Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Wee-Bit of Philippine Indigenous Therapies (with a Focus on Hilot)

By Eunice
(to have copy of this article, see below for details)

INDIGENOUS (ĭn-dĭj'ə-nəs, adj.) denotes a cultural, social or organizational characteristic that differentiates a certain region to some degree by surrounding populations and dominant culture. Other terms include: intrinsic and innate. Something that is unique and specific to that culture. After defining indigenous, do you think our beloved country, the Philippines has something to offer? A few perhaps? Or a lot? As usual, this article is presented in a contemporary non-dogmatic style to address mainly the inquiring public, the practitioners and spa, massage clinic and wellness center owners and anyone who wishes to know more about the uniqueness of hilot and other Philippine therapies.

The Philippines will definitely not lag behind as with its 7,100 islands cannot be limited to just a few indigenous therapies. As the islands have specific therapies, so does each country. Specific therapies have been pigeon-holed to an individual culture. So when we mention a therapy, it will also connote a specific nationality, region or cultural heritage. As an exercise, let us match the following therapies to their specific country or origin. Let us see if you can recognize some:
Lomi-Lomi Hawaii
Shiatsu Japan
Reflexology China/Egypt/Old World
Thai massage Thailand
Eh ito? Swedish massage Sweden
Ngek! The last entry about Swedish Massage coming from Sweden is a common misnomer, there is no Swedish massage in Sweden, because they call it Classic or Classical massage and if it were to be associated with any country it should be referred to as “Dutch massage”, the non-Swedish origin of Swedish massage (quoted from Terry Mc Dermott). But we are not here to discuss the origins of these massage therapies. I just gave you enough examples to show you that a particular country or region can be known for an indigenous therapy. Ibig sabihin a therapy that is uniquely found in a specific locality, sa atin ba meron? Of course, last but not the least our very own Hilot from the Pearl of the Orient, the Islands of the Philippines. My beloved country, the home of unsung heroes and what most expatriates would consider the best place to retire in Asia.

Pagusapan muna natin ang Hilot. Isang indigenous therapy ng Pilipinas. When we say Hilot anong unang-unang pumapasok sa isip mo? Hmmm……si Mang Kepweng? Ang Banahaw? Masahe? O si JR Siaboc sa kanta niyang “Hilot”?

We have to accept that the diversity of each region also adds up to the diversity of hilot. “Hilot” has no one-word English counterpart. At least, nothing that I have researched for nor can think of. Kung meron man po, please let me know. What am I arriving at? Sa word pa lang na hilot, wala na itong katumbas sa ibang lenguahe. Even the Philippine dialects have different translations of Hilot. In Botoc, it is known as “aplos”. In Pangasinan, it is known as “kemkem”. In Bukidnon, it is known as “hagud”. In Ilocos, Zambales and Pampanga it is known as “ilut” or “ilot”. Whatever the word is, “Hilot” is a Filipino traditional healing method or the Science of Filipino healing arts. Hilot was also nominated as the Spa treatment of the year in 2005. Hilot has been in existence even before the Spaniards came. Needless to say, we have to accept our regional diversity. Anong pong ibig kong sabihin? We have two schools of thought regarding the use of hilot: one as a traditional healing therapy and the other for relaxation. For example, a “hilot” practitioner in one locality may practice different techniques than a hilot practitioner in another locality. We will touch on the methodologies and how some Hilots practice their craft later. If we were to define hilot, there is no one rigid definition of hilot and how to perform hilot. Even the word “hilot” means either the verb hilot or a noun that refers to a practitioner of hilot. Example, Hilot (noun) Ikang (a fictitious name) may start her therapy session on the head while Hilot Ambo would start on the client’s back. Who would dare say that any of these practices are incorrect? Should Hilot be rigid? We have to accept that traditionally, hilot is practiced through folk medicine and thus cannot be placed in a box. Some principles can be explained by Science and some we just have to accept that even in Hilot, some questions in this world can never be answered by a finite mind. Pero hindi ibig sabihin na hindi effective ang hilot. Hindi porke hindi natin mai-explain ang hilot ay hindi na tayo maniniwala sa efficacy nito. For example, hindi ibig sabihin na porke hindi natin maipaliwanag ang pag-ibig, ay hindi na tayo maniniwala na wala ngang pag-ibig. Ganun din sa hilot. There maybe a few practices that cannot be explained by Science, but it doesn’t mean it is not effective.

