Hilot: The Art and Science of Touch

By Patricia Laurel, Correspondent
Philippine News, February 7-13, 2007

Make no mistake, hilot or ablon is not about going to a spa and getting a massage because you want to relax and come away with a feel-good attitude. The benefits reaped from this type of physical manipulation have a more lasting effect.

“It is the practice of Filipino manual medicine,” according to Virgil Mayor Apostol, 42, a certified holistic health practitioner, who co-authored “The Healing Hands of Hilot.”
Apostol practices his medicine in Hawaii and California.

Apostol descends from a paternal and maternal bloodline of healers. Through extensive research, time spent learning the teachings of respected elders in the rural areas of the Philippines and clinical practice in the U.S., Apostol continues to refine ablon/hilot as a science and spiritual practice. His background in the Filipino martial arts has also enhanced his intuitive knowledge as a healer. 

Ablon/Hilot is the oldest and most secret of the Filipino healing arts in the Philippines. It is very rare for masters of this practice to divulge their secret of healing. This ancient art of healing is either learned from relatives through hands-on practice or inherited from foregathers passing it on from one generation to the next.

This type of healing supposedly dates back to the first civilization of the Philippines (approximately 5th century). There is, however, no written documentation of the history of this art. The masters failed to document the origins, dates, facts, where the art originated and who developed these effective healing arts.

Ablon/Hilot is practiced to varying degrees or levels in the Philippines, but has now found its way to many parts of the world.

Apostol gave a presentation of his practice at the International Conference on the Hawaii Filipino Centennial in Honolulu recently.

He said: “Due to historical accounts that have influenced the psychology of the people. Filipinos have become victims of colonial mentality that has placed neglect on our own cultural heritage in favor of just about everything ‘American.’ Our very own traditional Filipino medical system, although very strong in the Philippines, is taken for granted here in the West. Although the younger generations may have heard of these healing practices, they are practically unknown by non-Filipinos.

“It is interesting to not that in the Philippines, practitioners of traditional medicine outnumber practitioners of biomedicine with at least 40,000 traditional birth attendants and 100,000 herbalists – high figures that do not even account for the thousands of manghihilots, acupuncturists and other practitioners. In the United States, however, the reverse ratio applies in that the availability of Filipino healers is smaller than practitioners of allopathic medicine.”

What are the traditional Filipino ways of healing? It’s varied specializations – midwifery, pulse diagnosis, bone setting, manual medicine, herbology, suction cupping, skin scraping, herbal steam and smoke, “energy medicine” – just to name a few, date back to indigenous science of Asian origin. 

This tradition includes numerous forms of metaphysical healing that not only deal with the spiritual realms, but also the mental and emotional aspects.

Ablon (term used by Ilocanos, Yapayaos, and Itnegs of Ilocos Norte) or Hilot (Tagalog term) is an ancient Filipino hands-on healing, therapeutic and rehabilitative procedure. It is considered an effective means to relieve pain in the Philippines. But to get to that pain-relief stage, one must endure the pressure and manipulation applied to the area of discomfort. 

“The mangngablon or manghihilot is very acute in assessing injuries,” said Apostol. “The practitioner has an uncanny ability to sense fractures and reset them before wrapping the injury with medicinal herbs and barks. 

“The ablon/hilot approach is the opposite to that of massage. A sprain would get a thorough treatment even if it sometimes means that the person would have to bite down on a stick!”

It sounds excruciating and it can be, but Filipinos who are familiar with this type of manipulation, will be the first to extol its healing properties.

“If proper manipulation is not done right away, the viscous coating around the injury will harden and adhesions will develop restricting proper blood flow an nerve impulse, affecting or prolonging the healing process” said Apostol. 

“There are also injuries indicative of belles or pilay, a sprain or displacement of the bones, nerves and veins. Following such injuries, inflammation is understood to occur and must be treated in order to adjust proper setting and flow.”

How does Ablon/Hilot work? 

According to Apostol’s Maharlikan Healing Arts Center brochure, it is the practice of accomplished hands-on yet differs from massage.

After an initial consultation is conducted and background information obtained, the process of ablon/hilot follows: this involves the manipulation of the nerves and veins, joints, tendons, sinews and ligaments.

Through deep concentration and attention to specific details, the unique mobilization, manipulation and stimulation methods are what make ablon/hilot excel in the proper functioning of the nervous system which regulates and coordinates bodily activities and responses; veins and arteries which support the flow of blood; tendons and ligaments that support the physical movement of muscles and bones. 

Sensitivity to ablon/hilot may surface during the session. According to the brochure, this is due to the nerve-pathway stimulation. But the results outweigh any initial discomfort – an indicator of bodily imbalances. This can lessen or even diminish after consecutive ablon/hilot sessions – an indication of the body’s return to improved health. Based on his research, Apostol’s holistic approach addresses the mind and body through cultural and sociological perspectives.

“Many traditional Filipino healers heal from both a scientific, spiritual background and holistic attitude. This is especially true since the cultural roots stem from an animistic base where spirituality is high and esoteric devotees have an uncanny ability to tap into altered state of consciousness in order to obtain information.

“Perhaps the earliest concept of illness causation is that they were the result of offended elemental or ancestral spirits, or through sorcery – beliefs that still exists to this day. Those that suspect illness attributed to one of these two sources prefer treatment from a traditional healer that specializes in such cases.

“Not only would it be beneficial but crucial for us to adopt a “holistic” lifestyle. Deriving from the Greek root word, holos, for “whole,” Taber’s medical dictionary clearly defines holistic medicine as “comprehensive and total care of a patient.”

For Filipinos who have been used to trading and bartering with the local mangngablons/manghihilots in the rural areas of the Philippines, watch out. It won’t be long now before the world, is word of mouth and web access, catches on to the healing arts of our nanays and tatays. the secret is out.

2017-11-12T19:33:05+00:00