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Hawaiian Healing

by Jane Lewis(more info)

listed in healing, originally published in issue 87 - April 2003


I first became aware of Huna, the ancient science which embraces many Hawaiian healing practices, while attending a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) course in 1997. The trainer made a statement which really made me sit up and take notice. He said that, until the arrival of European explorers in 1778, mental illness was virtually unknown in Hawaii and the population was relatively free of physical disease. This was in part because the ancient Hawaiians had developed a highly sophisticated psychology,[1] which recognized three interrelated minds - the conscious, unconscious and higher minds. Maintaining balance and connection between the three minds is essential for good health. In 1778 even the existence of an unconscious mind was not widely recognized in the West! I was hooked, and set out to know more. In this article I will focus on some key Hawaiian healing processes, and explain some of the philosophy that underpins them.

In Hawaii, there are many healing traditions associated with different family lineages. It is a mark of respect not to teach the traditions of a given lineage without having the permission of the teacher. The traditions are so varied that even the term 'Huna' is not universally used or even accepted, although I have found that the healing teachings of those who do not acknowledge or practise Huna still reflect its philosophy as I have been taught it. The word Huna itself means 'secret'. The missionaries interpreted the old practices as black arts, and they were outlawed. The laws banning the ancient practices were not repealed until 1979, or even 1989.[1] Given such a history it is not surprising that some Hawaiians still believe that the knowledge and techniques should remain secret, for fear they fall into the hands of people who will disrespect them or use them for wrongful purposes. Fortunately, there are a number of teachers ('kumu' in Hawaiian) who believe that the ancient healing practices should be shared for the good of the world. They are willing to teach both Hawaiians and 'haoles' (non-Hawaiians) in a public setting and record their knowledge in the public domain.

For the ancient Hawaiians, spirituality and healing were intimately bound up with one another. There are different forms of healing, both physical, such as massage or healing with herbs, and non-physical, such as la'au kahea (psychological healing). Nevertheless, even with the physical techniques, you will hear comments like '80% of the work is spiritual'. The keepers or masters of the various techniques are known as 'kahuna', although most of them are too modest to use the title themselves. Indeed, David Bray,[2] a self-appointed kahuna, described a kahuna as a spiritual teacher who acts as a bridge between the spiritual and the material world and is also an expert in his field.

The Three Selves

For hundreds of years, Hawaiians have viewed the body, mind and spirit as part of a whole, where problems in one may affect the others. They also recognize that we cannot function well if we are disconnected from our true spirit.[3] The ancients believed that we each have three minds or selves: the unconscious mind (Unihipili), the conscious mind (Uhane) and the higher conscious mind or higher self (Aumakua). The translations of these may vary. However the concepts are common to several lineages. The unconscious mind is the lower self where emotions and memory reside. The conscious mind is rational and has the power to sin by intentionally hurting others. The higher self is the 'utterly trustworthy parental spirit'.[4] The minds are connected by 'mana' (energy - similar to Chi or Prana). James1 notes that the mana flows through tubes of a sticky, etheric material known as aka. Because it is sticky, it connects to whatever we touch, physically or otherwise, and it stays connected unless we take conscious steps to break the connection. The minds are housed in three bodies, which are supported and given physical expression by the physical body.

Disease occurs when there is an imbalance or disconnection between the minds or between the minds and the bodies.

Healing Processes

In Hawaii, whether you accept the principles of Huna or not, healing work is preceded by pule or prayer. As Laura Yardley puts it: "prayer is what gives healing its potency and power".[5] Students of Huna may choose to pray to the higher conscious mind or other, unseen, levels of creation. Devout Christians, such as Aunty Margaret Machado, the doyenne of lomi-lomi massage, will offer their prayer to God to flow healing through patient and therapist. The prayer may be silent, verbal or expressed as a chant. Hawaiian chants are complex, with many layers of meaning. They preserve legends, history, philosophy, knowledge and prediction. They help to build up mana and raise the vibrational level of the chanter and the audience, moving both closer to spirit.

Healing work is loving work in Hawaii. The Hawaiian word for love is 'aloha', meaning 'greetings and welcome with love'. It is used for greetings and farewells. However, different teachers of Huna and other healing arts will give you other, deeper meanings for aloha. These include humbleness and humility, honesty, patience, alertness, taking pleasure in being helpful, generosity, feeling from the heart. For real healing to take place, it is essential that the therapist brings the spirit of aloha in its deepest sense to their work.

