Lomilomi is a unique massage style, with its origins in Hawaiian traditions of healing, community, and spirituality. 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 and his crew found a welcoming people, living in paradise. The genial relationship between Cook and the Hawaiians ended quickly, though, as the Europeans moved to exploit the people. Over time, American missionaries and others came to the beautiful Hawaiian islands, and began to suppress the traditions of the indigenous people, in favor of Christian traditions. The spiritual and healing arts, including Lomilomi, were driven underground, preserved only by oral tradition.
Today, we are thankful that Hawaiian Kahunas (masters of their art) maintained the practice, mostly 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 were to compare Lomilomi — as it’s practiced outside of Hawaiian tradition — to other massage styles, it might be considered similar to Swedish massage . Both styles include long, flowing strokes, and both are often used as a “relaxation” massage. Both Lomilomi and Swedish massage use a lubricant to make the work flow smoothly. 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 full length of a limb, or may cover the whole back. In contrast, Lomilomi massage is unconstrained; a single stroke may run from heel, to shoulder, and back again! The Lomilomi “giver” (therapist) spends the session in an improvisational dance , following intuition (or the guidance of their Uhane, the higher self), and the signals given by the “receiver’s” (client’s) body, to bring peace and healing, wherever it is needed.
In a typical massage, the therapist works on one area at a time, undraping the area of focus, working the area, and then redraping, before moving to the next area. Often, the therapist never returns to an area once it has been massaged.
A Lomilomi massage is simply not structured like a typical massage, one body part at a time. Instead, the giver’s dance may move from leg, to trunk, to neck, and back again, many times. The giver may leave one area, to focus on another area, and another, only to return again, later. The feeling is sometimes described like an ocean wave, lapping and rocking the receiver’s body, promoting deep relaxation.
But the Draping….
To facilitate the free-flowing, unconstrained movement, draping is minimal. While this may not be comfortable for all clients, your Lomilomi giver is required to maintain proper draping throughout your session, and a licensed massage therapist shall always respectfully adhere to their state’s regulations . You should decide if Lomilomi matches your modesty level, and always enjoy the kind of massage with which you’re 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 make an attempt to honor the spiritual origins of the Lomilomi style. They may include pule (loosely, prayer) or other meditation, traditional Hawaiian music, and other elements, to create a fuller (if not fully authentic), spiritual experience for the receiver.
In my practice, I have decided to share a Ho’oponopono-inspired guided meditation with the receiver prior to the Lomilomi bodywork . And, before the session, I personally meditate on the Four Declarations of the Halau for the Lomilomi Giver  (see inset, below). Although the receiver is not present when I do this, 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. As of this writing, I am still a true novice in this unique massage style, and 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