by Nick Lakoff, CMT
As with so many styles of massage around the world, Lomi-Lomi evolved from traditional medicine practiced in the Hawaiian Islands. Centuries ago, perhaps even millennia, Polynesian settlers to the islands brought with them their collective cultural wisdom which included traditional healing practices and medicines. An intricate part of this was a form of massage that over time morphed into what is now a characteristically Hawaiian massage. One interesting aspect of it was its universality in Hawaiian society as it was practiced by everyone from child to chief. Over time there did develop a class of expert healers who used Lomi-Lomi in their practice.
The word “Lomi” in the Hawaiian language means to “rub, press, squeeze, massage, to work in and out”. Today this word repeated twice is widely recognized to mean “masseur”. Historically, and even today, a practitioner of this form of massage is sometimes referred to as a Kahuna Lomi-Lomi, Kahuna here meaning a healer, expert in his craft. In the 19th century the practice of Lomi-Lomi was banned by American Christian settlers who considered it heathen and un-Christian. The practice went underground and was mostly practiced within the Hawaiian indigenous population. Lomi-Lomi was subjected to legislation in 1945 and in 1947 the Board of Massage was established to regulate its practice. Practitioners wanting to be accredited needed to pass exams in anatomy, physiology and massage theory. Many traditional practitioners of Lomi-Lomi could not or would not pass these exams and the movement remained largely underground. During the Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the 1970’s, laws regulating Lomi-Lomi were modified so traditional practitioners could once again practice openly without fear of persecution. Finally, in 2001, the laws were modified again to allow practitioners to be certified by the Hawaiian Medical Board, Papa Ola Lōkahi (consortium of Hawaiian health related non-profit organizations) or various community health centers. This in effect gave Native Hawaiians the rights to self regulate their traditional massage practices.
This massage, being so closely related to the native Hawaiian healing arts, has retained much of its spiritual significance when taught to native and non-native students. As opposed to other energy enhanced approaches where the practitioner must protect him or herself from the client’s negative energy, here the client is the vulnerable one. The practitioner must keep their heart and mind clear for spirit “ ‘Uhane” to move through them as a conduit for healing. Much care is necessary to control the energy “Mana” used in the session and focus their thoughts on love and healing. Breathing is also vitaly important to the process.
Much of this ancient knowledge was lost over time but thanks to generations of Kahuna Lomi-Lomi much was also preserved for future generations. Two native Hawaiians who are credited with resurrecting the art were Margaret Machado from Big Island and Abraham Kawai from Kaua‘i. They both were the first to teach non-natives the art of Lomi-Lomi meeting much resistance and concern from their own community. Auntie Margaret, as she was affectionately known, studied nursing and was heavily influenced by her Christian faith. Abraham Kawai was greatly influenced by his practice of Lua martial art and Hula coaching.
Although traditionally it was most likely practiced on the ground over a mat of grasses or leaves, today most sessions are practiced on a modern massage table using oils, creams or gels. The first thing you notice about a Lomi-Lomi massage is how continuous and enveloping the movements are. One particular characteristic of this massage is the extensive use of forearms, although hands, fingers, knuckles, elbows and even feet are also used. In conjunction with the holistic aspect of Lomi-Lomi philosophy, heated stones wrapped in medicinal herbs and pumices can also be applied during the session depending on the objective. The massage is rhythmic and fluid and seems to an observer to be more like a choreographed dance. Music greatly enhances the experience and often you are treated to traditional Hawaiian folk songs that are similar in nature to mantras since they are ancient incantations to the spirits, nature and the Gods. You cannot help but feel a sense of nurturing from the masseur and a deep sense of relaxation and spirituality. Lomi-Lomi Hawaiian massage is certainly and experience well worth the time and effort, Aloha!
Nick Lakoff is a certified practitioner in the following disciplines: Swedish Massage, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Myo-Fascial Release, Massage for Pregnancy, Swedish Chair Massage, Hot Stone Massage and Reiki.