History of Lomi Lomi
This article on the history of Lomi Lomi,
written by Tamara Mondragon, appeared as the Cover story in the July 2000 issue of Massage
Early visitors to the beautiful
Hawaiian Islands were met by a happy, relaxed people greeting them
with the now familiar "Aloha" and
flower leis. This friendly culture was steeped in ancient spiritual
traditions that had been preserved from generation to generation
through Hawaiian chants and oral history, and the sacred dance
of hula. Most revered were the Kahuna, experts in their chosen profession.
Kahuna specialized in areas ranging from stargazing to canoe building;
skills chosen in childhood and mastered through training. The Kahuna
lomilomi were masters of body manipulation and healing massage. They
practiced their ancient art with a deep connection to nature, surrounded
by ocean breezes, colorful sunsets and unpredictable volcanoes.
The Kahuna lomilomi were priests who practiced the healing arts
with much reverence, love and spirituality. They believed that physical
discomfort and disease were the results of suppressed emotions, mental
disturbances or spiritual disharmony. The traditional lomilomi healing
session began with a thorough investigation into the nature of the
dysfunction, as well as prayer, fasting and several sessions in the
steam hut. Once the malady was identified, the treatment would often
begin with heated stones and herbal poultices. Then the Kahuna would
massage and use particular lomilomi strokes necessary for that individual.
One of the common similarities among lomilomi practitioners of
old was the power and knowledge they had. That is, their ability
deep to the bones of their patients via their touch through soft
tissues, yet being noninvasive and connecting it all with spirit,
says Maka'ala Yates, a Hawaiian medicine specialist.
The lomilomi technique focused on finding congested areas in
the body and dispersing them, by moving the palms, thumbs, knuckles
forearms in rhythmic, dance-like motions. Setting the intention for
healing, the Kahuna would also utilize prayer (pule), breath (ha)
and energy (mana). The practice of lomilomi was common within each
Hawaiian community and contributed to a vibrant, healthy society.
Early visitors to Hawaii noticed and commented on this healing
art. In 1803 Archibald Menzies wrote, "A number of natives placed
themselves around us to lomilomi and pinch our limbs, an operation
which we found on these occasions, very lulling and pleasing when
gently performed." In 1819 a Mr. Frecient wrote, "Two females
about 40 years old knelt down on each side of me and squeezed and
rubbed my limbs with all their might. All the parts of the body were
pressed between the hands, going from the arms to the legs and from
the thighs to the shoulders. Here it is employed as a means of making
In the 1820's early missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands found
the native healers to be accurate in their diagnosis and treatment
illness, and in mending broken bones. They considered the Hawaiians
to be heathens, however, and in 1893, after years of political upheaval,
the new government outlawed all spiritual traditions, including healing
arts, the study of the Hawaiian language, and hula dancing. But the
sacred traditions did not die; they were hidden and practiced in
secrecy, passed down only within the Hawaiian community (ohana),
through "iki maka lihilihi a maka alawa", which means to do by observation
"It is correct to say that lomilomi encompasses
a massage, but it is not limited to it. Native Hawaiians say the
of lomilomi is reconnecting with spirit."
The tradition of "iki maka lihilihi a maka alawa" was noted in
a Board of Health report in 1896 by Charles Peterson, M.D., who wrote, "The
practice of Kahunas (sic) in this district is, I am confident, quietly
carried on. The Hawaiians will not expose them, and investigation
only elicits falsehoods and assertions of ignorance. Nearly every
group has its family Kahuna, and Honolulu furnishes the shrewder
ones upon occasion. I have frequently met with the evidence of the
presence of these mystery workers, and in the circle about the sick
bed, easily noted the one with the power. However under no inducement will
they give any knowledge of the proximity of any such. The belief
in the power of the Kahuna, although denied, is shared in, I am positive,
by all classes of Hawaiians, some whites, even. I am assured they are allowing
their ministrations in their families. The Hawaiian will assent to
anything proposed by the foreigner, and at the same time continue
his belief in his Kahuna and his ancient gods."
It wasn't until the 1970's that the laws were changed and Hawaiians
were free to pursue their native heritage and spiritual traditions,
without fear of punishment. This freedom rekindled a flame in the
heart of many native people, and led to a resurgence of interest
in their cultural heritage.
Hawaiian elders were sought out and questioned about their knowledge,
and grass-roots organizations sprang up around them. In 1973, Auntie
Margaret Machado, a respected kupuna (elder) from the Big Island,
decided to share her family's knowledge by teaching it to anyone
who had a sincere desire to learn, Hawaiian or not. She felt is was
time for the ancient healing gift of lomilomi to be felt throughout
the world. While Auntie Margaret was criticized by many in the Hawaiian
community for revealing the secrets of lomilomi, it was through her
efforts that lomilomi was brought to the forefront of a resurgence
of interest in native Hawaiian healing.
The Hawaiian Pocket Dictionary defines lomilomi as a method "to
rub, press, crush, massage, rub out; to work in and out, as claws
of a contented cat." Another translation is, "to break
up into small pieces." In the early 1900's lomilomi was coined "Hawaiian
massage" by the legal system.
