MANILA, JUNE 27, 2006 (STAR) THE GAME OF MY LIFE By Bill Velasco - Weíve written in this space (PHNO note: PHILSTAR SPORTS section) before how more and more athletes, from high school onwards, are falling prey to injuries from overtraining. Ironically, this also comes at the time of greatest awareness about the natural healing arts, as alternative methods of medicine have asserted themselves in the publicís mind.

"It is becoming more and more important for people, especially Filipinos, to become aware of how to take care of themselves, and use our natural abilities to heal themselves from the increasing stresses of urban life," says Atho Dela Cruz of the Spa Association of the Philippines, Inc. (SAPI). "With all the changes in our diet and the mental and physical strain on people, there is a growing need for us to look for ways to relax."

Just four years ago, SAPI did not exist, and the group of spa owners only had four members, making it improbable that they would be able to standardize the industry and formulate policy to do research and improve their craft. Thanks to the efforts of television executive and spa owner Marjorie Lopingco (now SAPI treasurer), the industry is now organized, robust, with the country hosting international conventions to showcase the Filipino healing arts to the world, and exporting it through international tourism conventions.

Traditionally, every time you got hurt, a sprain, bruise or any other ailment resulting from physical activity, your mother or grandmother would bring you to the neighborhood manggagamot or hilot, who would probably place some mashed (or masticated) leaves and nuts on the afflicted part of your anatomy, and massage away the pain. It seemed almost a universal cure. For most athletes today, a good steam bath and massage gets one through the day.

"We were looking for something very Filipino to promote wellness," says Dela Cruz, a consultant of Amezcua pilot urban medi-spa along Katipunan in White Plains, Quezon City. "People talk about Thai massage, Swedish massage, but we also have something to be proud of, which we call hilot."

But the question was how to standardize something that was marked with the peculiarities of each community that practiced it. How would they weed out what was fact from what was quack? The answer lay with an old friend of Lopingco, an engineer named Bibiano Fajardo.

Fajardo had apparently been lured to the mystically healing atmosphere of Mount Banahaw in the early 1970ís to search for talismans or anting-anting. However, when he contracted the debilitating disease of muscular dystrophy, he was healed through the traditional hilot. So he made it his mission to learn all the secrets of the indigenous technique of healing massage, and fine-tuned the craft over three decades.

"Through him, we were able to make a uniform training in hilot, which we now apply," Dela Cruz recounts. "There are so many benefits to it. First of all, it helps with circulation. Secondly it unclogs your system, and allows for better healing and more energy. It is particularly effective in breaking the little lumps and blockages caused by stress and toxins. And lastly, it uses only local and easily available materials like banana leaves and other herbs found here."

At the same time, the abundance of information available through the Internet has given the layman the power to question the authority of traditional medicine, and seek other remedies that are more natural, more affordable, and more easily accessible.

The Department of Tourism saw the potential of hilot in the international market, and Dela Cruz was recruited to give travelers a sample of its benefits in tourism conventions throughout Europe. Photos show members of the group dressed in the traditional clothing of a manggagamot, complete with the handkerchief-type bandanna, serving long lines of curious foreigners, easily outstripping the booths of other countries that offered their own massage services. As a result, hilot has been featured in travel magazines all over the world. All this is the last two years.

Now, the power of hilot massage has been passed on to the massage therapists at Amezcua Wellness Centre, considered the first spa in the Philippines to integrate traditional medicine with alternative healing arts, including, of course, hilot. It combines these with the rare clinics that specialize in pain management, womenís health and diabetes.

The set-up is quite exquisite, and serene. The facilities include the clinics, massage rooms, and a meditation garden, where other traditional meditation arts are also taught. It takes one away from the city without actually leaving town.

"Medical tourism is the new international trend," Dela Cruz continues. "And why canít the Philippines be a leader in the field? We have everything. All we had to do was work together, and be proud of what we already have as Filipinos."

And you donít have to go far to heal what ails you.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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