The “Hilot” principle is traditionally validated. Hilot is not based on strokes and techniques but based on strokes with principles, kaya huwag kang umasa na ang isang hilot sa Ilocos Norte ay kapareho ng isang pag-practice ng hilot sa Visayas region. Although, they have similarities, they also have differences.

Sino ba itong ating mga Manghihilot? Manghihilots or Hilots are Filipino traditional healers based in communities who deliver health services. During the Spaniards and American era this was largely ignored and suppressed. The cost of a consultation is free or voluntary. Bakit nga ba walang mayayaman na Hilot? Because our old manghihilots before believe that it lessens the “Hilot’s” healing powers. Noong araw, hindi pumupunta ang isang tao sa isang Manghihilot kung wala siyang nararamdaman. Therefore as doctors have specializations, hilots also have their own specialty. Common categories of hilots: arbolarios (folk doctors), herbalist (manganganga or arbolaryo or herbolaryo), obstetrician (partera, nagpapa anak or comadrona). Siyempre as we have evolved into modern Science naging less and less ang pag depende natin sa Hilot.

What then is unique about Hilot? If it isn’t the technique? As I quote Engr./Dr. Babiano Fajardo, “the uniqueness of Hilot embodies the sincerity, respect, understanding, discipline and service to the community and nature.” So does this mean walang karapatan ang sinuman na maging Hilot kung walang sincerity, respect, understanding and discipline? Plus service to the community and nature? Wow! This means “Hilot” is actually a healer’s lifestyle. It embodies the wholeness of a person practicing hilot.

If I were a client, what should I expect during a hilot session? Well marami, to name a few, Hilots may perform body scanning at the client’s back. Some of hilot’s diagnostic methodologies include: pulse reading, thermal diagnosis (hot and cold), phrenology/physiognomy, urine, skin and perspiration analysis. Some hilot practitioners apply warm strips of herbs or banana leaves before and after a massage. Most hilot practitioners use “coconut lana” or oil from coconut or use virgin coconut oil to lace these herbs which are then applied on the client’s skin. These leaves are naturally ionized they said and possess astringent and cleansing properties. Sometimes a client will also be asked to bathe (“banyos”) in a warm or lukewarm solution of guava leaves for 15 to 20 minutes before a hilot session. The guava leaves, especially the shoots, are boiled and while still hot placed in a container, normally a pail of water and then bathed by the client warm or lukewarm. There is also the practice of “oslob” or “suob”, this is the steam inhalation of dried aromatic herbs usually” Bayabas (guava), sambong, lemon grass in a basin for 5 to 10 minutes. Sometimes an arbolaryo will ask you to chew young guava leaves and swallowed to help in coagulation. If one has a fresh wound like during circumcision, the guava leaves can be masticated then applied externally to minimize bleeding. Herbs normally used during hilot are sambong, lagundi and tanglad. The oils used naman includes: lemon grass, ylang- ylang, peppermint and ginger.

Manghihilots or Hilots (the noun version) believe that everything is labeled hot or cold thus, the term “may lamig ka”. On a massage point of view, these are called “knots” or “nodules” which needs to be kneaded during a massage. These accumulate when the body is exposed to too much warmth then an exposure to coldness in temperature or may result from abrupt changes in temperature. Di ba in Science, any strenuous activity that makes us tired and sweaty pores open especially during a hot climate then when we expose ourselves in an air-conditioned room, the result of which is a disruption of the natural internal balance. So “Hilots” would warn parents to keep infants dry kasi malalamigan especially the bumbunan (or the anterior fontanelles). If you have sprain, you go to a “hilot” if you need to be kneaded, you also go to a hilot. There are certain
contraindications sa massage na pwede sa hilot meron din namang contraindicated sa hilot na pwede sa massage. To differentiate some methodologies of massage and hilot, in massage, generally, hindi pwedeng i-massage ang may sprain (sprain is contraindicated in massage, not in hilot). Sa hilot naman pwede. Sa massage (as thought by Western countries, you can take a bath after a massage but never in hilot) pwede naman maligo after a massage, pero sa authentic Hilot hindi pwede.

