fresh no ads
‘Hilot’: The Pinoy healing touch |

Health And Family

‘Hilot’: The Pinoy healing touch

WELL-BEING - Mylene Mendoza-Dayrit -

It took a burgeoning global wellness industry, bright prospects for wellness tourism, and people like former Department of Health Secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan to elevate the humble hilot (traditional Filipino massage) to the global stage of signature spa treatments. And why not? Whenever I have a foreign or balikbayan guest, they would go for local dishes and even local coffee and desserts instead of the more famous global brands. Most of the spa treatments from Indonesia, Thailand, China or India originate from something traditional or religious even. The Javanese lulur treatment, for example, often described as “the queen of body treatments,” was a traditional purifying ritual before marriage for 17th-century Javanese brides. The golden yellow color of the scrub comes from turmeric that is known for its cleansing properties. This is just one of the many resurrected and spa-adopted traditional treatments. Since spas have already been well established in other parts of Asia, the only way for the Philippines to become competitive is to find a niche, according to Cynthia Carrion, assistant secretary of the Department of Tourism for Sports and Wellness Tourism.

Spas are now encouraged by the DOT to include hilot or other traditional modalities like bentosa (cupping of heated glasses over the back) and dagdagay in their menu of services. Many times over, the Philippine Tourism booths all around the world create interest through the free sampling of hilot and dagdagay, which foreigners claim are among the world’s best treatments. So popular, in fact, that there is already a Cebu hilot spa in Nania Town in Tokyo. The dagdagay (also known as kol-kolis) is the traditional foot massage practiced in the Mountain Province. Two small sticks are used to massage the feet in scratching and rolling motions, from heel to toe to improve circulation. The sticks also serve to remove dirt from the soles. Practiced for centuries, young boys were expected to do the ritual on their elders.

In the recently concluded Spa Asia Wellness Summit held at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila, Franck Weckesser, with 15 years of experience in massage and other healing therapies, was one of the many international experts who shared their insights on how to improve the spa guest experience and inspire customer loyalty. According to Weckesser, the spa experience is not dictated by how much you have invested in the interiors and equipment. The therapist is in effect the product of the spa itself. They should be giving. And while the spa guest should be open to healing, the passionate therapist should provide healing and energy. Spas proliferate, he said, due to increasing stress and the corollary need to be well. There is a universal quest to calm down and find something deeper. The challenge is to create a sanctuary where the guest feels at home and connected to everything. He suggested a developing shift from spa luxury to spa sanctuary. A shift from instant relaxation to transformation, from mere pampering to healing. Click! Healing and hilot go together. The emerging shift is exactly the right time for us to ride the wave of the growing global spa industry. When a Filipino gets a pilay (dislocated or sprained joints), grandparents would normally suggest that the community hilot be called.  Every community, whether in the province or in the metro, has a local hilot.  Hilot is a very unique word in the sense that it refers to the person administering the treatment as well as the treatment itself. More than just a traditional massage, hilot is our ancient art of healing. It also refers to the local midwives.

Another ace for the hilot is the passion of Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan to see its emergence in the spa world. Dr. Tan and his wife, a nurse by profession, studied hilot while doing immersion work in the rural communities in the 1970s.  Before I attended Spa Asia, the always-positive and ever-supportive Ricky Gutierrez of Pontefino and Sentro fame, gave me Dr. Tan’s book Hilot (published by Creative Concoctions Inc.). The book provides not only the history and logic of the hilot treatment but also visual, step-by-step instructions.

So, what makes hilot uniquely Pinoy? 

Dr. Tan said that hilot is the only massage that uses coconut oil and, for its spa version, virgin coconut oil. Since hilot is a healing modality, the first step is to determine the area of energy blockage. Five methods were discussed in the book, but in Spa Asia, Dr. Tan showcased the “banana leaf method.”  Strips of banana leaf were laced with warm virgin coconut oil, warmed again over candlelight. Dr. Tan showed how the strips were made to glide from one side of the arm to the opposite side. The strip ran over the whole upper arm effortlessly, and then suddenly there was a snag on the lower arm. The point where the banana leaf stops or gets stuck is the area of the body with an energy block. The hilot is concentrated on this part of the body. A new banana leaf strip is used for each body area. The energy blockage or bara disrupts the balance in the body, causing discomfort.  A patient is warned by the hilot against taking a bath within 24 hours of having the treatment. Dr. Tan reported that the hilot believes that the sudden change in temperature when taking a bath will not encourage the restoration of balance.  Cold drinks and cold food are likewise prohibited for the same reason. While spa menus in the past featured Thai massage, Swedish massage, or Javanese lulur, the chic spas, including those at the local Shangri-La and Mandarin hotels, now offer our very own hilot!  With this heartwarming international debut, we are moving closer and closer to Dr. Tan and the government’s dream of having a hilot spa in every community in the Philippines.

* * *

Post me a note at 

vuukle comment







Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with