Rainstorms aside, there aren’t many convincing reasons to stay indoors during a Hawaiian vacation. I mean, why would you when there are so many epic waterfall hikes, black-sand beaches, and shaved-ice flavors to partake in and enjoy? All of that being true, on a recent trip to the remote town of Hāna—a Maui-set gem that’s accessible only by driving along a coast-hugging winding road for 2.5-hours—I discovered one activity that totally justifies a break from the sun and the surf: a lomilomi massage.
According to Marni Aina, resident general manager of Travaasa Hāna—the experiential spa resort where I stayed and had my lomilomi massage—we all hold stress in different areas of our bodies, causing those areas to tense up. The signature strokes of a lomilomi massage are designed to create space in the muscles and fascia (your body’s interwoven system of connective tissues), allowing stagnant energy to flow more freely. “Traditionally, ‘lomilomi’ means ‘to break apart into smaller pieces,'” Aina says. “That is what the massage is about. Using physical and energetic manipulation can help to break apart blockages so you can be more open and relaxed.”
While you can get a lomilomi-inspired massage in most parts of the world today, there’s something special about experiencing it close to the source. It’s said that Polynesian settlers first brought lomilomi to the Hawaiian islands, and from there, the Hawaiian people developed their own spin on it and passed it down from generation to generation. Many current Hawaiian lomilomi-massage practitioners learned from the Machado lineage on the Big Island, using a technique that combines long, sweeping forearm strokes with deeper kneading using the elbows and fingers.
“Traditionally, ‘lomilomi’ means ‘to break apart into smaller pieces.’ That is what the massage is about. Using physical and energetic manipulation can help to break apart blockages so you can be more open and relaxed.” —Marni Aina, Travaasa Hāna general manager
There’s also a spiritual aspect to lomilomi massage: Margaret Machado, the late matriarch of modern-day lomilomi massage in Hawaii, defined the technique as “the loving touch, a connection of heart, hands and soul with the source of all life.” This is what sets lomilomi apart from other massage techniques—practitioners start each session by setting an intention and connecting with universal energy before laying their hands on a client.
Speaking from personal experience, my lomilomi massage was nothing short of sublime. Where massages I’ve had in the past follow a formula based on the time available, my lomilomi practitioner seemed to have an innate intuition for exactly what I needed, spending the majority of the time working out tightness in my upper back, shoulders, and hips. The combination of forearm strokes and raindrop-like kneading gave me a sensation similar to that of watching a really good ASMR video. Basically, I left feeling mentally blissed out—with a major reduction in the chronic back and neck pain that’s plagued me for years.
Aina tells me that the lomilomi technique can be modified for pretty much any situation, whether you need energy, deep-tissue release, or serious relaxation. “It’s designed to encompass all needs and can be edited depending on what that body is looking for,” she says. “That’s why, whenever someone asks me what massage they should get, i always say the lomilomi.” And from now on, I’ll be giving that advice to all my Hawaii-bound friends, too.
If you’re heading to the islands, make sure to pack reef-safe sunscreen. Stuck on the mainland all summer? These beauty products will transport you there without a plane ticket.
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