Two Islands, Two Cultures, Two Massages – Hawaiian Lomi Lomi and Balinese Massage. How do they Differ?

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Different between Hawaiian Lomi Lomi and Balinese MassageBy Penny Ellis, Founder, Bali International Spa Academy
CIBTAC Centre of the Year 2015 and Runner-up 2014

The delightfully gorgeous islands of Hawaii and Bali are both steeped in history and culture, at least once one digs deeper than the superficial attributes that are largely responsible for attracting year-round tourists to their shores…. a tropical climate, beautiful beaches, stunning landscapes, themed attractions, varied dining, and much more to consistently place them on the bucket list of global travelers.

Hawaii’s indigenous population is distinctly Polynesian, but today America’s 50th state is home to a harmonious potpourri of ethnic groups from Japan, Korea, China, the South Pacific Islands, Puerto Rico and many more nations, most of whom migrated to Hawaii to work on once flourishing plantations.  Unfortunately, the influx of foreigners diluted authentic Hawaiian traditions, rituals and beliefs, but the “aloha spirit” is still a vibrant and binding part of island society.  Native Hawaiian culture has however recently seen a resurgence, and riding the crest of this wave is their unique and deeply spiritual massage form, Lomi Lomi.

Bali too has borne witness to many global influences, yet the Balinese people have largely retained their original Hindu religion and rituals. Evidence of this is readily seen everywhere, from the simple daily offerings placed outside every home and business to their frequent and elaborate ceremonies.  These truly showcase their genuine devotion to their Hindu dieties. Fortunately, visitors are welcome to observe first-hand these spectacles of dance, music, and vibrant clothing and adornments.

Similar to Hawaii’s Lomi Lomi Massage, Bali has its own distinctive bodywork techniques and traditions. Unlike Lomi Lomi its main purpose was originally physical healing versus spiritual wellbeing.


Hawaiian Lomi Lomi and Balinese massage are each reflections of their island’s history.  Both share the ability to relax and rejuvenate simply by being under the care of a compassionate therapist. Plus there are so many physical paybacks for simply surrendering yourself to the touch of dedicated professionals.


polynesian-massageIn its truest form, this is a very spiritual and emotional Polynesian bodywork experience which has long been an integral component of native Hawaiian medicine.   It derives from the long-held Hawaiian philosophy of ‘”huna” which is a broad and complex set of beliefs encompassing ancient spiritual teachings aimed at directing energy flow to find harmony and love in all aspects of life.

In early Hawaii, Lomi Lomi was part of a sacred rite of passage and a restorative ritual, so was very transformational and medicinally healing.  This explains its other names and variants such as Auntie Margaret’s Big Island Massage, Temple Style Massage and Kahuna Massage, a kahuna being a native Polynesian master healer who called on their wisdom to ask for a vision as to who would be the next of their ancestors to receive this honored ritual.  These related bodywork concepts validate the revered nature of Lomi Lomi and the respect the modality is still given by serious therapists.

“If your hands are gentle and loving, your patient will feel the sincerity of your heart, his soul will reach out to yours and God’s healing power will flow through you both”Auntie Margaret

One of the distinguishing features of Lomi Lomi Massage, no matter the manifestation or label, is the love, respect and compassion that the practitioner brings to the table. For this reason, Lomi Lomi is also known as “loving hands” massage.

Trainer with her students was practicing lomi lomi massage to clientTherapists who take Lomi Lomi’s traditions seriously typically begin a session by placing their hands gently on the client’s back. After a short period of stillness, the recipient is asked to breathe deeply, give into the moment and enter a totally relaxed state.   Female therapists may even say prayers and their male counterparts chant, both helping to set the mood.  Hawaiian music may be played as a further relaxant.  Some may go as far as to invite clients to surrender anything that is no longer serving them and discuss other practices that may enhance their wellness,

So while techniques are also an important part of a Lomi Lomi massage, much of the impact is achieved thru the practitioner’s love and focus on the client’s intention.  The loving hands and hearts approach delivers a uniquely satisfying experience on many levels.

Of course the reality may differ from the myth, but most therapists do infuse the spirit of ‘Living Aloha’ and love into every session.


Another unique feature of Lomi Lomi massage is that pressure is generated thru more than just the fingers, hands and arm as in conventional massage modalities. Lomi Lomi also utilizes the forearms, knuckles and elbows and some therapists even use their feet, and knees, plus sticks and stones.

