Hawaiian lomi lomi massage is one part of traditional Native Hawaiian medicine and was only passed down in families until the early 1970s, when a few Hawaiian teachers began teaching this massage therapy technique to non-Hawaiians. The popularity of this technique spread quickly, and it's now widely available.
Because lomi lomi was passed down in families, a number of styles of this massage exist. One of the first people to teach this massage to non-Hawaiians was Auntie Margaret Machado, who taught until her death in 2009, and many practitioners do the massage in her tradition. However, a number of variations are available, including ones based on the teachings of another early teacher, Abraham Kawai'i. Some other names you might hear are Mana Lomi, Sacred Lomi or Hawaiian Temple Bodywork.
Traditionally, lomi lomi has an important spiritual component, and practitioners begin by saying a prayer to themselves. This massage incorporates the Hawaiian concept of aloha, which means love, unification and breath, and promotes personal harmony. Even in modern practice, lomi lomi therapists are taught to focus on the massage with love and intention. Auntie Margaret Machado is often quoted as having said that the difference between Swedish massage and lomi lomi is "loving touch."
What to expect
Typically, massage therapists begin a lomi lomi session by placing their hands gently on you and remaining still for a few moments. They may ask you to breathe deeply to help you relax. A traditional practitioner may incorporate other rituals, such as chants and music.
Often, more of your body is uncovered during this massage than during a typical Swedish or deep tissue massage. That's because therapists rarely massage one body part at a time. Instead, they move in long flowing motions that, for example, may start at the top of your shoulder and go all the way to your foot. Some therapists use massage sheets in the usual way, just uncovering larger areas of your body at once. The more traditional practice is that the therapist uses no sheets, covering your genital area and breasts with small towels.
Lomi lomi is best known for long, flowing, dance-like strokes, often using the forearms and generous amounts of oil. But, because there are so many styles, the specifics of a massage can vary. Gentle stretches and joint rotations are common in this massage, as is the massage therapist massaging two parts of your body at same time, for example, using one hand or forearm on your shoulder while simultaneously massaging a hip with the other hand or forearm.
Both massaging two areas at the same time and the long flowing strokes are believed to promote harmony and balance in your body. Traditional lomi lomi always includes abdominal massage because Hawaiian tradition considers the colon part of a person's soul or heart.
The physical benefits of this massage are the same as other types of massage in terms of relaxing muscles, promoting circulation and releasing blocked energy. The difference lies in the Hawaiian traditions woven into the massage, including the belief that "loving hands" help you release not only physical tension but also mental, emotional and spiritual blockages.