THE ESALEN INSTITUTE
THE ESALEN INSTITUTE
We are presently enjoying a renaissance in the art of touch in this country. Esalen massage practitioners have contributed considerably to the reinstatement of this delicate means of interfacing between human beings, in a flowing style that is a marriage between classical Swedish massage, with its precise manner of working with muscles and circulatory system, and the deeply personal sensing work brought from Germany by Charlotte Selver. We offer our clients what we have individually and collectively discovered and refined in our concentrated hands-on work in a variety of approaches over the past 30 years. Styles which may appear simple to the on looker have many levels of conceptual understanding interwoven with tactile sensitivity, elegant awareness and heartfelt communication. At times we find ourselves spontaneously touching levels of the emotional body and even spirit.
Our work began to ripen in the early 1960’s. It was remarkably enhanced by the dynamic environmental elements unique to this small coastal experimental community. Gradually, individual styles began to expand and cross-pollinate, then become concise concepts, which still further expanded, until a larger picture of the physical/emotional/spiritual human began to emerge and be sung to through touch.
Massage is “structured touching” or touching with purpose. This purpose may be directed towards relieving muscle pain and stress, increasing body awareness, or bringing equilibrium to a life in crisis. Tangible outcomes can be experienced in the active stimulation of skin, lymph and blood, relaxation of the muscles and nervous system, elimination of metabolic waste, stretching of connective tissues and release of a tranquilizing effect into the entire organism through the parasympathetic nervous system. It is a healthy way of handling stress.
The recipient is gently urged to become an active participant through heightened awareness and surrendering to a deep sensing place. Long, lengthening strokes with gentle rocking and stretching, passive joint movement, sculpting of deep musculature, delicate cranial balancing, subtle neural reeducation and the precision of Chinese point work are all part of the somatic offering. Personal attention takes precedence over technique; thus each massage session is unique in itself.
Bodywork happens any time you focus attention on the life of your body, whether while playing sports, working in your garden, or simply feeling your feet on the floor. Thus the meditation of receiving touch from another is part of a large picture of richness which can put you very firmly in touch with your more personal self, since sensation is our primary connection to
We invite you to be with us.
– Esalen Practitioners
THE SPIRIT OF ESALEN
by Brita Ostrom
People who have experienced Esalen Massage agree that it is an extraordinary form of bodywork. This unique style of massage integrates the whole body with long strokes, blending wisdom and techniques from other cultures, and weaves new concepts of subtle energy with bodywork. Esalen massage evolved from the contributions of early teachers at this center for experimental education and it continues to expand and grow as present-day practitioners add to the whole.
“I can’t say if it was the touch of the air on my skin, the sound of the ocean waves in my ear, the long sure stroke of the practitioner’s hand gliding along my spine, or the sense I had that every move matched my response. Whatever it was, I’ve never experienced anything like this before.” With these words, the lucky recipient stretched, stood up, and gazed over the rail at the sea beyond. “I feel like I’m all connected up again.”
Such comments are not surprising at the Esalen Institute, established in 1962, situated in Big Sur, California (between Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Coastline). It’s diverse workshops form an educational springboard to the further reaches of human potential and it’s a spiritual retreat where those suffering from burnout seek solace. It’s organic gardens and hot sulfur springs are the heart of a healing spa. Workshops include specific massage moves and sequences it is more the “glue between the moves” that defines this approach to bodywork. This glue is found in the contact between the practitioner and receiver from the minute their eyes meet; the way the hands respond to the clients signals of contraction and release, pain and relaxation; the attention to the whole person rather than a summary of parts; and a shared observation of the innate capacity for self-healing within.
No Quick Fix
This contact precludes the notion that the practitioner is going to fix the client. Instead, the practitioner enables the client to tune into his or her own database of sensation, emotion and mobility. The practitioner is both facilitator and witness to this process; her or she is neither the agent of change nor the healer. The practitioner delineates the problem, the client clears it up. In the process the client may discover how much energy was expanded to maintain the problem in the first place.
The open-air quality of Esalen massage and the interpersonal contact banish the authoritative stance of the more traditional health practitioner, allowing the client an active role in the session. Practitioner may encourage breathe, use colorful images to suggest a relaxed state, and bring the clients attention to holding patterns, rather than simply relying on deep muscle work.
The most important aspect style wise or technique wise is not technique at all, but the quality of the touch. This refers to the presence of the practitioner and the ability of this person to tune into the client, to be sensitive, and to pick up messages. Esalen encourages talking to all clients before working on them, but it is just as important to be able to sense in, and to be present enough to hear the messages that come through the body.
Massage at Esalen is a mindfulness exercise; both giver and receiver are called to full presence and attention. In the beginning and all through an Esalen massage session the intention is kept in the foreground of the therapist’s mind. If a person is here for a particular type of healing, that needs to be kept in mind; if a person comes in and says they’re exhausted, they need some rejuvenation, or they need to replenish themselves, hold that thought and try to give from the place in ourselves that allows the energy to pass through to and to refill them.
Esalen teaches people how to touch. What I mean by that is how to touch with sensitivity and in a non-intrusive and nurturing way. It teaches people to enter the energy field of another person with sensitivity and respect. It is important to move through that energy field gently and with awareness before making physical contact. The first touch is held for a moment before the movement starts. The client begins to relax and trust in the practitioners hands. At this crucial moment, clients will often take a deep breath and begin to relax as their internal voices say, I feel trusting and comfortable. This intuitive connection between the massage therapist and the client is thus established.
The Journey Continues
Many of the practitioners working at the Esalen Institute have innovated and refined this non-invasive approach to the body, which invites a response rather than demands one. They continue to research ways to make their work more effective. Over time, they have seen the wisdom and effectiveness of listening within, of letting the massage create an environment that allows for a return to optimal health, of reaching inside to the impulse toward balance rather than to impose and fix from an external “expert” stance. They have seen lives prolonged, steps become lighter, laughter return as people attain a respect for their bodies and an acknowledgment of the messages and intelligence they contain. Esalen massage today defines itself as a way of exploring, person to person, a matrix of physical, psychological, energetic and spiritual awareness united by the balm of touch.
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