By Katherine Jamieson
Eleven years ago, after L.A.-based massage therapist Carrie Rowell had just finished giving a deep-tissue massage, her client sighed happily, “Oh, you do Lomi Lomi.” Although Rowell had recently completed massage school, there had been nothing so exotic in her curriculum; her swaying movements as she moved her body around the table were purely intuitive.
A dancer by training, Rowell had always used rhythm and movement to enhance her practice, so she was intrigued. She quickly found a four-day Lomi Lomi training in Hawaii, and, “I was blown away by the work, the fluidity. It was so natural to me,” she recalls.
Lomi Lomi massage derives from ancient Polynesian tradition, and is resonant of Hawaiian landscape and spirituality. Traditional Hawaiian spiritual belief is that Jathe memories of ancestors are stored in the bones and can be accessed through massage. Initially taught by Huna shamans, or kahunas, and passed down through master healers, Lomi Lomi evolved as a communal, family-based practice, used daily to unblock energy and create a sense of holistic harmony. Its guiding philosophy is that all things seek harmony and love, including the body.
Variously translated as “to create space,” “to break into little pieces” or simply “rub rub” (massage), the massage techniques were initially conveyed by observation alone; students apprenticed for decades and learned by mirroring their teachers. According to tradition they were not allowed to ask questions, but were instead encouraged to learn by watching, listening and feeling with all their senses, to develop their own intuitive understanding of the work.
Lomi Lomi is quintessentially holistic. Unlike other styles of bodywork, which tend to focus on one section of the body at a time, the practice uses long, flowing strokes to connect the lower and upper extremities. Clients are draped lightly, and copious amounts of oil lubricate the strokes. Flowing movements work with the neurology of the body, and alternating movements on the left and right sides, along with a warm environment, can lull the person receiving treatment into a meditative state.
Specialized hula dance movements serve a dual role: they align the practitioner’s body and chakras for proper body mechanics, and set the flow and pace of the massage. Mimicking the dance of palm trees on a tropical breeze, and waves rolling in with the ocean tide, the movements originate from the base of the spine, through the ribs, and radiate out through the arms and hands. The work is often done in rhythm to chanting or drums. Rowell says that energy generated from the movements creates an “electricity” in the body, so that she often emerges from a three-hour session feeling invigorated.
Working deeply and steadily with their forearms, practitioners break down barriers erected by the body. The practice helps to establish communication among the three selves: the lower self (unihipili), the middle self (uhane), and the higher self (aumakua). According to Huna, when the three selves are working in harmony, they nurture mana, or vital life force. Healing occurs on all levels at once—physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. One type of healing is integral to the others. And because the technique places emphasis on body mechanics and use of the forearms, rather than thumbs or hands, Lomi Lomi is equally good for practitioners, rendering them less likely to suffer from injury.
Lomi Lomi is used to maintain health and aid digestion, and its long strokes make it particularly beneficial for improving circulation, which enhances detoxification and stimulates the lymphatic system. Stretching the connective tissue creates a gentle myofascial release, accompanied by a sense of deep relaxation. Clients often report more clarity and a heightened sense of well-being after massages, and Rowell frequently sees this experience of “calm euphoria” last for up to three days. She notes that the flowing aspect of the practice is particularly suited to supporting women during pregnancy and labor, and also helps new mothers to shed excess blood and water following childbirth.
Hawaiians believe that the presence of divinity is in everything, including plants, animals, stones and all of nature. “It’s all living, breathing, conscious energy,” explains Rowell. Her initial workshop took her to Hawaii, but it also began an ongoing quest for knowledge that has brought her back multiple times to train with various teachers. Learning the Huna tradition has helped her to bring the aloha spirit of wholeness to her work.