Dispelling the Pressure Myth- By Olivia Hageman

You know massage shouldn’t hurt…. Right? Does that sound like a pipe dream to you? A session that is relaxing and therapeutic? Is that possible? 

Of course it is! Certain massage traditions such as Lomilomi are built around the principle that bodywork can be both relaxing and therapeutic. When we look closer at how the body works and what causes muscle pain, it is clear, there is no good reason why any massage should be totally and utterly, straight- up painful. 

Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Wikipedia puts it nicely: “Pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli.” That “damaging stimuli” is what I want to address here. If you are in a massage session and you are not feeing “oooooo…..ahhhhhhh……” but are feeing “ouch….ouch! “, the therapist could possibly be damaging your muscle tissue. Both your therapist and you should listen to and honor what your muscles and nerves are saying! There is NO benefit in sucking it up, holding your breath and gritting your way through the stroke. My teacher has often said “you cannot make something soft with something hard”. When you are doing a grit and hold, you are tensing your body MORE, which is the opposite effect a massage should be having on you, right? 

It IS possible to release tension or knots in the body’s tissues without having to dig and press really really hard. Often such digging is not the technique that is going to get rid of the issue anyway! There are many ways a therapist can loosen stuck or tight tissues- vibration, rocking, kneading, breaking it up, joint distraction, anchor and stretch- all of these techniques can be just as effective if not more effective than trying to simply beat the knot out of you! 
Touch is a form of communication. When you are trying to explain something and your listener doesn’t understand, do you then yell it as loud as you can to make them understand? Probably not. You would more likely choose different words or present the idea differently to help comprehension- yes?  So often where you perceive pain is not actually the problem that is creating the pain. If you don’t feel any tenderness in an area, pressing harder on that spot may NOT produce any tender sensation at all and by continuing to progressively apply pressure the therapist will get so deep into the tissue that it will elicit a pain message instead of release. More often than not when a sore muscle isn’t tender, there isn’t anything to release there so pressing harder (yelling at it) isn’t going to help. Rather, if the therapist investigates the surrounding area, he/she often finds the culprit- an area that feels much more tender under much less pressure such that lesser pressure FEELS harder and produces a more positive effect. This is the magic of a good massage.

This might all sound very confusing, but think of it this way- Your hip goes out on the right side, your left side starts to hurt. This is because the left side is working WAY harder at keeping you upright and walking because the right side muscle can’t do its job. When the therapist works on the left side, it might be a bit tender, but pressing harder to get it to feel MORE tender isn’t going to do it any good. What will help it the most is releasing the right side so that it can go back to working as it should. And guess what- that right side is going to be super tender and even a bit of pressure will feel like an elephant just stepped on you. 

The beauty of massage is that you CAN get relief where you need it most, healing what is injured or overworked without pain. Don’t get me wrong, there might be some level of slight discomfort, but there is nothing relaxing about being tortured by your therapist. You really can have your cake and eat it too on this one. 


- Olivia Hageman

Let's start here: "Ho'olomilomi" by Aunty Suzi Ko

My teacher Aunty Suzi Ko wrote this at an unknown date. As I ramp up for my first Minnesota Lomilomi workshop, I came across this article and I just can't stop thinking about it! It's such a wonderful description of what we do and what makes Lomi so special. Enjoy! 


Lomilomi is one of the most profoundly healing forms of massage. This sacred, unique form of bodywork has been handed down through the Ancient Master Healers of Hawaii for generations.

The hallmark of Lomilomi is the loving connectedness between the practitioner and the client, thus the name "Loving Hands" massage. Whilst technique is an important part of the massage and associated healing, much of the work is done by love, with the total focus of the practitioner on the client, using loving hands and a loving heart. This flowing with total energy, using long continuous, flowing strokes, combined with the very loving touch, relaxes the entire being, assisting in a letting go of old beliefs, patterns and behaviors that cause limitations and which are stored in the cellular memory of our body.

