The Art of Lomilomi: Behind Hawaii's Traditional Massage Practice

Beachside Massage
Beachside Massage | © Krystal Hotels Timeshare Mexico / Flickr
Kalena McElroy

If you’ve ever experienced a Hawaiian lomilomi massage, you’ve undergone a particularly relaxing experience.

Hawaii’s traditional practice of long, gentle movements is a popular massage style, now found at many spas throughout the world. Unbeknownst to the masses, this ancient custom encompasses far more than just an enjoyable massage and understates a profound part in Hawaiian culture.

Lomilomi is a unique style of massage which uses century-old techniques to rejuvenate and restore the body, mind, and spirit. Lomilomi literally translates to “knead or massage” and is just a small part of the holistic practice of lāʻau lapaʻau, Hawaiian traditional medicine.

A few traditional techniques include kuikui (pound), beating with closed fists and pahupahu (drum), hitting with a cupped hand. Each ʻohana (family) forges their own style. Ancient Hawaiians all practiced basic Lomilomi within families, understanding the values of medicinal plants. But, kahuna lāʻau lapaʻau (traditional healers) were consulted for any major ailment.

Herbal Medicine

Kahuna lāʻau lapaʻau are chosen as children and dedicate their lives to mastering the art of lomilomi passed down from generation to generation just by word of mouth. The late Papa Henry Auwae was one master. He described the practice as “solving the problems of body, mind, and spirit. In Hawaiian healing, the mental is not separate from the spiritual and physical.

These special healers were appreciated as doctors—they chose specific massage movements based on each client’s affliction and typically coupled this with the use of steam, heated stones, medicinal herbs, and pule (prayer) to help unblock the natural flow of energy throughout the body.


Like many cultures, foreign settles in Hawaii frowned upon practices of herbal medicine. As a result, lomilomi was only practiced as a restorative massage and not associated with traditional medicine. Today, many spas throughout the Hawaiian islands and around the world offer lomilomi, but massage therapists typically don’t spend much time studying the specific style, and the art itself is difficult to come across in the secular world.

Authentic lomilomi is rarely practiced and hardly offered in a spa setting. Following its decline, acclaimed lomilomi teachers created the Hawaiian Lomilomi Association to educate and perpetuate the art of lomilomi massage and Hawaiian healing. The website directory lists dozens of teachers and therapists located around the world who spent years studying traditional techniques and movements.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article