Traditional Massage/Healing Practice from the Philippines.
The Philippine Hilot massage therapy is an ancient art of treatment using bare hands and herbs. It is a part of a traditional, ancient culture of Filipinos. Filipinos in ancient times regarded Hilot as a miracle art of therapy. Because of the deeper understanding of the ability of that kind of care, people still believe in this miracle method. It is a kind of therapeutic or physical manipulation that has a good influence on the veins, bones and muscles, but in a different way than an ordinary massage, because here we also use medicinal plants, such as various herbs and banana leaves. Banana leaves are a natural ioniser that works on bio-energy with its application to the skin to a certain part of the body and determines which part of the body needs necessary attention and recovers balance and harmony to the body. Banana leaves also have an antiseptic effect. It has been a useful way of treating illnesses from flu to sprains and even bone dislocations. It is embedded in the Filipino culture and is still into practice as an alternative medicine massage.
What is Hilot?
Hilot is the age-old indigenous Filipino healing practice associated with elderly healers. It is relatively complex way of healing methodology complete with philosophy, health concept, healing concept and healing methodologies. The “Hilot” Master or “manghihilot” could identify body illnesses or areas of energy imbalance in the body through many unconventional methods like pulse reading, hot and cold analysis, phrenology, stool/urine/perspiration analysis. It is the oldest healing arts in the Philippines. Most Hilot in the Philippines are either learned from relatives, through hands on practice, or inherited from their forefathers, passing the art from one generation to the next.
Hilot has been a Filipino Traditional Healing modality since pre-written history of the Philippines. It is considered to be in existence for more than a thousand years. While there are many forms of indigenous therapeutic massage (generically known as hilot sa pilay) in each of the ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines, an eclectic mix of massage techniques from these language/cultural areas has been developed now to be known as “The Filipino Hilot”.
The practice of Hilot is a part of the Filipino way of life. Traditionally, prior to the popularity of modern medical doctors, the ‘manghihilot’ was the health care giver of the community. Like all traditions, it has seen its share of being pushed to the background at the arrival of new methods, new medicines and new technology.
Lately, in the worldwide resurgence of alternative forms of medicine and the research and study of the “old” ways of healing, Hilot is re-established as the Filipino Healing Art based on scientific- universal and natural laws.
Concept of Hilot
Like other systems of natural health care, the basic concept of traditional Filipino healing is that health and wellness are maintained by balance and harmony. On the other hand, discomfort, illness, and disease are the results of imbalance and disharmony. In applying hilot, the therapist identifies areas of energy imbalance in a client’s body through touch diagnosis through the use of warm banana leaves and virgin coconut oil, which is applied to the body before and after the treatment. Hilot therapist first makes a review of the back with warm banana leaves. Diagnosis of touch by using these leaves specify which body parts have an unbalanced energy. Then, the therapist determines disrupted flow of energy in the body and devotes to the problem until he/she creates the balance and harmony and a sense of relief. From here, the therapist proceeds to customize the treatment to remove or alleviate such imbalances.
At the beginning of the session (pre-hilot ritual) the manghihilot invokes Divine power to provide the energy for healing. This opening ritual also acknowledges and invokes the natural power of the natural surroundings. Then it summons the sick person’s inherent self-healing powers to action.
Coconut oil is essential in all kinds of hilot massage to maintain warm hands. The oil does not only lubricate the massage but it also keeps the manghihilot’s hands warm.
After a hilot session, the person is usually warned not to bathe for approximately twenty four hours so the oils can absorb into the skin.
Ingredients and techniques of Hilot therapy:
- Virgin coconut oil
- Warm banana leaves
- Masseur applies pressure by 90% and 10% thumbs gentle massage strokes
- Manually creating heat and reducing tension in conclusions,
- Patting and gently pinching for reducing pain and impairing muscle development.
Special advantages of Hilot therapy:
- Softens hardened formations in areas of cartilage, tendons and muscles,
- Allows good blood circulation in all muscle cells, which tightens and improves the appearance of skin
- Reduces muscle pain
- Eliminates physical tension and pain
- Evokes a feeling of comfort,
- Relieves stress.
Advice after Hilot massage
After treatments it is advised to drink a lot of fluid like lemon grass tea, ginger tea, green tea or hot water. Since after the massage your body is exposed to heat, it is not good immediately to be exposed to the cold, because our pores are getting closed in it. Give yourself time to adjust the body.
