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Common steps and sub-activities


Lomilomi is a type of massage whose principle intention is to heal.  The same word can be used for the person who performs the massage, however, the people who performed lomilomi were more often called  ka poʻe lomilomi (the massage people) or kanaka lomi (massage person). A related term, kauka lomilomi, was coined in 1920 to describe osteopathic physicians.

 In the Hawaiian language, the word ‘lomi’ used traditionally, means "to knead, to rub, or soothe; to work in and out”.  It may also mean "to take and turn, to shift" as in "the sacred shift within you”.  And here we have the more hidden and esoteric purpose of lomilomi and that is to help someone have a spiritual experience.

In other words it is dealing with energy flows, and traditionally lomilomi massage was associated with Kahuna and for example the kundalini experience.  It is also very closely linked to all the sexual practises employed to achieve spiritual experience, and this is why the ʻōlohe lua - masters of the Kahuna ‘martial arts’ – used it.

Future practitioners were selected in childhood, around age 5, based on birth signs such as weather events, birthmarks (especially on the head), and kind behaviour. After a decade or more of study, they would begin to practice but mastery was believed to take a lifetime and some would heal and some would go on to the more spiritual practises.

R. Makana Risser Chai (2005). Na Mo’olelo Lomilomi: Traditions of Hawaiian Massage and Healing

Like all endeavors in old Hawaii, lomilomi was conducted with prayer and intention. Hawaiian kupuna (elder) Auntie Margaret Machado describes lomilomi as "praying" work.  Emma Akana Olmstead, a kupuna of Hana, Maui, in the 1930s, said, "When a treatment is to be given, the one who gives the treatment first plucks the herbs to be used. He prays as he picks the herbs. No one should call him back or distract his attention, all should be as still as possible for they do not want the vibration broken. They knew the laws of vibration. They knew the power of the spoken word. They knew Nature. They gathered the vibration of the plentiful."

History of lomilomi

Lomilomi was a well established practise until American missionaries arrived in 1820 and converted many in the Kingdom of Hawaii to Christianity.  Once the Americans had become established, various laws were passed prohibiting "heathen" worship and any related Native Hawaiian healing practices. Lomilomi as part of medical practice went underground.

The lomilomi massage offered to visitors and American locals was a ‘sanitised’ version suited to the restrictive and puritanical views of the colonisers.  But this may have helped to partially save at least the principles of the approach, as although the Legislature of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi banned curing through "superstitious methods" in 1886, massage was not subject to legislation until 1945.

In 1947, the Board of Massage was established to regulate lomilomi and massage. The law required practitioners to pass a written test on anatomy, physiology and massage theory. This of course rather missed the point of lomilomi and rather understandably, many renowned native healers were  unwilling to pass the test, at this point lomilomi - whether for massage or spiritual experience - was forced underground.

R. Makana Risser Chai (2005). Na Mo’olelo Lomilomi: Traditions of Hawaiian Massage and Healing.

In 2001, the Legislature passed Act 304, amending HRS section 453, allowing native practitioners to be certified by the Hawaiian medical board, Papa Ola Lōkahi, or by the various community health centers. This law is controversial among some native practitioners, but those who are certified (but not licensed) can provide lomilomi without fear of prosecution under Hawaii state law.


As an indigenous practice that evolved over hundreds of years in isolated valleys throughout Hawaii, there are many different "schools" of lomilomi with different approaches and techniques.

Lomilomi practitioners might use "the palms, forearms, fingers, knuckles, elbows, knees, feet, even sticks and stones”[sic].  Meaning that there were links to the Qigong methods.

“It may be performed with or without emollient”.

It is worth adding that the vast majority of the massage schools around the world claiming they can  train therapists in lomilomi in a few hours, are not offering lomilomi, for reasons which should be clear.  This is a spiritual pursuit with spiritual intentions and the traditional lomilomi kupuna (elder) recognized by the Hawaiian community require students to study with them for years and years.

As Wikipedia says

“Many traditionally taught lomilomi practitioners find it impossible to offer authentic lomilomi in a spa setting and are unwilling to work in most spas or massage offices. They prefer to treat selected clients quietly and privately, often in home settings. Lomilomi practitioners may also ask their clients to pray, meditate, change their diets, or take other action as part of their health improvement process.”



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