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What is the difference between Lomilomi, Heartworks Lomi Lomi and KaHuna massage?
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As a teacher and practitioner of Spiritual Hawaiian Lomilomi Massage, I get asked this question a lot.

But there is very little information available about this, and sometimes people who have studied Lomilomi, Heartworks Lomi Lomi and/or KaHuna extensively may not understand the differences, and often the words get used interchangeably, so it can understandably be confusing!


I often say that in a nutshell, one of the differences between Lomilomi massage and KaHuna massage,

is that Lomilomi tends to be more YIN and KaHuna tends to be more YANG; both in the way they are given, and their intentions. This is not mutually exclusive to either modality though. Another important difference is that Lomilomi tends to utilise more pule (prayer) than KaHuna, and is more closely aligned with the traditional form of Hawaiian massage, as well as a deeper understanding of Hawaiian culture and spirituality.


I have trained in Lomilomi massage, as well as several other Hawaiian cultural/spiritual practices, with Hawaiian teachers both in Australia and in Hawai’i. I have also trained in KaHuna massage and Heartworks Lomi Lomi in Australia. I began my journey with these forms of healing massage in 2003, and have dedicated my life and my work to this path since then. I have been extremely honoured to work with, and be taught by many respected nā kūmu (master teachers) and  kūpuna (elders) on my journey, many of whom are not alive today.

I therefore have a unique understanding of the differences between Lomilomi, Heartworks Lomi Lomi and KaHuna, which I will share with you from my own ike (understanding), along with what I have learned from my nā kūmu (teachers) along the way.


Firstly, I will talk about Lomilomi and KaHuna, and later I will talk about Heartworks Lomi Lomi.


Both Lomilomi and KaHuna are forms of hands-on massage, they both have their roots in Hawai’i, and there are many similarities, and yet also very important differences. To explain this, I will first need to take you back in time, pre-colonisation, to the islands of alohaHawai’i.


Traditionally massage was a part of everyday life, and was shared amongst ohana (family), as there was a deep understanding that we need to malama (take care of) our bodies - as well as our spirit, the land, each other, our families and communities. Nā keiki (children) would learn to massage their nā mākua (parents) and their nā tūtū (grandparents) and so it was passed down through the generations.


Kānaka maoli (native Hawaiians) lived from the understanding that EVERYTHING is connected, and their way of life was based on aloha (unconditional love) and a deep respect for, and living connection with akua (spirit). These foundations permeated all aspects of life.


If a person’s kuleana (responsibility/path) was to learn about and share the practices of a particular field, they would dedicate their lives to this and study under a Kūmu (master teacher’s) guidance, often for their entire lives

(or the entire life of the Kūmu). In some instances, they would then go on to become a Kahuna (master) and/or a Kūmu (master teacher) in their own right.


Although massage was shared in ohana (families) and many people therefore learnt how to do this on a basic level, there were also people who dedicated their lives to learning the intricacies and all of the layers of the deeper healing components of Hawaiian healing touch. Back in these times Hawaiian healing touch/massage worked in much broader ways than it is usually practised and taught now, and it actively worked on many different layers of the receiver.


These layers included the kino (body), mana’o (mind), pu’uwai (heart) and the ‘uhane (individual spirit), and a range of healing therapies could be utilised by the practitioner to support a person coming into alignment, with all of these aspects of themselves.


Pule (prayer) was a significant part of this traditional healing touch therapy, as was working with a person’s mana (spiritual life force energy). When needed, other things would also be utilised as a part of the massage, like; la’au lapa’au (herbal medicine), ho’oponopono (making things right in relationships with others, with self and with spirit), hula (a spiritual practice/offering through dance) which could also be used as a restorative practice for the body, and 'oli (chants)… amongst many other traditional healing practices. Often traditional Hawaiian massage was also used as a diagnostic tool, to see where things were out of alignment in the body, which could then reflect where things may be out of alignment in a person’s life/spirit. Therefore, Hawaiian massage traditionally worked on many layers, and was often a work in progress… it was not simply a technique, and it was not simply used for relaxation.



