Maui, Hawaii: The one thing worth skipping the beach for

It's mid-morning in the lush undulating countryside of upcountry Maui. I'm here to meet one of Hawaii's most influential lomi lomi instructors, taught the ancient healing art by the woman largely responsible for its spread around the globe.

We meet Jeana Iwalani Naluai, a gentle native Hawaiian with long flowing locks and a white flower tucked behind her ear, at her tropical spa and studio, Ho'omana, tucked up in the verdant countryside behind the bohemian town of Makawao. Jeana is exactly how I imagined a Hawaiian woman would look: smooth olive skin, beautiful smile and luscious jet black locks. I can feel the powerful healing spirit that emanates from her – just by being in the same room. Over herbal tea, Jeana, a traditional kumu (Hawaiian) teacher, tells us she was chosen as a child to learn the ancient art of lomi lomi, the bodywork component of traditional Hawaiian healing arts. Here at her charming spa, people come to both receive Jeana's healing touch, and to learn the art of lomi lomi.

Jeana and her husband, both therapists, originally started the spa out of a single room in their house. Ho'omana now encompasses the entire property with four simple treatment rooms, a bathhouse, native botanical gardens where herbs are gathered for remedies, two guesthouses and a space reserved for lomi lomi training. Jeana says Ho'omana aims to bring ancient Hawaiian healing and medicine to the modern day spa setting. "If aunty had a business today, it would be a spa," Jeana says, referring to the world renowned kahuna teacher Margaret Machado who taught her the trade.

See also: Five best things to do at Hawaii's most famous beach, for young and old

Traditionally, Jeana says, students (or apprentices) would stay with a master for up to 20 years before being taught the practice of lomi lomi itself; doing set tasks, and other things the master asked of them. While seemingly unrelated, Jeana says everything she learned from Aunty Margaret played a significant role in the healer and teacher she is today. "Traditionally children would do lomi lomi for family coming in from working in the fields, or for mothers giving birth. It has a deeply spiritual aspect," she says.

During the '80s, Aunty Margaret was teaching her daughter the modality but interest in the ancient healing technique was waning. She asked another five relatives if they would like to learn lomi lomi but all said no due to religious reasons. It was at that time, Aunty Margaret decided to open her practice to anyone who wanted to learn. "She didn't want the tradition to be lost, so she decided to teach anyone with a Hawaiian heart," Jeana says.

During four decades of teaching Aunty Margaret became well known for sharing the art of lomi lomi. She shared her knowledge through physical touch and training that included seawater cleansing and Christian prayers, and for the personal mana (spiritual energy) imparted by her grandfather. She has taught both native Hawaiians and anyone who showed a desire to learn, including Jeana, who is also a qualified physical therapist.

Jeana says lomi lomi (also known as kahuna) – now widely available at spas and wellness retreats around the world – involves the use of forearms and hands in rhythmic, fluid motion. In the Hawaiian language, the word lomi used traditionally, means "to knead, to rub, or soothe; to work in and out, as the paws of a contented cat." Sometimes it even involves kua lua – Hawaiian back walking.

"Traditionally we'll do spiritual prayers and chants too," Jeana says.

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For those visiting Maui, it's well worth veering away from the beaches the island is best known for, and heading just behind the township of Makawao to the lush slopes of Mount Haleakala. Here at Ho'omana you'll receive a warm aloha welcome and a lomi lomi massage that is as authentic as it gets. You'll not only leave feeling better, but with an understanding of this age-old Hawaiian art too.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

hoomanaspamaui.com; gohawaii.com/au

GETTING THERE

Hawaiian Airlines flies daily from Sydney and four times weekly from Brisbane direct to Honolulu, using new Airbus A330-200 aircraft. Connections from Melbourne and other Australian cities available with preferred partner Virgin Australia. Hawaiian Airlines also has daily Boeing 717 flights between Honolulu and Kahului airport, Maui.

hawaiianairlines.com.au

SPA'ING AND STAYING THERE

A Ho'omana signature lomi lomi massage costs from $140 for 60 minutes. A three-hour Aina spa ritual, including selecting medicinal herbs from the native garden for a luxurious bath, a warm clay body masque and lomi hot stone massage, costs $427. Bed and breakfast accommodation in one of two island style cottages at Ho'omana costs from $154 a night. See hoomanaspamaui.com

Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Hawaii Tourism Oceania.

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