Based on a model presented by Tad James
Based on a model presented by Tad James[1]

Another key element is ho'oponopono. This means 'to make right' and is often translated as 'forgiveness'. Ho'oponopono is used to resolve conflict and guilt. In Hawaiian healing this is important because conflict and guilt represent the sort of negative emotions which can fester and cause disease. It can be said that ho'oponopono 'makes good mental health practice'.[5] It is now used by social workers in Hawaii,[5] while the kahuna Morrnah Simeona taught a ho'oponopono process to the United Nations. She believed ho'oponopono was particularly important for therapists to clear any Karmic patterns they may have with their clients.[6]

There are many different ho'oponopono processes, depending on an individual's tradition. I have learned about ho'oponopono both on Huna trainings and on lomi-lomi courses. The process is likely to include the following steps. Firstly, prayer: whether to God, the higher self, guardian angels or to other unseen beings and entities. Secondly, obtaining agreement or permission from all parties for the process to take place with the intention of achieving complete forgiveness. Thirdly, is talking and discussion, so that all sides can present their point of view and be heard by all the others. Fourthly, agreement by all parties to forgive. Forgiveness in ho'oponopono terms means 'this is mutual and I will never bring it up again. We are done with it'. The process may end with a prayer of thanks. Again depending on your tradition, you may physically involve other people or you may work inside yourself, perhaps using your three selves.

In his book Lost Secrets of Ancient Hawaiian Huna,[1] Tad James gives a ho'oponopono process for working inside yourself. He includes cutting the chords of connection (the 'aka' chords) that bind you to the other person. Reconnection can always take place after you have finished the process and it will do so in a better context. I have found the process he describes to be simple and effective. You can easily use it for yourself, although you should not use it with others without specific training. Because I have been trained in using the process with others, I use it a lot in my therapy practice with excellent effects. For example, as a result of working through the process one client realized that she still had some key, unresolved issues with her mother which were holding her back from achieving what she wanted. Using Higher Self Therapy (described below) I was able to help her heal her relationship with her mother and so heal herself. I have also used it to help clients dealing with unresolved grief following a bereavement.

Tad James also discusses a number of other ancient Hawaiian healing practices. I have found the Higher Self Therapy Process particularly useful for healing myself and facilitating the healing processes of my clients. The process is incredibly quick, and can be used to clear a number of blocks to mental health, including negative emotions, such as repressed anger or grief, limiting decisions, complexes and the like. The concept of enlisting the Higher Conscious Mind to assist with such healing was well known to the ancient Kahunas. However, because the Higher Conscious Mind respects free will, there must be complete agreement from the conscious and unconscious mind that such an intervention is acceptable. In practical terms this means that you must get the agreement of the unconscious and conscious minds that it is totally acceptable for such healing to take place. If there is no such agreement, it is important to resolve the issues around that before the intervention can be successful. James describes a process for working with yourself. Again, you should not use it to work with someone else until you have received appropriate training. Following such training, I have used this process to help individuals with a range of physical issues, from cancer to slow-healing broken bones, to resolve repressed anger, sadness, fear and guilt which was getting in the way of their healing.

Cleansing of all the bodies forms an important part of the Hawaiian healing tradition. At a metaphysical level, techniques such as ho'oponopono help cleanse the individual of negativity. Breathing helps clear physical and non-physical blockages which prevent cleansing and restrict the flow of mana. The Hawaiian way is to take a good breath in through your nose and let it out with a sustained 'Ha' sound through your mouth. 'Ha' is the Hawaiian word for breath. It is said the kahunas of old would stand together and breathe in this way for hours at a time to promote cleansing, increase mana and enable greater connection with spirit. It is also an excellent technique for increasing one's personal energy levels first thing in the morning. As with many other indigenous medicinal systems, the use of purges and sweat lodges provides physical cleansing. For example, Aunty Margaret Machado runs a colon cleanse programme based on ancient techniques involving sea water purges, fasting, steam baths and exercise, which improves the circulation. However, it is not enough to undergo a cleanse, you then must change your habits to take better care of yourself.[7]

Continuing on the physical plane, there is a huge body of knowledge around herbs and plants, known as la'au lapa'au. The ancient Hawaiians were closely in touch with all the elements, including the earth or 'aina. All parts of the plant may be used, and the preparation is surrounded with prayer and ritual. Some typical Hawaiian herbal remedies, using substances with which we may be familiar, include:

  • Olenna (turmeric) root – used for earache and sinus problems;
  • Sandalwood shavings – burned and mixed into a poultice with fish bones and kukui nut oil to remove moles. A similar mixture with seaweed added can be used for ulcers, cuts which won't heal and deep wounds;
  • Kukui – a most versatile nut. Both the oil from the nut and the nut sap are used. The oil is used in massage and for healing skin conditions. The nut sap can be used for mouth ulcers or mixed with chilli and used as a laxative;
  • Coconut oil – used for stretch marks and for perineum massage. A coconut and kukui nut mixture is used to treat prostate problems;
  • Alaea – a mineral often called Hawaiian clay, used in many applications, for instance to make a medicine for coughs and congestion, for heart problems and to make Hawaiian salt;
  • Noni – a vile smelling (and tasting) fruit, which can be picked up off the roadside when in season. Many claims have been made for noni, including relief of diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and many other illnesses;[8]
  • Aloe vera – grows prolifically and is used to cleanse and soothe the skin.


