An ancient art of healing

2013-10-29 00:00

CLOSE your eyes and imagine Hawaii — picture the beach, the waving palm trees and a gentle breeze — then you will know why the inspiration for the lomilomi massage technique came from this Polynesian island.

Jane Renton, a landscaper’s wife from Escourt who has studied the art of lomilomi, became hooked after her first lomilomi massage that she received from a friend 12 years ago. She felt it was a deeply healing experience.

The massage, which was part of Polynesian culture, is part of their spirituality. They have lived in harmony with nature for centuries, and they believe that every plant and animal is sacred and fulfils a role in the grand scheme of things.

The lomilomi massage (also known by some as kahuna) is one of their ancient traditional healing methods, which has in recent times been taught to Westerners, as the native people of Hawaii have felt that their culture has come under threat from Western influence.

Renton went on to learn the basic massage technique from a teacher in Johannesburg. She then went to Hawaii to learn first hand how to give the advanced massage and how to teach the method.

Bernadette Jackson from Hillcrest was also on the course in Hawaii and they have teamed up to offer a course to teach this massage technique.

At Renton’s picturesque farm outside Escourt, the beauty of the scenery offers a respite from a busy day. In her therapy room, the wooden ceiling and floor are lit up by infrared lights — it looks cosy in contrast to the drizzle outside.

Renton and her husband, Shaun, live in a beautiful historical homestead that also has a two-kilometre labyrinth walk for those who need to walk in solitude.

The massage has been another tool for Renton to offer healing and comfort to others. Lomilomi means healing hands, and the music and rhythm of the massage make it unlike most traditional massage techniques.

She describes it as a mix of giving and receiving of healing and energy. It has been compared to a strange type of dance, as the massage therapist uses very rhythmic strokes along the body. No part of the body is worked on in isolation, as the massage works on the body as a whole.

Renton says: “The person giving the massage also prepares him or herself before the massage by offering a prayer and doing a dance that invites healing energy to take place on the client where it is needed. In Hawaiian, the energy ‘huna’ can be compared with the Chinese ‘chi’ or ‘life force’.”

The aim of the massage is to restore balance and harmony to the body. It is believed that if the body is balanced, then the rest of one’s life falls into balance as well.

Renton says that she has seen how powerful the effects of the massage are. This is why she chose to go to Hawaii and learn there.

She wanted to experience the massage in the authentic place where it all began. She and Shaun saved up and made a month-long trip to Hawaii. For Renton, it felt as if she was coming home.

The beaches and plants of the island are very similar to KwaZulu-Natal, and the island has long white beaches and thick, lush vegetation.

Renton says that she uses a lot of her own intuition when working with a client and no two massages are ever the same. The massage strokes are very free flowing and there is no set format or sequence for the massage.

The goal is to rejuvenate mind, body and spirit by removing energy blockages, and opening energy pathways within the body. A secondary goal is to rid the body of negative energy, including tension, toxins and even injury, and allow it to find a better, more harmonic state.

The benefits of the massage may be similar in some respects to a more traditional Swedish massage. The client will experience improved circulation and immune response, increased range of motion and flexibility, improved posture, faster healing, slower heart rate and lower blood pressure. Depending on the masseuse, the strokes can be long, smooth and relaxing, or quick and invigorating. The key is that the masseuse and the client are working in tandem.

While the massage is usually done with the client completely naked, it depends on the clients and their degree of comfort and modesty. Towels and covers are kept to a minimum to prevent interference with the long flowing strokes.

A lomilomi masseuse will use his or her forearms, elbows and upper body to make sure the pressure is spread out over a wide area. The lomilomi technique focuses on finding congested areas in the body and dispersing them, by moving the palms, thumbs, knuckles and forearms in rhythmic, dance-like motions. Renton says it is all carefully choreographed so that the muscles around an injury do not tense and constrict, and the body relaxes completely.

Renton says: “Recipients of a lomilomi treatment often experience freedom from anxiety, worry, fear and a host of other negative thought patterns.”

• To find out more about lomilomi, visit

THE massage was used as a healing tool by the native island priests who would practise the art with great love and reverence.

It was their belief that physical discomfort and disease were the results of suppressed emotions, mental disturbances or spiritual disharmony.

The traditional lomilomi healing session began with a thorough investigation into the nature of the dysfunction, as well as prayer, fasting and several sessions in a steam hut. Once the injury or cause was identified, the treatment would often begin with heated stones and herbal poultices. Then the kahuna (healer) would massage and use particular lomilomi strokes necessary for that individual.

It was believed that they were able to communicate deep into the bones of their patients via their touch through soft tissues, yet being non-invasive and connecting it all with spirit.

Early visitors to Hawaii noticed and commented on this healing art. In 1803, Archibald Menzies wrote: “A number of natives placed themselves around us to lomilomi and pinch our limbs, an operation which we found on these occasions, very lulling and pleasing when gently performed.”

Early missionaries in the 1820s sent to the Hawaiian Islands found the native healers to be accurate in their diagnosis and treatment of illness. In 1893, the colonial government outlawed all old spiritual practices and the art of lomilomi went underground.

It wasn’t until the seventies that the laws were changed, and Hawaiians were free to pursue their spiritual traditions.

As the Western influence has grown stronger, Hawaiians are trying to preserve this ancient healing technique and have agreed to share it with foreigners who are keen to master the art. — Sources Wikipedia and the Lomilomi Association.

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