WORD OF MOUTH: Hawaiian nirvana

While surfing at Dudley during the 2010 Christmas holidays, Katie Long experienced an epiphany.

Having left her corporate job in the Sydney music industry four years earlier to explore holistic health, she felt a strong urge to return to her home town.

"The whole corporate world wasn't cutting it any more because I had started doing spiritual and personal development courses," she explains.

"I moved to Brisbane and started learning remedial massage and reiki.

"On the Sunshine Coast, I had my first ka huna massage and it blew my socks off."

Long decided to study the traditional Hawaiian form of massage and trained at Mette's Institute in the small Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Kin Kin, before returning to Sydney to practise in the eastern suburbs.

At the beach that day she made up her mind to bring her ka huna expertise to Newcastle. Three months later she had unpacked her boxes and was offering ka huna massage at The Junction.

She didn't need to advertise; word of mouth was enough ("If you do what you do well, people will know about it").

Within four months she opened her own business, Katie Ka Huna, in Cooks Hill and is now booked up weeks in advance. I waited almost three weeks to see her in January, which is typically quiet.

Ka huna differs from other forms of massage in its vigour. The therapist uses their hands, forearms and elbows in sweeping, body-length strokes in rhythm to music that shifts with the phases of the massage.

You are naked and covered in warm coconut oil and massaged while lying on your back and then stomach.

Often, your back and stomach or chest are massaged at the same time - it is little wonder ka huna is said to stimulate the lymphatic, circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems.

I find it intense and dramatic, a kind of physical exorcism.

There is a lot of deep breathing involved and Long moves almost continuously around the table, targeting different parts of the body.

I am still not sure how she did it, but when she concentrated on my neck and shoulders, I felt her elbows and hands release months of keyboard strain.

"Emotional stress is stored in the body as negative energy," she says later (there is no speaking during the massage).

"If it isn't released, it can have an ongoing impact. Ka huna is a very spiritual treatment focused on releasing muscle and mind tension."

Each session lasts 90 minutes and the intensity takes its toll on Long, who only accepts three appointments a day. In between, she jumps in the ocean at nearby Bar Beach or takes a break at a Darby Street cafe.

"I have to be focused on the needs of each of my clients and we always have a chat before the massage so I can get a sense of what is happening with them," she says.

"I'm interested in the whole person, not just their aches and pains."

I am cadaver-relaxed by the end of my appointment.

My limbs are leaden. Long has achieved her goal of getting me to focus on my body rather than "the busyness in your head".

Rosemarie Milsom

Katie Ka Huna Massage, Suite 1, 16 Bull Street, Cooks Hill. Phone 0406 945 519.

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