12 black shapes rhythmically move like a choreographed dance in slow motion silhouetted against the sunrise. The shadowy shapes are smooth and graceful, like stalking ninja’s that turn and step simultaneously to the same soundless beat.
A couple of minutes late, I drag myself out from under my cosy doona before finding my exercise stick in the dark and stepping outside to join in on the 5am morning awakening ritual. I liken the sequence – intended to rouse the body and mind in preparation for the day of classes ahead, as a form of gratitude to the earth and sky – elements playing an intrinsic part of my weeks’ program.
I’m at Mette Institute. Aptly known as High Spirits Retreat in the beautiful birdcall country of Kin Kin in Queensland’s Noosa hinterland it is like a gently embracing hug, enveloping and heart-warming. Our morning activities and breakfast on the veranda are now complete, so it’s in the inlaid crystal-floor hall surrounded in eucalypt forests that I’m now slipping and sliding through a coconut-oiled treatment as a part of a weeklong program to learn about the essence of Kahuna, its philosophies and bodywork.
Kahuna is more than just surfing legend or American movie scripts, it’s derived from the Hawaiian word meaning master practitioner or professional expert. A person can be a kahuna in any of the huna arts including craft, fishing, farming, planting, philosophy, navigation or in the case of Kahuna bodywork – healing.
Originally from the islands of the South Pacific this ancient modality was given to people as a rite of passage or pathway to aid in a greater spiritual connection. Traditionally, it was practiced in Heiau (temples) as one of (over 20) Kahuna healing arts and is still recognised today as a fundamental therapeutic treatment.
Lying partially uncovered on the padded table with a sarong covering my ‘bits’, the massage is unlike any type of treatment I have received before. Hands, wrists, elbows and forearms are being used to rhythmically move up and down my body. There’s stretching and pulling of my arms, legs and head along with simultaneous under and over-body work. Like a dance, the practitioner is travelling around the table to tranquil tunes in a liquid coconut oil flow. The rhythm and energy feels like a tide, washing over and around me. There is too much for my brain to concentrate on so all I can do is fall – into deep relaxation, melt and let go.
Then suddenly, I start sobbing. There’s no noise and no tears, just the shaking of my back and chest as I lay face down on the table. It only lasts 10 seconds, but it’s shocking the hell out of me. The treatment continues and it takes me a couple of minutes to once again switch my mind off, be present, in the moment and allow the body worker to continue with the magic. Like a child, I continue to lay here open and vulnerable, my defences are down, but for a strange reason – feeling all the better for it.
It’s now my turn to provide a Kahuna treatment. Clear healing intent starts the process including a discussion to encourage ‘my client’ to share anything they may have on their mind. This creates a shared energy exchange for the session between myself as the body worker with the body and explains why no two Kahuna treatments are ever the same. It also allows me to ‘tune in’ to their needs, acknowledge the sacredness of their feelings and ensure that the treatment is based on unconditional openness and understanding. Resultantly, compassion with no hidden agenda is demonstrated through supportive touch that provides a space for them to receive balance, love and awareness.
While my clients’ eyes are closed there are a number of sequence elements taking place to help them ‘connect’ with their greater selves. From gratitude rituals to the way the oil is applied, sarong sliding and folding techniques to where the treatment starts– each has a purpose to the massage intention.
I start on the left foot, signifying the feminine energy of the body and use the body reading and intuition techniques that I am been taught to recognise signs of stress. I make a mental note to breath deeply with every movement, every stroke and every step, all the while hoping I don’t pass out from a sudden high oxygen intake. 10 minutes into my Kahuna ‘dance’ and I’m already working up a sweat – there’s no need for gym membership here!
I move onto the long head-to-toe strokes to help unite the body and subconscious mind, where healing takes place. I use my hands and arms as extensions of my heart with soothing, meditative and repetitive strokes while channelling the Aloha (‘alo’ meaning presence and ‘ha’ meaning breath or essence of life) to create a deeply relaxed space. The fluid moves allow the muscles to relax and the body to drift away. This is when the deeper tissue massage through Polynesian energy points can be incorporated into the treatment without the body ‘pushing back’. It’s also when long held traumas may come to the surface bringing conscious or unconscious memories or flashbacks along with emotional releases such as crying, laughing and even yelling.
As a body or body worker, such moments I learn, should not be feared or expected, taking place only when the body has surrendered. The emotional releases are not only unblocking the body on a physical level by releasing any pain, but also emotional and spiritual divisions holding a person back from their full potential.
For me, it’s a truly transformative experience to have blockages released and to allow the relinquishing of anything that no longer serves my body in its quest for serenity, let go. For others, the feelings of energetically being loved in a safe space by a near stranger, an awareness or clarity of their life, radiant joy or beautiful visions are, as profound.
It only takes a couple of days before I understand why it’s called bodywork rather than massage and I begin to appreciate the opportunity to learn a new energy based healing system. A week of nurturing, heart opening exercises, bone massages, energy balancing, body reading, remote healing, Lomi Lomi massage, pregnancy massage, Polynesian energy points and being taught the essence of Kahuna is truly uplifting.
Like a sacred ritual being passed down through the generations, one key element that resonates with me is a part of the Kahuna philosophy that embraces the creation of existence and its elements. Huna helps describe this energy flow including the metaphysical nature of these beliefs through seven life principals.
- IKE – the world is what you think it is. I am aware.
- KALA – there are no limits. I am free.
- MAKIA – energy flows where attention goes. I am focused.
- MANAWA – now is the moment of power. I am here.
- ALOHA – to love is to be happy with (someone or something). I am happy.
- MANA – all power comes from within. I am confident.
- PONO – effectiveness is the measure of truth. I am positive.
Ike and Makia have a profound influence on me this week. ‘Ike’ reinforces the belief: change your thinking and you can change your world while ‘Makia’ concisely highlights that whatever I spend my conscious and unconscious time thinking of, will grow and become the blueprint of my reality.
Just as a body treatment affects more than just the physical nature of the human form, so to is a Kahuna workshop more than just a massage course – with its skills and teachings far reaching. The experience is cleansing, soul stirring and for some, life changing. Whether it changes my life or simply allows me to learn to give and receive an energy charged body treatment that both rejuvenates and grounds at the same time, there are positive transformations for my body on all levels.
I don’t know if it’s the treatments or the mixture of midnight sauna’s, the giant mud bath, the fun new friends, massages till 3am, walking forest meditations, an impromptu skit night, blindfolded freestyle dance, the delicious spiced herbal tea (that I need to get the recipe for) or the soft and silky skin I’m sporting from six days of coconut oil treatments, but there isn’t much more fun I can fit into one week that allows me to take away so many life lessons than from here, at High Spirits Retreat.
High Spirits Retreat – www.mettesinstitute.com.au