The Hawaiians look at things in terms of energy flow, following the idea that an idea or belief can block energy flow as much as muscle tension can. Lomilomi helps release the blockages, whilst at the same time giving the energy new direction. Thus Lomilomi is not just a physical experience; it also facilitates healing on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels as well. The Hawaiians view all aspects of the body as one and believe that the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual are all part of the "whole" self - when healing occurs on one level, it impacts on all levels. Rather than viewing the client as someone to "be fixed", a Lomilomi practitioner views each person as a Being to be assisted in returning to harmony and balance. It is important to remember that the practitioner does not heal but is the facilitator for the healing, creating a safe place for the healing to occur.

When harmony is lacking the effect is pain physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Illness is a state of tension, which leads to resistance which blocks energy movement. Lomilomi helps release this and therefore facilitates the road to healing. On the physical level there are many benefits such as release of stress and tension, blood and lymph flow assisted and the elimination of wastes and toxins stimulated.

A Lomilomi usually commences with stillness between the practitioner and client, usually with the practitioner's hands gently resting on the client's back. In this stillness the practitioner may quietly say a blessing or prayer asking for whatever healing is needed to take place during the massage. The client may be asked to set their intention for any healing they would like to receive. The masseuse then works very intuitively with the client. Thus, whilst technique is important, there is no set format or sequence for the massage and no two massages will ever be identical.

There are a number of distinguishing features in the style and strokes used in Lomilomi. As well as using the hands, the massage is given in fluid, rhythmic motion using the forearms in broad, flat strokes, soothing out tensions. This has been described as feeling like gentle waves moving over the body. Another feature is that different parts of the body may be massaged at the same time, for example one arm or hand may be working on a shoulder and the other hand may be working on the hip. This assists the recipient in totally relaxing as it is extremely difficult for the brain to focus on the two different areas at once. Flowing over the body as a whole being, rather than working on areas in isolation, assists in a deep sense of balance and harmony to be achieved. Whilst technique is important, the priority is loving the body, using intuition so the massage is the most appropriate for each person.

Underbody and full body strokes also help to free the energy and assist the body to become soft, promoting free and abundant flow of life energy in the recipient. Gentle stretches of the body and gentle rotations of the joints may therefore also incorporated to assist the release of tensions and assist the flow of energy, once again not forcing, but feeling the level of the client's resistance or comfort. The masseuse may also sing gently or hum at various points during the Lomilomi as the vibrating and amplified energy that results also aids the release of blockages.

Because the practitioner works intuitively, a massage may be slow and very relaxing or at times it may be a little faster and more invigorating and enlivening to the body. An emotional release may be experienced, as the massage can release and shift negative emotions, negative beliefs, etc. that have been stored in the cells of the body, with the healing effects of the massage continuing long after the massage is over. Lomilomi is not only therapeutic, it is loving, nurturing and thorough.

Hula movements, combined with energy work and the breath work of the practitioner are also important and integral aspects of Lomilomi. These are all vital to assisting the energy flow both within the practitioner and recipient along with helping keep the energy at a high level. The sharing of the breath, the Mana, the essence of the Creator or Universal Energy, is an ancient Hawaiian custom and also greatly enhances the energy flow

When we think of Hawaii, the word "aloha" usually comes to mind. We often think of aloha as simply meaning hello or goodbye. It's meaning is however much deeper - "the joyful sharing of life energy in the present". This really is one of the secrets of Lomilomi. Aunty Margaret Machado who was one of the oldest and widely recognized teachers of Lomilomi has a definition of Lomilomi which is "The Loving Touch - a connection of heart, hands and soul with the Source of All Life!" Students of Lomilomi learn to flow the love from the heart, through the hands, to connect with the soul of the one receiving the massage. Healing is increased by love - love received and love given. The deeper meaning of Love to the Hawaiians also includes tolerance, forgiveness, acceptance, non judgment, appreciation, compassion, respect and so many other elements - this is the very foundation of a Lomilomi massage.