"The depth of true lomilomi was virtually limitless in terms
of its ability to offer potential for healing to each patient; however,
the government of the time had to label it" and put in a category,
which is not the Hawaiian way," says Yates. "It is correct
to say that lomilomi encompasses a massage, but it is not limited
to it. Native Hawaiians say the true definition of lomilomi is reconnecting
"Recipients of a lomilomi treatment often experience freedom from
anxiety, worry, fear and a host of other negative thought patterns."
While lomilomi is often referred to as a spiritual massage, the
technique is also practical and specific. It is, for example, effective
breaking up calcium deposits and lactic acid build-up. This is accomplished
by a variety of movements, such as circular thumb strokes that are
done in a one-two-three rhythm directly over the area. Knuckle strokes
are used on larger, denser muscles in the same rhythm, followed by
soothing forearm strokes and hacking.
According to Auntie Margaret, lomilomi has a profound effect on
the health and development of the muscles, and the activity of the
and nerves associated with them. It dilates blood vessels, thus improving
circulation and helping to prevent strokes. It relieves muscle spasms
and increases the rate of nutrients brought to the muscles by the
blood, with out increasing lactic acid production. It stimulates
the lymphatic system to release waste products, and is useful after
injury to ligaments and tendons by dispersing edema. It also restores
vitality and heightens metabolism.
"True lomilomi in the right hands gives immediate and long-term
In addition to lomilomi's physical benefits are the emotional
releases felt during and after a session. Recipients of a lomilomi
often experience freedom from anxiety, worry, fear and a host of
other negative thought patterns. This freedom comes only when the
practitioner is aware of their responsibility to the client.
"It is a process that allows the patient to meet the practitioner
mid-way in their crisis so healing can take place." Yates says. "It
is the lomilomi practitioner's responsibility to guide and treat
each patient with right intentions using the correct protocol of
treatment based on his/her feelings. The purpose of lomilomi is to
bring alignment back to the individual in body, mind and spirit."
During a genuine lomilomi session, the therapist is aligned with
divine energy, and keeps his or her heart and mind clear for Spirit
to move through them as a conduit for healing energy. Proper breathing
and pure thoughts are important. According to the Hawaiians, thoughts
contain mana, or energy. When thoughts are combined with touch and
breath they are transferred to the receiver. Therefore the therapist's
thoughts must be focused on love and healing.
If something has occurred which interferes with the therapist's
ability to control their thoughts, then hoóponopono is practiced.
Hoóponopono is a prayer of forgiveness and of making things
right. It must be done if we have harmed another person or ourselves
in though, word or deed. According to Mary Golden, a lomilomi instructor
in Colorado, hoóponopono "is a spiritual practice of
making things right with yourself and all others before God. One
who truly practices ho'oponopono is one who takes a daily inventory
of his or her thoughts. Any intent to harm, any conscious or unconscious
attitudes of malice, jealousy, or hatred must be rooted out and replaced
with aloha. Aloha is recognizing the divine nature in every living
"If you want to change anything in yourself
you must change the process of thought that affects the materialization
into different forms of matter and action."
According to Dane Silva, D.O., a native Hawaiian healing arts
practitioner, Hoóponopono is also used when someone has suffered a serious
loss, causing emotional trauma that runs deep into the internal organs.
This affects the spirit, and leads to internal imbalance and systemic
dysfunction. Unless it is corrected and made right again, a person's
thought, feeling and behavior may be negatively affected. Hoóponopono
restores balance and function within the individual, within the family,
within the community and within the environment (aina). Based on
traditional cultural values and concepts, hoóponopono has
been adapted to work within the fabric of modern society, with each
participant observing a specific protocol. By opening one's heart
and mind in a supportive group, led by a respected family elder or
local practitioner, the practice of healing from within begins.
Lomilomi certification courses are available in Hawaii and on
the mainland. Lomilomi training is varied and will be determined
lineage of the teacher. One can expect months of training and years
of practice to truly master the technique. This is due to the mental
and emotional clarity and physical stamina required of the practitioner.
Many massage traditions teach that the therapist must continually
shield him or herself from negativity that may be coming from the
client, but lomilomi teaches the opposite. The client is considered
to be the vulnerable one, open to and receiving the therapist's energy,
positive or negative. Lomilomi practitioners must learn to control
their thoughts and trust in their higher selves in order to direct
positive healing energy to clients. Dedicated practitioners know
that this is a constant process of self-awareness and prayer.
"All things are made of pure consciousness – their
limited appearance is the condition of consciousness." Yates
if you want to change anything in yourself you must change the process
of thought that affects the materialization of consciousness into
different forms of matter and action." For the Hawaiian medicine
person this is the only way to remold one's life."
The old ways of the Hawaiian ancestors are being absorbed into
a technological world; however, the original intention of aloha remains.
A lomilomi session is a respite from the outside world; a sacred
experience where the massage table becomes an altar and divinity
It is a mystical meeting that produces an altered state of consciousness
and an incredible sense of well-being of body, mind and spirit, for
the practitioner as well as the recipient. For it is in sharing aloha
that one truly receives its many blessings.