Hawaiian Lomi Lomi Massage Technique is using elbowWhether using human or other accessory tools, all of the movements are fluid and rhythmic, effortlessly flowing from head to toe on the body’s top and underside. Often two parts of the body are massaged at the same time as it is believed that this promotes harmony and balance. Many claim it feels like a dance on their body. Plentiful amounts of emollient facilitate further pleasure.

The soothing strokes combined with gentle stretches and joint rotations stimulate the natural flow of energy to bring about adjustments in the client’s physical, emotional and spiritual state.  Considering that Hawaiian shamans believed in a powerful mind-body connection, it is not surprising that Lomi Lomi healing can impact the total self.

Lomi Lomi massage can also be done by two or more people working together. Having two people massaging tends to send the recipient into an even deeper state of bliss.

Practitioners who wish to offer truly authentic Lomi Lomi massage with all of its original accompaniments such as dance, music, prayer and meditation often choose to work privately or in home settings.  However, spas dedicated to authenticity can create the right atmosphere and incorporate selected accompaniments with careful planning.


balinese-massageWhile Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage has not been impacted by foreign influences other than adjustments to make it more spa-friendly, Balinese massage in its contemporary format is a diverse collection of ethnic techniques.  The original massage form originated in the royal palaces of the main Indonesian island of Java, but traders brought their own concepts of wellness that were eagerly embraced.  From India came Ayurvedic healing massage techniques, as well as their perspectives on the medicinal application of oils and herbs.   Chinese Buddhists brought their bodywork procedures based on acupuncture, acupressure and reflexology philosophies.

When Islam began to dominate most of Java in the early 1500’s, many Hindus moved to Bali to ensure their religion would continue to flourish.  In their new island home, massage’s primary role was physical relief given that many worked under strenuous conditions, particularly those involved in agriculture.

As more and more foreigners began to arrive on its shores, the Balinese proved adept at adapting their own massage maneuvers to suit the demands of their new clientele who were most interested in massage for relaxation and rejuvenation.  As Swedish massage was being popularized around Europe, their five core strokes were incorporated into the island’s evolving massage.  However, it remained true to its roots as a tonic for sore bodies and thus is still considered a gentle form of deep tissue massage, albeit with firmer pressure applied to sore and stiff muscles.

Despite the reality that today’s Balinese Massage is an amalgamation of global influences; its foundation is still based on the unique Balinese culture which is still fully alive today.  The Balinese have an amazing ability to embrace modern bodywork methods, yet still retain the traditional characteristics of its bodywork practices.

Although Balinese massage is interpreted differently even around the island, the most commonly used strokes are highlighted below;

  • Effleurage – sliding or gliding
  • Petrissage – kneading
  • Tapotement – rhythmic tapping
  • Friction – working across the muscle fibers
  • Vibration and Shaking
  • Crabbing
  • Cat Squeeze
  • Palming
  • Skin Rolling
  • Thumb Circles
  • Knuckle Slides
  • Wringing, Thumb Slide
  • Forearm Slide
  • Kecak (a unique Balinese dance and music )
  • Thumb Walking
  • Chopping

Some therapists choose to apply aromatherapy oils to induce further relaxation of the mind and body.  Balinese Massage is also sometimes used by specialist sports therapists to treat minor injuries, strained muscles and damaged tissues.

This massage modality is popping up in all corners of the globe due to its therapeutic benefits, and its ability to reduce or eliminate stress.


Both modalities provide awesome benefits – physically, mentally and spiritually.   They share many common restorative and preventative health benefits such as;

  • Stimulates the lymphatic, circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems
  • Eliminates waste and toxins
  • Enhances the immune system
  • Increases flexibility
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Reduces or controls chronic and acute muscle pain

Of course, both have the ability to dilute stress and anxiety, reinvigorate the mind-set and restore emotional balance. It is almost as if the therapist presses the ‘reset’ button on the body and mind.

These promises can be delivered by intuitive therapists whom are well trained in the methods of Lomi Lomi and Balinese massage.  Yet realistically there will be variations due to physical and mental capacity, as well as aptitude.  This is not necessarily bad as savvy experts will add their own interpretation to the basics of each massage type and tailor treatments to suit the needs of each customer.

For the person on the massage table, the choice is often up to what massage modality feels right at the time and the long-term results they receive.  For therapists deciding which modality to pursue, the situation is the same……… proceed with which one suits you as an individual. Or there is no reason why you can’t become an expert in both!

Five day BISA courses are available in Balinese and Lomi Lomi Massage.

Add CIBTAC Endorsed certification in just 10 days.

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