At least the first two hours after the massage you should not eat heavy, fatty food, it is not advised to drink alcoholic beverages and smoke.
Making of a Hilot
The training of Hilot Practitioners or the “manghihilot” involves learning the concepts and philosophy of traditional healing, instilling an individual valuing process and its relevance to Hilot Healing and understanding the body functions. The education of the “manghihilot” is holistic, - holistic involving the biological, social, behavioral and psychological aspects of life and living.
A good hilot practitioner would know the type of ailment his client is suffering from just by looking at him and sensing his energy. A good healer can tell if the elements in one’s body—fire, water, earth and air—are in harmony. Fire refers to the body’s electric impulses; water, the blood; the earth, bone and flesh; while air corresponds to the air that one breathes.
To correct the imbalance in the patient’s energy that leads to a distorted metabolism, a healer would have to give the patient a massage to create the desired biochemical reactions that helps the body heal itself.
Spotting a fake “hilot” should be easy. Anything that did not conform to the natural law would cause pain, so if one felt sore after a “hilot” massage then something was not right.
Variations of the term Hilot
There are many words used to refer to the healer(or Hilot). From the Tagalog region there is “Hilot,” “Manghihilot,” “Hagod,” “Manghahagod,” “Haplos,” “Albolaryo,” and “Mangagamot.” Also there is “Aplos” in Bontoc region, “Unar” in the Kalinga, Apayao region, “Aptus” in the Ibatan region, “Ilot” or “Ilut” in the Ibanag, Isneg, Ilocano, Itawis, Zambal and Pampango region. Then there is “Ablon” in the Northern Ilocano region, “Kemkem” in Pangasinan region, “Elot” in the Ilonggo region, “Agud” or “Agod” in the Mindanao and Maranao region, and “Hagod” in Bukidnon region.
The following are general principles observed by our folk system of medicine in understanding health and illness.
A. Nature (“Panahon”: Time, Season, Weather Conditions) influences man’s health
Filipino traditional medicine believes that time and condition of nature greatly influence the health of the person. To remain healthy, one must learn to abide by the law of nature or at least know how to deal with the changes in the weather condition that can affect his health. The following are some of the popular concepts that support this view:
-“Taking a bath in the morning improves one’s health; while taking a bath in the afternoon most especially when the sun is about to set, can make a person anemic.”
- “There are ailments which are seasonal in nature, when it is their time to come, one will just have to be ready to deal with them.” Cough and colds, sore eyes, mumps are some of the ailments which are looked upon as seasonal in nature.
- “Rheumatic pain attacks when it is about to rain.” Lolo’s and Lola’s can’t do anything but get ready with their “oil” when it is about to rain.
B. Hot and Cold Syndrome adversely affects man’s health
Filipino traditional medicine believes that hot and cold elements affect one’s health. Illness is caused by hot or cold elements that enter the body through the pores of the skin, food consumed, air or vapor inhaled that cause imbalance or disequilibrium inside the body. Here are some of our traditional “hot and cold syndrome” concepts.
- “Usbong ng lupa” right after a rainfall can cause nausea or headache.”
-“Eating “cold” fruits in the morning can cause stomach discomfort or indigestion;
- “Over-eating of “hot” fruits or food can cause skin rashes.”
- “Washing of hands and feet, or taking a bath when one is tired (a tired body is hot) can cause pasma syndrome, a condition characterized by unsteadiness of nerves and muscles of the afflicted parts of the body.”
- “Going to sleep while the hair is still wet can cause the heat to come up to the head and may result to insanity”
- “Drinking cold water or fruit juice considered “cold” like buko juice, when one has fever can cause further imbalances to the system.”
- “One, who just had a bout with severe sickness such as typhoid fever, influenza and the likes, must mix the water with boiled herbs when taking a bath for the first time to protect himself from pasma.
C. There are Discomforts or Ailments that are caused by Supernatural Elements
Filipino folk medicine believes that there are discomforts and illnesses which are caused by supernatural elements. The following are some of the examples of these cultural beliefs:
- Usog - is a strong “hot breath” possessed by a person with inherently strong life-force that can cause to others a discomfort characterized by stomachache, nausea and headache. Based on experience, one who has usog can cause discomfort to those whose life-force is naturally weak most especially the children.
- Nalamang lupa – is a discomfort caused by earth dwellers if they’re disturbed in their daily activities. Sweeping the floor or ground with the use of walis ting-ting after the sun has set can disturb the earth dwellers.
