Mai ka piko o ke poʻo a ka poli o ka wāwae, a laʻa ma nā kihi ʻehā o ke kino.
From the crown of the head to the soles of the feet, and the four corners of the body.
An expression used in prayers of healing.
— ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #2066

Have you ever had achy, sore feet? Or maybe even a sprained ankle? How did you treat it? Did you sit and put your feet up? Lomilomi is one of the best ways to relieve those aches and pains. 

What is lomilomi?

[Lomilomi] Photo by Ruben Carillo.Lomilomi is Hawaiian massage. Many kānaka (people) still practice it today. Lomilomi practitioners use different parts of their body to lomilomi, or massage. For example, they may use the knuckles on their hands. They firmly press their knuckle into the arch of the foot. This helps relieve any tightness in the area.

Practitioners also massage with their palms, fingers, forearms, elbows, and feet. Some use stones and sticks as well. Lomilomi may be done differently on different islands and in different ‘ohana.

Is there more to lomilomi than massage?

Pule (prayer) is an important part of lomilomi. Practitioners will pray before, after, and during a lomilomi. Lomilomi practitioners have a spiritual energy called mana. Mana flows from akua (gods) and ‘aumākua (ancestral gods) through the practitioner to the person. This helps in the healing process. The patient’s own mana is also part of the healing process.

The lomi practitioner shares aloha. Aloha is a healing force. The practitioner shows aloha through a gentle but firm touch. Aunty Margaret Machado was a well-known and well-respected kupuna (elder) who taught many people lomilomi. She said, “If your hands are gentle, your mind is clear, your heart is loving, and you are present, your patient will feel the sincerity of your heart. His or her soul will reach out to yours, and the Great Spirit’s healing will flow through you and bring a healing to both of you.”

[Lomilomi with ti leaf and stone] Photo by Ruben Carillo.

Lomilomi practitioners must come to their work with good intentions. They have to be open, willing, and ready to treat the person. Respect and honesty are part of the massage. Any negative thoughts must be removed before a lomilomi can begin. 

How was lomilomi used long ago?

In early Hawai‘i, everyone practiced lomilomi. Chiefs used lomilomi to help digest their food. Warriors training in lua (a martial art) used lomilomi too. It helped relieve their achy bodies after a workout. No doubt farmers with backs bent in the hot sun sought a lomilomi after their day’s work as well.

‘Ohana (families) used lomilomi to restore and maintain health. When a baby was born, the family would lomi the baby’s body. This was to mold the body and help it grow strong. As the baby grew up, it would be trained to lomi adults. Keiki (children) would walk on the back of a family member as a form of massage. Families would lomilomi their athletes. This made the athlete’s muscles loose and limber. Kūpuna who suffered from hand or leg cramps would receive a lomilomi to relieve the pain. Even foreigners visiting the islands enjoyed lomilomi.

The practice of lomilomi has been handed down from generation to generation. Families learned the art from their kūpuna. Sometimes the ache or pain could not be treated by the ‘ohana. Then they would seek advice from a lomilomi expert, or kahuna lomilomi.

The kāhuna were trained for many, many years. They knew that the body needed to be healed inside and out. A disturbed mind could make the body react. Being disconnected from the gods or ancestors could cause pain. The kahuna lomilomi would consider all these things before treating the patient.

How is lomilomi done today?

[Practitioner massaging back with stone] Photo by Ruben Carillo.

Lomilomi practitioners today continue the traditions of our kūpuna. They treat all parts of the person. They pule and ask for spiritual guidance. Mana and aloha go into their work.

Lomi is still practiced in the ‘ohana. Keiki still walk on the backs of adults. Kūpuna are still given lomilomi to help with their aches and pains.

Lomilomi is a form of preventative care. So if done routinely, lomi can help prevent illness. Lomilomi increases blood flow, relaxes the body, eliminates pain, and rids the body of poisons.

Kānaka understand that a healthy body is one that is balanced. Having pono (right) thoughts, feelings, and actions can help keep you healthy. Pono ‘ole (wrong) thoughts, feelings, or actions can make you feel sick. Stay pono through lomi!