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Traditonal Hilot and Sobadas de Matriz, part one

Updated: Apr 27

Many of my clients are Filipina. They somehow find me when searching for something similar to Hilot. Hilot is a form of traditional healing in the Philippines that includes abdominal massage, although it can vary from healer to healer. For example, one hilot I saw worked on pregnant women, and the other didn't have that skill set. Some Hilots may use herbs and others focus more on body work, or energy healing. Their skill sets can vary. In Mexico, we call the traditional healers who use bodywork as their way to heal, Sobadores. They too, have varying skill sets.

For over 15 years, my Filipina clients have told me about how womb massage is practiced in their homeland as well. The more they shared about traditional womb care from their home country, the more I noticed similarities between Hilot and Mexican sobadas de matriz (traditional Mexican abdominal/womb massage). They also mentioned my massage was very similar to what they experienced back in the Philippines with their first birth.

I promised myself I'd go to the Philippines someday to experience Hilot firsthand. Fifteen years later, I finally decided to book a flight to the Philippines! I was put in contact with a friend of a friend and set off to visit a tiny rural town on the island of Samar. After 2 flights, 20 hours on a plane, a 3-hour taxi ride, and 2 days of travel, I finally made it! 

It was a small rural tropical town by the sea. Lush green plants lined the streets where chickens pecked the ground. Little kids carrying buckets of freshly caught fish on their heads, stopped to giggle and stare at me. Wooden huts up on stilts above the marsh, some that doubled as someone’s home and mini storefront, old Spanish-style stone church; this place reminded me of a lot of small towns in Mexico I’ve lived in or visited before.

The locals were so kind and respectful, but I could tell they weren’t used to seeing foreigners by the way they did double-takes and stared. It reminded me of how much of a privilege it was to be there. Not many people get to experience this place. I was the only foreigner in that town the entire time I was there. At the forefront of my mind, I wanted to make sure I was culturally sensitive and respectful at all times. Therefore, I limited asking to take pictures. I did become close to the second Hilot and took some pictures of her and the vsteam, which I will share in a different post.

It’s the small towns far off the beaten trials where you can feel the soul of a country. 

There is no catering to tourist's comfort or perception.

The most peaceful times in my life were when I lived in the small towns of Mexico. Roca Partida in Veracruz, Chalmita, La Cuidad de Oaxaca, Loma Bonita in Jalisco, and in Mayan territory, Palenque Chiapas and the outskirts of Playa del Carmen.

I was introduced to traditional healing, massage, herbs, and energy work at the age of 10 by my Great Aunt who is an energy healer. Natural traditional healing and womb massage are my life's passions. I became a certified massage therapist at age 19, right after high school. I've also apprenticed with traditional healers in Mexico, participating in plant ceremonies as well before I rooted myself back in San Diego in 2010 and opened Rebirth. Both in Mexico and in the Philippines, this knowledge is passed down through lineage, by apprenticeship.

The first Hilot I met was an elderly woman named Purting. She was around 75 years young. She was just finishing up with a postpartum client when Danica and I arrived. She lived in a charming wooden home on stilts above marshland. Danica was a friend of a friend who would be showing me around and translating for me since Purting only spoke Wary.

Purting's client was holding a small baby and just had her second postnatal visit. Just like sobada de matriz, hilot is crucial for postpartum healing.

This makes sense to me since a postpartum body is injured by the birthing process. Also, because postpartum bodies still have so much relaxin hormone in their system. Relaxin hormone makes the ligaments in your body softer and more pliable, allowing your uterus and body to stretch during pregnancy. This is why injuries can easily occur postpartum.

Before the relaxin hormone wears off, it is important to encourage organs that shift during pregnancy to their proper position, especially the uterus. The uterus is actually enveloped in a hammock of ligaments! It is also important to receive bodywork to obtain your pre-baby posture since your entire center of gravity was shifted during pregnancy.

Postpartum is a window of opportunity for deep repair. For example, lifelong injury prior to pregnancy can be healed during postpartum when the ligaments are pliable BEFORE the relaxin hormone wears off and the ligaments become stiffened.

In both cultures, it is believed that improper care during postpartum can lead to lifelong injuries, aches, pains, and permanent damage (again, makes sense due to the physiology mentioned above). It is also believed that cold may have entered the body during birth, so introducing heat through pelvic steam, and circulation via massage is essential. COLD is the culprit of many ailments in both cultures. I could write an entire blog on this topic alone! To keep it short, cold can enter the body via birth, certain foods, walking barefoot on cold ground, the low back, and not being dressed properly to name a few. Cold can cause harm to the body via slowing down circulation to the womb. Since the uterus has slighter warmer temperature than the rest of the body cold can really throw off the body's natural balance.

In Mexican culture, we practice the Cuarenta which is 40 days of rest during postpartum. During that time, the woman needs to be on bed rest, consume warm foods, certain foods must be avoided, a faja (belly binder), and cold is avoided like the plague. Womb massage and steam baths are essential as well. Filipino culture too! All the same! I was told that the energetics of food is also considered. For example, some fish may be consumed while other may not.

I have met many traditional healers as well as learned in a more structured school setting. The timing on when to have womb massage and vaginal steaming varies a little in almost all of them.

The second hilot I saw mentioned that the womb massage and steam must be done at least twice postpartum, once any bleeding has stopped. Pelvic/vaginal steaming in particular should be done the 6th and 10th day after giving birth.

Side note- I am a lover of science and traditional medicine. Once, someone told me that traditional medicine is not valid. There have not been studies to prove they work. Being educated in anatomy and physiology, I love viewing through BOTH the lens of a traditional energetic, and cultural perspective and then applying my education to understand it on a scientific level as well.

When I see all the healing benefits from my Hilot session as well from sobada de matriz or womb massage, I notice myofacial work is being done, positioning of the organs, healing circulation is being created, scar tissue is being softened, digestion is improved, my diaphragm feels less tense which allows me to breathe deeper, I had a more efficient period, herbs were used to treat inflammation. Studies have confirmed the benefits of massage, so why would someone say this traditional abdominal massage isn't beneficial or valid?

Mayan abdominal massage and many other Mexican indigenous medicines come from the indigenous descendants of Mexico. Many of whom had advanced civilizations. They were master astronomists, archeologists, and mathematicians. They had many scientific achievements. In fact, over 5,000 Mayan books, technical manuals, codices, and research thousands of years old, were burned during the Spanish inquisition by one single bishop, Diego de Landa, within one single day.

I do believe this work was recorded due to the consistency I've seen in many traditional healers from Mexico who I have learned or experienced work from. But it had to be passed down via oral tradition to survive due to colonization.

To be continued!

Up next....... Yoni steam in the Philippines, politics of traditional abdominal massage, how this info is passed down, interview with the hilots I met, which techniques were similar to womb massage and more......

Are you interested in Learning womb massage? After 15 years of experience, I will be teaching a select few apprenticeships this winter. Sign up for more info here.

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