Hawaiian Massage – Lomi

American missionaries invaded the Hawaiian islands in 1820 and, as ships came and went with supplies (and sometimes natives eager to leave), the native massage practice spread to the west. That art is called Lomilomi.

‘Lomi’ is the Hawaiian word for ‘rub’, and hence Lomilomi (‘masseur’ or ‘masseuse’) has come to mean the practice of massage originating in this tropical island nation. It has a number of interesting differences from other Asian-influenced massage styles.

Lomilomi involves use of the elbows and knees, along with the palms and fingers. Even the forearm sees action and sometimes sticks or stones are made use of as supplements. The client of Lomilomi gets the full treatment. But far from being nothing but an eclectic mixture of techniques applied without thought, practitioners in Hawaii are required to pass a written test that encompasses anatomy, physiology and massage theory.

Like many massage styles Lomilomi can be (and traditionally is) part of a larger healing routine, including prayer, meditation and diet. As a stand-alone massage technique it is still superb. Originally practiced by native healers, even believed to affect digestion and restore harmony within the family, it has tangible benefits. It was often a useful adjunct to those who practiced Hawaiian-style martial arts.

Though, like many Asian-style therapies, it is based on unfounded ‘tribal wisdom’ about ‘energy’ (in this case called ‘Huna’), Hawaiian-style massage has definite health benefits.

Huna theory, on which the practice is based, is a complex set of beliefs about the relation between the spiritual and physical, according to which energy gets blocked in the joints. The style evolved to ‘unblock’ this ‘energy’. While clients may see a practitioner perform a traditional Hawaiian dance around the table during the treatment, they’ll appreciate the total effect.

Lomilomi massage involves applying continuous, flowing strokes to relax the muscles. Red clay or Hawaiian salt is sometimes used to cleanse and prepare the client’s body for the therapy. Some sessions involve time in a steam hut or plunges into the ocean to stimulate circulation.

Gentle stretches and rotation of limbs results in a relaxed body and a peaceful spirit. Even the practitioner’s humming can help induce a pleasant frame of mind. Some recipients may not enjoy laying directly on a vinyl table, as Lomilomi uses no sheet underneath, and just a small towel on top. Heaters are sometimes used to maintain a comfortable air temperature, but this is rarely necessary in Hawaii itself.

But this eases the ability of the masseuse to apply full-body strokes in one smooth motion. Many of these involve lifting and applying pressure under the body during the procedure, which makes for an unusual and delightful experience. The rhythm with which the movements proceed will vary widely, since Lomilomi practice is very individual and intuitive. The formality of other styles is largely absent here.

Occasionally, Lomilomi will actually be carried out by two practitioners at the same time, where it becomes a double-treat.

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