The Goddess of Hawaiian healing touch is Hamo’ea. All Hawaiian words were created by the kahiko kūpuna (ancient ancestors) with complete understanding of the kaona (hidden layers) of meaning in them, and also how words literally create, or destroy, when they are used and spoken.


When you break down the word Hamo’ea, into its layers of meaning, we see that; hamo means ‘to knead gently’ and 'ea means ‘life, breath, and spirit’. Ha also means ‘breath’ (which Hawaiians understood to equate to life), and mo’ea means ‘to press onwards’. Understanding the layers of meaning in the Goddess of Hawaiian healing touch’s name, Hamo’ea, helps us to understand that Hawaiian massage was originally shared to knead a person’s spirit gently, along with breath, onwards… in other words, massage was used to support a person to come into alignment with their spirit/life force and to move forwards in whatever ways they needed to in their lives, so that they can heal and grow on their path.


Hawaiian culture and spirituality was and still is, very strong. Unfortunately, due to colonisation, things began to drastically change for Hawai’i and all of its people from 1778 onwards, as traditional cultural practices and language literally all became outlawed. As we know, this is unfortunately a very common story with indigenous cultures around the world. It wasn’t until the Native American Religious Freedoms Act was passed in 1978 that things started to turn back around for Hawaiian’s, as they were legally allowed to share their cultural practices and language again.


It was around this time in history, that Hawaiian massage began to be shared (openly) again, although not in its full original form. Like many aspects of Hawaiian culture, the nā Kūpuna (elders) have protected elements of their practices, and they have only shared things as they have been allowed to, and then the additional deeper layers at the times that have been pono (right).


There were two significant people in Hawai’i, who created different ‘streams’ of massage that they began to teach and share with the world. Both of these people were Kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians), and they have both since passed back over to spirit. Kalehua Aunty Margaret Machado, and Kahu Abraham Kawaii.



Kalehuamakanoelu’ulu’uonapali Aha’ula Keali’i, better known as Kalehua Aunty Margaret Machado, was the first Hawaiian to teach the art of lomilomi to non-Hawaiians, and the first lomilomi teacher certified by the state.

Aunty Margaret was known far and wide around the world for her lifelong devotion to serving others with her special gift: the sacred art of Hawaiian rejuvenation, known as Lomilomi, which she began sharing openly in the 1960’s. Aunty Margaret was well known as the Queen of Unconditional Love, and her haumāna (students) came from all over the world and were taught in the beach house, ohana (family) style at Keei Beach, in South Kona. Aunty Margaret also taught other aspects of Hawaiian healing that traditionally went along with Hawaiian healing touch therapy; like nutrition, and setting things right in one’s life to help restore and maintain balance and harmony.


Aunty Margaret’s daughter now continues to share this style of Hawaiian massage, that is best known as Lomilomi, on The Big Island of Hawai’i. In Hawaiian, the word ‘Lomilomi’ literally means the ‘kneading action of the hands during massage’, and Aunty Margaret shared what she had learnt in the old-style traditional ways from her Kūpuna kane (grandfather), as well as her strong foundation in Hawaiian culture and spirituality. The premise that Aunty Margaret taught from was the way of aloha (unconditional love), both as a way of living for the practitioner, and as a way of giving Lomilomi to each and every client. Aunty Margaret’s style of Lomilomi utilises connection with akua (spirit), through pule (prayer) before, during and after each lomilomi session. Aloha, akua and pule are central tenants of any type of Hawaiian healing work.



Kahu Abraham Kawaii developed what he originally called romi kaparere, which is now known throughout the world as Kahuna massage and sometimes temple-style lomi. Abraham was Hawaiian, and a Kahuna in his own right, yet the style of massage that he taught was not based on Hawaiian healing touch/massage. Abraham developed this style of massage himself, utilising his knowledge of Hawaiian martial arts moves to create the techniques that the giver is taught to use in each session. This bodywork was just one component of his teachings that were all specifically designed to appeal to a western audience and mindset. The basis of Abraham’s teachings was about mastering the Self.


Abraham’s wife (originally from Brazil) continues to share this style of bodywork along with Abraham’s teachings, around the world. In Hawaiian, the word ‘Kahuna' literally means someone who is a master of a particular field of study and practice from Hawaiian culture – so in the context of bodywork, as in using the word Kahuna to describe a type of massage, the name has been reappropriated. In Australia more recently, it is often spelt as KaHuna to denote this difference, and to pay respect to people who actually are a Kahuna.


