Hilot Massage: Traditionally Modern

It’s rare in an age of globalism and near instant satisfaction, that one man’s luxury is another man’s last resort. Hilot, the traditional healing massage and diagnostic practice of the Philippines is one such rarity. Hilot has been practiced since there was any kind of civilization on the islands, although there is no true documentation of the origins of the practice.

In the small villages and heavy forests of the Philippines, modern medicine is rare and expensive to come by, so often Filipinos seek the Manghihilots (practitioners of hilot) for ailments like a sprained wrist or broken leg to sicknesses like a cold or the flu. These practitioners employ various massage techniques but also chiropractic routines along with herbalist medicine. Midwives in the islands are often also known to be practitioners of hilot.

Like Ayurvedic massage we discussed last week, hilot incorporates the use of oils and diluted vinegar (suka). Unlike the traditional Indian healing though, hilot uses only small amounts of lubrication on particular areas, primarily concentrating on the hot/cold temperatures of the client’s body and creating balance between them. Hilot massage also uses banana leaves and coconut oil. The leaves have an antiseptic quality to drawing out imbalances in the body while the coconut oil soothes the skin of the client. Luxurious five star hotels in Manila and Quezon City boast of using virgin coconut oil and organic banana leaves to attract tourists to their spas.

This traditional massage has become so popular that the Filipino Department of Tourism has begun to implement standard practices in training and licensing. According to hilotmassage.com, “all the Department of Tourism-accredited spas are now required to incorporate hilot in their massage therapies.” The popularity of the massage has grown to the point that a merger between a Filipino and a German non-governmental group was created in 2005 to bring authentic hilot massage to Europe. The Urban Escape Massage Spa in Derry, Ireland presents hilot massage as the crown jewel of its spa experience, stating “at Urban Escape you will be treated by therapists who have lived all their lives in the Philippine islands and who trained and worked in the Philippine islands”.

While hilot does not draw on an ancient text or a religious ritual, its place in Filipino culture seems almost keystone. With such importance, its little wonder the art and healing has become one of the most luxurious and sought after experiences on and off the islands.

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