- Naengkanto – is not really a physical ailment but a person who has an engkanto for a friend or acquaintance shows strange behavior as he talks to someone only he or she can see.
- Nabarang – is an ailment caused by a sorcerer called the Mambabarang, who uses insects in inflicting harm to their victim. The Mambabarang can instruct the insects to enter the body of an intended victim either through his anus, ear or nose.
- Nagaway – an ailment caused by a Manggagaway through manikaan and palipad hangin. The Manggagaway can make a person lose his mind; make a woman pregnant and make her deliver a fish or a lizard baby.
-Namatanda – is a discomfort or ailment caused by a disturbed or offended “nuno sa punso”. It is widely believed that an “old dwarf”, “kama-kama” to the Ilonggo, resides by an anthill. It is not an uncommon practice for a Filipino to say “tabi-tabi po” when passing by an ant hill “punso” or pee in an unfamiliar place lest he offends the dweller.
- Natabang / Nakitang – an ailment caused by Manugtabang or Manugkitang, called in general as Manughiwit by the Hiligaynon. Manugtabang is known to cause the bloating of stomach of their victim; while Manugkitang used fin of the fish called kitang, to inflict harm to their victim.
II. Folk System of Medicine Specialists or Practitioners
Common Essential Attributes:
- Use of rituals and prayer (a genuine specialist possesses a “librita”, a small book)
- Claim of access to supernatural power
- Acknowledged and recognized in their community to have the ability to heal
- The Albularyo – is a general practitioner. He is sought for his ability to deal the case of the victims of sorcery, witchcraft and earth dwellers. At the time of the Spaniards, they were called herbolario due to their vast knowledge on herbal medicines.
- The Manghihilot – specialist in fractured bone, sprain, dislocated joints, pinched nerves and other “sala” (generic term for muscle, bones, and joint discomfort)
- The Magpapaanak (local midwives) – trained and experienced practitioners who assist mothers in the delivery of their children. Their practice includes hilot to correct inverted uterus, pre-natal hilot to position the baby for easy delivery, post-natal hilot and “suob” to hasten the healing recovery of the mother.
- Magluluop (Diviners) / Magtatawas – specialists in divining and diagnosing illness through rituals and prayers
Types of Treatments
Traditional Hilot Massage
This is a traditional massage treatment. This combo of healing and deep massage will harmonize the body’s elements, relax the mind and heal the body. This method also employs Banana leaf strips, laced with coconut oil and warmed over a candle flame. The banana leaves are run through areas of the body and tends to stop or tug over energy blockages. Otherwise, the leaf tends to smoothly slide over the skin.
Banana leaf also has some medicinal and herbal elements to it. Banana leaves contain large amounts of polyphenols, including EGCG antioxidants, found in green tea, and blueberries.
Hot Stone Hilot Massage
Many people find the warmth of the hot stones to be comforting and get it for relaxation. Heated smooth, flat stones are placed on key points on the body, and the heat relaxes muscles, allowing to work the muscles without using deep pressure. The stones are heated and doused in Virgin coconut oil and applied to the back. The heated stones also promotes temperature balance in relation to Hilot theory making this an excellent healing method.
Bentosa Cup Hilot Massage
Bentosa cupping massage is a healing method adapted from the Chinese over 3,000 years ago. A lit candle is placed on the patients back and immediately covered with a glass cup. A vacuum is created by air heated by fire in a glass cup placed flush against the patient’s skin. As the air cools in the cup, a vacuum forms that pulls up on the skin, stimulating the acupressure effect. By creating suction and negative pressure, Bentosa is used to drain excess fluids antitoxins; stimulate the peripheral nervous system; bring blood flow to stagnant muscles and skin; and loosen adhesion, connective tissue and stubborn knots in soft tissue.
Traditional Foot Hilot Massage - Dagdagay
Dagdagay is a traditional Filipino foot massage originating from the mountain province, is a therapeutic foot massage using rattan sticks. Long motion and acupressure is applied to the soles of the feet to restore balance and boost the body’s immune system. Similar to Chinese foot reflexology and Thai foot massage, the Dagdagay is an authentic Filipino foot massage that has been used for centuries and is now redefining ancient and modern natural therapy.
Scalp Massage - Tiris
Tiris is a scalp massage that has been widely used in the Philippines to rid patients of headaches. Scalp massage will help balance energy in the mind and also relive stress. This technique has been practiced by indigenous indios in the Philippines before Spanish colonization. It has survived centuries and still exist today as a form of healing and wellness.