The word ‘lomi’ in the Hawaiian language means ‘to knead, to rub, or to soothe,’ as well as ‘the sacred shift that is inspired by the healing kahuna’. The word ‘kahuna’ is derived from ‘huna’, meaning ‘secret knowledge’. The word ‘lomi’ is said twice for emphasis.
Lomi lomi massage was made famous through Hawaiian tourism, but it is also a traditional practice in the neighbouring Polynesian Islands. Hawaiians were said to be the bearers of the ‘light of knowledge’ that surrounded this spiritual practice, and the sacred gift was passed down from generation to generation.
Lomi lomi practices varied by family, region and island and evolved over hundreds of years. Practitioners generally used their forearms, palms, fingers, knuckles, knees, elbows, feet and even stones and sticks during the massage, with or without an emollient (moisturiser).
Like all endeavours in ‘old Hawaii’, lomi lomi was conducted with intention and prayer, and was practised in four contexts:
After American missionaries arrived in 1820, many people living in the Kingdom of Hawaii were converted to Christianity, and various laws were introduced to prohibit ‘heathen’ worship and healing practices. The Legislature of the Kingdom banned curing through ‘superstitious methods’ in 1886, however, it was not subject to legislation until 1945. In 1947, the Board of Massage was established to regulate lomi lomi massage.
The law required practitioners to pass a written test on physiology, anatomy and massage theory. Many renowned native healers were unwilling or unable to pass the test, and lomi lomi as a restorative massage was forced underground. However, Legislature passed in 2001 allowed native practitioners to be certified by the Hawaiian medical board. This law is still controversial among some native practitioners, but those who are certified (but not licensed) can still provide lomi lomi without fear of prosecution under Hawaii state law.
Long, rhythmic and sweeping strokes are administered with the hands and forearms and generous amounts of oil. Full body and under-body strokes help make the body soft, and promote an abundance of free flowing life energy. Strokes may also be quick and invigorating, depending on the client’s preference—the key is that the therapist and client are working in tandem.
Gentle muscle stretches and rotations of joints can be incorporated to assist with the release of tension, and depending on the client’s level of comfort or resistance, the pressure slowly increases into a deep muscle massage. Different pressures and strokes can also be used in combination with heat to assist clients with any injuries.
Different parts of the body can also be massaged at the same time. For example, a therapist’s hand or forearm may work on a shoulder and the other hand or forearm on the opposite hip. By administering range-of-motion work and not working on areas in isolation, a deep sense of harmony and balance can be achieved.
Creating movement in the spine is a primary focus of lomi lomi massage. Some clients may even experience an unwinding similar to that occurring in myofascial release.
Massage of the abdomen is always emphasised in traditional teachings because, in Hawaiin tradition, the colon is considered part of a person’s heart or soul. This helps the elimination process and improves the function of the organs.
The breath is also used to maintain focus and energy flow. Gradually, the practitioner unpeels layers of emotional memory and stored tension, and mana (life force energy) is able to vibrate through the client’s entire body.