There are also several indigenous therapies, not only hilot to name a few: we have “Kolkolis” or “Dagdagay”, a foot massage originating from Mt. Province, Sagada, Tadian. Sometimes pine sticks are applied like drum sticks on the feet.

We also have “tapik kawayan” tapping of thin bamboo sticks used to release energy blockage. Thus, we have spas that offer a variation of this like the bamboo massage.

There are several publications authored by Filipinos and you might want to check these out: They are available either online, through local bookstores, organizations and associations, etc.

Aklat sa Paghihilot (Book of Remedial Massage)
By Victor Taruc Jauco

Alamin ang Ating Mga Halamang Gamot
By Julio Silverio (at Anvil Publishing in the Philippines)

Cosmetic Uses of Philippines Medicinal Herbs
By Dietmar Rummel

The Healing Hand of Hilot: Filipino Therapeutic Massage
By Cornelio Evangelista (on

Healing Ourselves, a Guide to Creative Responses and Self-Reliant Medicine
By Julio P. Silverio
Healing Wonders of Water: Guide to effective hydrotherapy (Unknown Binding)
By Herminia de Guzman (on

Healing Wonders of Herbs: Guide to the effective use of medicinal plants
By Herminia de Guzman (on

Healing Wonders of Diet
By Blacenda Miranda Varosa, Godoy and David Ursula Varona

Hilot the Filipino Traditional Massage
By Doctor Jaime Galvez Tan

The Filipino Massage
Barrientos Technique Reflexopressure Aromassage
By Mavic Lao Barrientos

Health and Wellness Tourism
Regulation, Trends and Challenges
By Nancy Joan M. Javier, Ll.M. (on

Hilot, Ang Aklat
By Engr. Babiano Fajardo
Available at ATHAG or the Association of Traditional Health Aid Givers, Inc.

History of Philippine Medicine and the PMA
Conrado S. Dayrit, Perla Dizon Santos-Ocampo and Eduardo de la Cruz

The Home Spa Recipe
By Melissa Pizana-Cruz

Healing Ourselves
By Jake G. Tan (at Anvil Publishing in the Philippines)

Forever Young
By Cory Quirino (at Anvil Publishing in the Philippines)

Magicians of God: Faith Healers in the Philippines and Around the World
By Jaime Licauco (on (at Anvil Publishing in the Philippines)

A list of training centers, magazines, publications, books and literatures both local and international are all available in the book, “The Spa, Massage and Wellness Resource Guide and Career Book”. You can order it online via or for local Philippine orders, email If you are looking for a career opportunity, not just a job in the spa, massage therapy and wellness industry, this book is a must read.

This article is written by: Eunice Estipona a spa consultant, mentor, advisor, speaker and lecturer. One of her advocacies is to make healing and information regarding the field of spa, massage and wellness accessible and affordable to everyone. If you are serious about turning your business or practice around, making the right decisions, getting an unbiased opinion and knowing where to get help, for lectures and other concerns she can be contacted at or +639184745685. To find out how she can help you take your business to the next level, visit her site at

These along with hundreds of resources found locally and abroad are contained in “The Spa, Massage and Wellness Resource and Career Book”, the first book of resource information to know more about the Spa, Massage and Wellness Industry in the Philippines and other countries including the United States, Australia and other Asian countries. You can view, read, download and print for FREE the book’s summary at this link

If you are a spa, massage therapy and wellness information seeker the resources contained in the book for you. This book is a collection of data and valuable information regarding the spa and massage industry in a global perspective with a focus on the Philippines. Her advocacy in writing the book is to make “unbiased” information regarding the field of spa, massage and wellness resources and career, accessible and affordable for everyone. If you are considering a career in the massage, spa and wellness industry, this book will prepare you and give you a glimpse of what it is like, the preparation you need to take: emotionally, intellectually and financially. In this book, you will learn more details in the spa and massage field and the possible paths you can take. You will also learn about local and international training programs offered and numerous employment possibilities. Giving you much needed information at your fingertips. You can order it from or for local Philippine residents, you can email and get in touch with Eunice at


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Anonymous said...

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mujaheedin01 said...

Alhamdulillah! This article is superb information for those who are practicing massage therapy.