On a practical level, both Lomilomi massage and KaHuna massage, work with the entire body of the receiver (excluding genitals and orifices). With both styles the giver utilises their hands, forearms and elbows during the massage, and they also both work with long flowing strokes, under and on top of the body.

They usually both aim to work on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual ‘bodies’ and they both have the understanding that they need to be given from a place of aloha (unconditional love).


So, as we can see, there are many similarities between Lomilomi and KaHuna. The sometimes more subtle differences, come through the personal foundation and approach of the giver, as well as their lineage of training, and what the giver literally brings to the table from their own lived experiences.


A true lomilomi giver will not be giving their own energy in a session, as they will be working directly with akua (spirit) and they will be holding a safe space of aloha (unconditional love, without any judgement), whilst offering a deeply nurturing massage. They will also be working with intention and pule (prayer) to support the receiver in coming into alignment within themselves, and moving forward in whatever ways they may need at the time. They will know and understand the foundations of Hawaiian wisdom at a deep level, and they will be working with these in their own lives, so that they can also bring this into the session if and when it is needed. They will be dedicated to living and sharing aloha in all aspects of their lives, not just in the lomilomi room. Lomilomi givers learn to work with their na’au (intuition/gut knowing) in a session, and they learn that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to give… it’s all about working with what is effective in any given moment.


KaHuna massage tends to focus much more on technique, and does not incorporate the deeper wisdom of Hawaiian culture into teachings or sessions.


Another stream of massage that is becoming well known, especially in Australia, is called Heartworks Lomi Lomi, which is usually very different to ‘Lomilomi ’ massage. Heartworks Lomi Lomi has been appropriated in Australia, and the way it is most often taught now utilises a very specific technique, with a very specific sequence.

The giver only uses the palm of their hands during the massage and only massages on top of the body (not underneath). Although it has a heart centred approach in both teaching and giving, it is essentially a massage used for relaxation.


There are now many teachers and practitioners of Lomilomi massage, Heartworks Lomi Lomi and KaHuna massage around the world, and they often bring their own experiences, practices and personal understandings to their work. Some teachers have permission to teach from respected Hawaiian nā Kūpuna/Kūmu (elders/teachers) and some do not. The traditionally pono (right/appropriate) way to teach something that is from Hawaiian culture, is to have direct permission. But not everyone has this opportunity available to them, and if someone doesn’t have direct permission, it does not necessarily mean that they don’t have wonderful things to offer the world and their students.


I have been walking a dedicated path of working with Hawaiian massage and Hawaiian culture/spirituality since 2003, and I have been extremely fortunate to train with many teachers and elders in many aspects of Hawaiian massage and culture, both in Australia and in Hawai’i. I have been given permission to teach from respected Hawaiian Kūpuna (elder), Kumu La’au Lapa’au Sylvester Keiliwaliu Kamaka Iki Ali’i Pa’akaula Kamoa Kamoa Kepilino, better known as Papa K.


Papa K asked me to call what I share with the world ‘Spiritual Hawaiian Lomilomi Massage’ so that respect is always shown for it being a massage that originally comes from Hawai’i and to denote clearly that it is a massage that works beyond the physical, always working in conjunction with spirit.  


I am deeply honoured to be able to share Spiritual Hawaiian Lomilomi Massage with the world, and to witness people utilising the plethora of gifts from this work in their own lives and in their own practice.

More information about my sessions and training, as well as my lineage of teachers can be found on this website. 



Chai RMR (editor, collected from Elders from Hawai'i). Na Mo'olelo Lomilomi (The Traditions of Hawaiian Massage and Healing). Bishop Museum Press. Honolulu, 2005

Daws G. Shoal of Time - A History of the Hawaiian Islands. University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 1968

Harden MJ. Voices of Wisdom — Hawaiian Elders Speak. Aka Press, 1999

Kahalewai NS. Hawaiian Lomilomi Big Island Massage. Island Massage Publishing, Mount View USA, 2004

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