MANILA, Philippines--HILOT, THE AGE-OLD indigenous Filipino massage and healing practice associated with elderly healers and mysticism, is getting a much needed makeover that would put it at par with other healing techniques found in upscale spa and hotels.
The Association of Traditional Health Aid Givers Inc. (Athag) is at the forefront of the campaign to transform the centuries-old Pinoy version of the massage into one of the country?s major tourism products. This group of Filipino healers, herbalists and hilot practitioners have banded together to take the age-old ?treatment? out of the shadows of local folklore and into the 21st century.
If spa and hotel clients all over the world have become addicted to Thai and Swedish massages, surely the hilot?with its holistic and all-natural approach?has a fighting chance to become part of a wellness regime that is uniquely Filipino.
For Athag members, hilot is not just a massage technique, it also has many points of comparison with other types of healing practices such as acupuncture, aromatherapy and even Western medicine.
Bibiano ?Boy? Fajardo, Athag president, explained that hilot is also a philosophy and a culture. Unlike the other types of massages, it not only relieves stress but also has ?a rejuvenating, healing effect? on the patient or client.
A good hilot practitioner, he added, would know the type of ailment his client is suffering from just by looking at him and sensing his energy.
Fajardo noted that a good healer can tell if the elements in one?s body?fire, water, earth and air?are in harmony. Fire refers to the body?s electric impulses; water, the blood; the earth, bone and flesh; while air corresponds to the air that one breathes, the Athag president explained.
?If these are not in proportion, the sickness will come back,? he said. To correct the imbalance in the patient?s energy that leads to a distorted metabolism, a healer would have to give the patient a massage.
Fajardo said that the massage manipulates the body?s electrical charges to create the desired biochemical reactions that helps the body heal itself.
The process may sound esoteric and mystical, but Fajardo said traditional healing practice has something in common with Western medicine: Its reliance on natural ingredients and the belief that the body has enough resources to heal itself. Doctors call this immunotherapy, he said.
Massage is just one part of the hilot regimen. The albularyo or native medicine men, Fajardo noted, are herbalists, too, so the group has incorporated the use of herbal drinks and supplements in its program.
Athag has already initiated the farming and processing of herbs and plants such as lagundi, tanglad, and sambong in some areas in the country.
It then buys the products from local farmers and then processes the ?traditionally validated? ingredients into soaps, teas, oils and capsules that can cure and alleviate different types of sickness. This way, the group also earns extra income, Fajardo said.
Athag has likewise been going around the country to teach not just potential healers but local health workers about the benefits of a hilot regimen. ?We are not reinventing the wheel. We are just promoting it,? Fajardo said.
He added that hilot practitioners are often surprised to know that their trade has a scientific basis and this makes them ?feel empowered.?
Local health workers, on the other hand, are encouraged to practice the regimen because it is more affordable, compared to medicine and treatments prescribed by doctors.
Families, under Athag?s supervision, can also easily grow or get the herbal ingredients they need for their illnesses and discomforts, Fajardo said.
Since hilot has been recognized by the government as one of its major projects for medical tourism, massage therapists from high-end establishments have flocked to Athag to learn the traditional healing technique.
The organization said it has worked with over 1,500 people since it started a few years ago, with some of the Athag ?graduates? now employed in five-star hotels and spas here and abroad.
Fajardo said he has given hilot training to upscale facilities like the Chi Spa, Oriental Spa, Fitness First, Dos Palmas and Plantation Bay, among others. Customers in these places who ask for a massage using the hilot technique usually pay at least P3,900 per hour, he noted.
Fajardo said they are grateful to the trade department for its active promotion of hilot. The agency, he noted, has recognized that the Philippines needs to have its own signature wellness regimen if it wants to become the primary destination for medical tourism. Toward this end, the department has also funded seminars for healers and herbalists and has actively promoted the hilot regimen in international tourism venues.
For students interested in learning the hilot technique, Athag is currently developing a curriculum in cooperation with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
Fajardo, meanwhile, dismissed the notion that only those with ?inborn? healing powers can become hilot practitioners.
Anyone can learn how to heal maladies the natural way, he stressed. ?The important thing is to have the passion for it and the determination to succeed,? Fajardo said.