Hawaiian traditions of healing, community, and spirituality birthed the unique massage style called Lomilomi. Originally known only in Hawaii, Lomilomi is now available worldwide. How does Lomilomi differ from other massage styles, and is it right for you?
When Captain James Cook “discovered” Hawaii in 1778 , he found a welcoming people living in paradise. The genial relationship between Cook and the Hawaiians ended as the Europeans began to exploit the people. Over time, American missionaries and others came to the beautiful Hawaiian islands. They tried to suppress local traditions, in favor of Christian traditions. They drove the spiritual and healing arts underground. These traditions survived only by oral tradition.
We are thankful that Hawaiian Kahunas (masters of their art) maintained the practice of Lomilomi in secret. In the early 1970’s “Auntie Margaret” (Margaret Kalehuamakanoelu’ulu’uonäpali Machado) became one of the first to teach Lomilomi to non-Hawaiians .
How is Lomilomi Massage Different?
It’s a Little Bit Like Swedish Massage….
If we compare Lomilomi to other massage styles, it might resemble Swedish massage . Both styles include long, flowing strokes. They both make a great “relaxation” massage. Lomilomi and Swedish massage both use a lubricant for a smooth flow. A Swedish massage therapist uses lotion, cream, or oil. But in Lomilomi we always use a plain oil, and a lot of it!
Swedish massage strokes often run the length of a limb. One stroke may cover the whole back. In contrast, Lomilomi massage is unconstrained. One stroke may run from heel, to shoulder, and back again! The Lomilomi “giver” (therapist) spends the session in an improvisational dance . They follow their intuition (or the guidance of their Uhane, the higher self). The signals given by the “receiver’s” (client’s) body guide them to bring peace and healing wherever it is needed.
A typical massage focuses on one area at a time. The therapist undrapes the area, works on the area, and redrapes. Then they move on to the next area. The therapist might not return to an area once it has been massaged.
Lomilomi massage structure differs greatly from typical massage. It’s more like a dance. Instead of focusing on one part at a time, the dance can move from leg, to trunk, to neck, and back again. The giver may leave one area, focus on another area, and another, only to return again, later. The feeling resembles an ocean wave, lapping and rocking the receiver’s body, promoting deep relaxation.
But the Draping….
Minimal draping makes the free-flowing movement possible. Not all clients will be comfortable with this. But a Lomilomi giver always maintains proper draping. A licensed massage therapist always respectfully adheres to their state’s regulations . You should decide if Lomilomi matches your modesty level, and always enjoy the kind of massage that makes you comfortable.
The video below gives an example of Lomilomi massage style, and shows what you might expect for draping.
Honoring the Spiritual Origin
Some therapists, who were not born to the Hawaiian spiritual roots of Lomilomi, are comfortable sharing Lomilomi as just another bodywork style. This has drawn criticism from some Hawaiian elders, who believe the bodywork shouldn’t be separated from its spiritual essence. But other Kahunas, like Harry Uhane Jim , have decided to train non-Hawaiians in Lomilomi as a way to preserve the tradition and share the understanding of Aloha, outside of Hawaii.
Some non-Hawaiian givers attempt to honor the spiritual origins of the Lomilomi style. They do this by including pule (loosely, prayer) or other meditation, traditional Hawaiian music, and other elements. These elements create a fuller (if not fully authentic), spiritual experience for the receiver.
In my practice, I share a Ho’oponopono-inspired guided meditation with the receiver before the Lomilomi bodywork . I also personally meditate on the Four Declarations of the Halau for the Lomilomi Giver  (see inset, below). My intent is for it to create an ideal setting for the session, for both of us. I do this hopefully, to set the tone for the work and to enhance the healing experience for the receiver. Though I’m still a lomilomi novice, I’m sure my offering will evolve, as I, myself, continue to evolve.
This brief article barely scratches the surface of Lomilomi, and I readily admit my status as beginner. I have assembled a short list of references you may use to begin your own journey of understanding.
Please, share your thoughts on Lomilomi in the comments. And sincerely, deeply, Mahalo.
- Captain Cook discovers Hawaii
- Margaret K. Machado gave art of lomilomi to the world
- LOMILOMI MASSAGE: THE ART OF HAWAIIAN SACRED HEALING
- What to Expect from a Lomi Lomi Massage
- The Pennsylvania State Board of Massage Therapy – Standards of Professional Conduct
- Wise Secrets of Aloha: Learn and Live the Sacred Art of Lomilomi, by Harry Uhane Jim
- Hoʻoponopono – Wikipedia