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Lomilomi literally means "to break up into small pieces with the fingers." It is a type of healing massage that is traditionally practiced in the Hawaiian islands.


This form of massage involves both physical and spiritual ritual components. Lomilomi originated in the South Pacific and is practiced mainly in the Hawaiian islands, although lomilomi practitioners can also be found in Australia, California, and a few other places in the United States.

When Captain Cook and other European explorers disembarked on the islands of Polynesia, the indigenous people healed their aches and pains with therapeutic massage. Experts in lomilomi also knew how to use it in childbirth, congestion, inflammation, rheumatism and other musculoskeletal disorders, asthma , and bronchitis. They also applied lomilomi to babies and children to strengthen them and mold their features for physical beauty.

In times past, lomilomi was practiced mainly among family members. There were various orders of medical priest, known as "kahunas." The one who specialized in massage was the kahuna lomilomi. One member of the family would be trained by a village kahuna. This person would then pass the training on to the next generation. Kahunas not only trained practitioners in the physical aspects of massage, they also taught that an important aspect of the healing process was the transfer of positive thoughts from the lomilomi practitioner to the client in a way that channels energy, called "mana" or life force, and releases a sense of well-being.

The best known school for training lomilomi practitioners is run by Margaret Machado, known to her students as Aunty Margaret, on the island of Hawaii. Machado was born in the early 1900s and learned traditional lomilomi techniques from her grandfather. Unlike traditional lomilomi practitioners, most modern practitioners tend to concentrate more strongly on the physical rather than the spiritual aspects of this therapy.


Lomilomi cleanses and relaxes the body, both physically and spiritually in order to achieve internal harmony. It increases circulation, relaxes tension spots, and relieves pain .


A lomilomi massage generally begins with clients relaxing on a table and opening themselves to a healing state of mind. Some practitioners begin by using heated lomi stones to increase blood flow to certain areas of the body.

The traditional stroke of the lomilomi practitioner is out and away from the body. This touch is both deep and gentle, resembling in some ways Swedish massage . Unlike Swedish massage, however, lomilomi practitioners use their elbows and forearms and incorporate some vigorous deep tissue techniques. The forearm movement is typically applied across the grain of the long muscles of the back. This style of massage is also referred to as "loving hands."

Sometimes lomi sticks are used to relieve facial tension or when deeper massage is needed in a specific part of the body. Lomilomi practitioners traditionally used indigenous oils prepared from coconut and leuki trees. The oil is worked into the skin in a rhythmic 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 movement. At its best, lomilomi releases healing energy that flows from the practitioner to the client.

Modern lomilomi massage varies in time and dispenses with many of the traditional ritual preparations. Costs of this therapy are not generally covered by insurance. Many of the luxury resorts and spas in Hawaii have a practitioner trained in lomilomi on their staff.


In traditional lomilomi, the client may drink herbal teas to cleanse the body internally prior to the massage. The body is also cleansed externally with red clay or salt. Sometimes time is alternated between a steam hut and plunges in cold water to increase circulation prior to beginning the massage. Much of this preparation is dispensed with by modern practitioners.


There are no particular precautions to be observed when receiving this therapy. Like many therapies, lomilomi is most effective when the client is in a receptive frame of mind to accept healing.

Side effects

No undesirable side effects have been reported. Most clients report feeling a reduction in stress and a general feeling of well being. Others report specific relief of pains such as headaches and backaches.

Research & general acceptance

There are relatively few practitioners of lomilomi, so little controlled research has been done on its effectiveness. However, lomilomi has been an accepted part of native Hawaiian culture for hundreds of years.

Training & certification

The Hawaiian Lomilomi Association offers certification to practitioners who have received training from any of the four approved lomilomi instructors. There are three levels of certification, each of which requires an increased amount of instruction and supervised experience. These certification levels are Certified Lomilomi Therapist, Licensed Lomilomi Therapist, and Lomilomi Clinical Practitioner. This last category requires a 10-year apprenticeship under an approved Advanced Master Lomilomi Practitioner and 20 years of experience. Hawaii also has licensing requirements massage therapists are required to meet.



Feltman, John, ed. Hands-On Healing: Massage Remedies for Hundreds of Health Problems. Emaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1989.


Hawaiian Lomilomi Association. 456 Palo Alto Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94041. (650) 938-8615. [email protected]

Tish Davidson

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