, which leads to resistance which blocks energy movement. Lomi Lomi helps release this and therefore facilitates the road to healing. On the physical level, through Lomi Lomi stress and tension are relieved, blood and lymph flow assisted and the elimination of wastes and toxins stimulated.
So, what happens during a Lomi Lomi massage? How is it performed? A Lomi Lomi usually commences with a stillness between the practitioner and client, often with the practitioners hands gently resting on the clients back. In this stillness the practitioner will quietly say a blessing or prayer asking for whatever healing is needed to take place during the massage. Alternatively or as well, the client may be asked to set their intention for any healing they would like to receive. The masseuse then works very intuitively with the client. In this respect there is no set format or sequence for the massage and no two massages will ever be identical.
The massage is given in fluid, rhythmic motion using the forearms as well as the hands. Some people have described this as feeling like gentle waves moving over the body. Another feature is that different parts of the body may be massaged at the same time, for example one arm or hand may be working on a shoulder and the other hand may be working on the opposite hip. This assists the recipient in totally relaxing as it is impossible or at least extremely difficult for the brain to focus on the two different areas at once. By not working on areas in isolation a deep sense of balance and harmony is achieved. As I said earlier, whilst technique is important, the priority is loving the body, using intuition so the massage is "right" for the client. The client on the table is not viewed as someone to be fixed, but a being to be returned to harmony and balance. It is important to remember that the practitioner does not heal but is the facilitator for the healing.
Under body and full body strokes also help to free the energy, make the body soft, promoting free and abundant flow of life energy in the recipient. According to Huna philosophy, energy also gets blocked in the joints. Gentle stretches of the body and gentle rotations of the joints are therefore also incorporated to assist the release of tensions and assist the flow of energy, once again not forcing, but feeling the level of the client’s resistance or comfort. The masseuse may also hum at various points during the Lomi Lomi as the vibrating and amplified energy that results also aids the release of blockages.
Dancework or hula movements, combined with the breathwork of the practitioner are also important and integral aspects of Lomi Lomi. The reason for the hula type dance around the table whilst massaging is not just because it looks cute! The movements are all important to assisting the energy flow both within the practitioner and recipient and helps keep the energy at a high level. This combined with breathing techniques by the masseuse are also important in assisting the energy flow. The sharing of the breath, the essence of the Creator or universal energy, whatever name you like to give it, is an old Hawaiian custom and greatly enhances the energy flow once again.
Another major difference from other massage is that the person lays directly on the vinyl of the table and not on a towel and rather than being covered completely by towels, is covered by a small sheet or towel leaving most of the body exposed during the massage, whilst maintaining the recipients modesty. This makes it a lot easier to perform the underbody and full body strokes without interrupting the flow of the massage. You may be thinking it must be very cold in the middle of winter. To overcome this and ensure the comfort of the client, heaters can be used to maintain the room temperature at a warm level.
Because the practitioner works intuitively, a massage may be slow and very relaxing or at times it may be a little faster and therefore more invigorating and enlivening to the body. Sometimes the recipient may experience an emotional release as the massage can release and shift negative emotions, negative beliefs and other "stuff" that has been stored in the cells of the body, with the healing effects of the massage continuing long after the massage is over.
The massage can be done by one person or by two or more people working together. Having two people massaging tends to send to recipient into an even deeper level of relaxation as you really can’t focus on four hands doing different things - it really is a blissful and fairly mind-blowing experience
I said at the beginning of this article "aloha". The Aloha Spirit refers to the attitude of friendly acceptance for which the people of Hawaii are so famous. Aloha stands for so much more than hello or goodbye or love. Its deeper meaning is “the joyful sharing of life energy in the present". This really is one of the secrets of Lomi Lomi and to love and nurture the body as if it was your own. Aunty Margaret who is one of the oldest and widely recognized teacher of Lomi Lomi has a definition of Lomi Lomi which is "The Loving Touch - a connection of heart, hands and soul with the Source of All Life!" Students of Lomi Lomi learn to flow the love from the heart, through the hands, to connect with the soul of the one receiving the massage. Healing is increased by love, love received and love given. In the Oxford Dictionary the definition of love is fondness, a deep or passionate affection to someone or something - to the Hawaiians it is so much more, it also includes tolerance, forgiveness, acceptance, non judgment, appreciation, compassion, respect and so many other elements - this is the very foundation of a Lomi Lomi massage.