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What is Lomi Lomi?
Hawaiian LomiLomi is simply an ancient form of deep tissue massage where the therapists use the soft, fleshy part of their forearms, giving the client long, broad, firm strokes over their body. The effect of these broad strokes is soothing and therapeutic without the associated painful moments of other deep tissue modalities. The practitioner oils up the client’s skin for optimum glide, which is also very nurturing to their skin—the largest organ of the body—especially when using high quality oils such as sunflower. (If you are comfortable eating it in a salad, then it is good for the skin.)
It is best performed as a full body massage, allowing for relaxing integration from head to toe. Sometimes the therapist will insert more advanced compression techniques, specific deep tissue strokes to affect change at a certain muscle attachment. But an overall, integrated full-body session almost always benefits the client the most. The LomiLomi protocol is a set of three flowing strokes over each quadrant of the body with the intention of keeping the client’s central nervous system awake to the benefits of the massage, in contrast to overdoing the strokes, which can lead to boredom and diminishing returns. For example, the therapist starts a long, flowing forearm stroke up and over the client’s shoulder and down their back, hooking the sacroiliac joint and returning to the shoulder with the opposite forearm. This is done three times in row; the first time introduces the stroke and the second time prepares for the third, which does the work. The ebb and flow of LomiLomi massage therapy simulates the incoming and outgoing ocean surf as it flows over the beach; the client is the island and the surf is the therapist’s flowing massage.
In today’s spa environments, the music provided can be used to choreograph the flow of LomiLomi, especially when sounds of surf are in the soundtrack.
This is why Hawaiian LomiLomi is considered the Hula of massage, as Hula is often meant to simulate the surf over the land.
The term “LomiLomi” in Hawaiian comes from the word “to rub”, which is what we do to a small stone between our forefinger and thumb: to lomilomi an “ili-ili” or “pōhaku.” Of great benefit also is Hot Stone hydrotherapy with small ili-ili and palm-size pōhakū stones in combination with LomiLomi.
The descendants of indigenous Hawaiians—Kānaka Maoli—have been keepers of this massage practice for centuries, strictly within each family, or ohana. It was kapu (taboo) to share your family’s LomiLomi outside of your own ohana, thus remaining a secret to the outside world for such a long time.
In 1974, native Hawaiian Auntie Margaret Machado of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi was inspired to share it with the outside world —so that it not be lost as a healing art—to one future Kumu LomiLomi (teacher of LomiLomi) by the name of Makaʻala Yates, today a well-known master instructor and author of native Hawaiian healing arts. Dr. Maka’ala Yates is also known for his voyage on the ancient sailing ship Hōkūleʻa, a performance-accurate reconstruction of a catamaran sailing canoe that brought Polynesians to Hawai’i centuries ago and was part of a voyage in 1976 proving that this was possible using navigation by the stars (and the guidance of dolphins!)
Dr. Maka’ala Yates is this author’s teacher of LomiLomi and is still active today as a Kumu Lomilomi of ManaLomi.
Hawaiian LomiLomi —Big Island Massage
Nancy S. Kahalewai
Na’auao Ola Hawaii
Doug Spaeth, LMT, BS, MEd, Dad