Many of the healing practices of the Hawaiians can be found in other parts of the world where, like Hawaii, physical disease was relatively rare prior to the arrival of Europeans. However, the Hawaiian practices were not suppressed until relatively recently. There are teachers still alive today, such as Uncle George Naope (a master teacher of hula and chanting) whose grandparents grew up with the old ways, and passed the knowledge on directly to their grandchildren. Consequently we have a relatively coherent body of knowledge about ancient Hawaiian healing practices. Personally, I have found that Huna has transformed my life and enabled me to help my clients overcome major stumbling blocks to physical and mental healing. Many of the processes can be completed within minutes rather than hours, while their effect is long-lasting. Once you have been properly trained, you can teach your clients how to do some of the processes for themselves. There are many books written on the subject, and the references below give a good starting point if you want to know more. Introductory courses are run in the UK by me and others. However, there is no doubt about it, the best way to study Hawaiian healing is in Hawaii, where you can visit the places sacred to both ancient and modern Hawaiians and learn directly from some great kahunas.

Case Study

Client A was experiencing serious financial and legal problems with a property she owned. These were affecting her business and her finances generally, and she was in a profound state of anxiety. I used a combination of Huna and other techniques to help her resolve her issues around money. She immediately experienced resolution of the anxiety, enabling her to resume a normal life and take a 'que sera, sera' attitude toward the property. Within months her business started to expand dramatically and her finances improved. The legal problems are now almost resolved.


1. James T. Lost Secrets of Ancient Hawaiian Huna, Vol 1. Ia Ha O Hawai'i Foundation/Advanced Neuro Dynamics. Honolulu, USA. 1997.
2. Bray D and Low D. The Kahuna Religion of Hawaii. Borderline Sciences. Garberville, CA, USA. ISBN 0-945685-05-X. 1990.
3. Kahalewai N. Hawaiian lomi-lomi: big island massage. Island Massage Publishing. Hawai'i. ISBN 0-9677253-0-5. 2000.
4. Yardley L. The Heart of Huna. Advanced Neuro Dynamics. Honolulu, USA. ISBN 0-9623272-1-2. 1990.
5. Shook EV. Ho-oponopono. East-West Center. USA. p88. ISBN 0-8248-1047-3. 1985.
8. TenBruggencate J. Native Plants Can Heal Your Wounds. Sunday Start Bulletin and Advertiser. Honolulu, Hawaii. Feb 9, 1992.


Biegler Cornelia. Kahi Loa - Traditional Hawai'i Healing Massage. Positive Health. 45. October, 1999.
Harden MJ. Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian elders speak. Aka Press. Maui, HI, USA. 1999.
King Serge Kahili. Imagineering for Health. Quest Books. Wheaton, Ill. USA. ISBN 0-8356-0546-9. 1981.
King Serge Kahili. Urban Shaman. Fireside. USA. ISBN 0-6716-8307-1. 1990.
Langley S. Lomi-lomi - Ka Huna Massage. Positive Health. 57. October, 2000.
Long Max Freedom. The Secret Science Behind Miracles. DeVorss and Company. Marina del Rey, CA, USA. ISBN 0-87516-047-6. 1948,1976.
Long Max Freedom. The Huna Code in Religions. DeVorss and Company. Marina del Rey, CA. USA. ISBN 0-87516-495-1. 1965.
Samet Rosalie. Hawaiian Huna Massage (Kahuna Bodywork). The Wisdom of Paradise in Motion. Positive Health. 20. June/July, 1997.

Further Information
Huna - Exploring Ancient Hawaiian Wisdom with Tad James (8 cassette tape set produced by Advanced Neuro Dynamics, Honolulu, USA.)


  1. Andrea Lomas said..

    I would be very interested in being trained in this methodology how can I apply for the training I am currently working in the spa industry and have been for 30 years.

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About Jane Lewis

Jane Lewis has been studying Huna since 1997, both in London and Hawaii, with Tad James and others. She has also studied Hawaiian lomi-lomi with Aunty Margaret in Hawaii. She works primarily as a coach, therapist and trainer, using a combination of Huna, NLP, Time Line Therapy(r) and Hypnosis in her work. Jane teaches introductory weekend courses in Huna and Hawaiian healing in London. As a certified trainer of NLP, she runs courses such as NLP for coaches and therapists. She also teaches Stress Management and aspects of Cranio Sacral Therapy at the West London School of Therapeutic Massage. She can be contacted on Tel: 07980 642420;


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