“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.
Known worldwide, Esalen massage is a unique, holistic style of bodywork which focuses on the whole person. In this easy-to-use instructional program, you’ll be able to simultaneously view the video while giving an Esalen massage. Shot entirely on location at the acclaimed Esalen Institute, you’ll learn:
How to give a complete, full-body session from head to toe
How to prepare your space and address any special concerns
How to establish rapport as well as “sense” your client’s breathing and notice other physical and nonphysical cues
How to integrate the various elements and massage techniques
Which elements are common to any Esalen massage
How to “grow” in sensitivity and awareness as you give or receive massage