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What is Esalen Massage?
Esalen massage is a type of Swedish massage which is taught and trademarked by the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. While it has its roots in the style of Swedish massage, Esalen focuses on energy exchange and psychological well-being, rather than the simply physical results of a massage. While Esalen massage is beneficial for physical health, the goal of the massage therapist is to tune the mind and body together, resulting in a sense of serenity and peace for the client.
Esalen was founded as a retreat and workshop space in 1962 to explore a variety of topics. The Institute continues to offer workshops in a wide variety of fields including psychology, Eastern medicine, environmental theory, activism, outreach, economics, peace studies, the arts, and religion. Esalen is often linked with “new age” ideas due to the holistic approach of the Institute, and the large number of offerings related to new age concepts. The retreat covers 120 acres of land which includes cultivated gardens, wild forests, ocean, and natural hot springs. Retreats at Esalen attract individuals from all over the world who are interested in exploring alternative modes of living.
Esalen style massage was developed in tandem with explorations of Eastern healing modalities and energy work. Many of the therapists who worked together to develop Esalen massage had extensive training in Swedish massage, Rolfing, deep tissue, and Eastern massage practices such as Shiatsu and Thai. Massage experience was combined with energy work for a massage designed to treat the body and the soul together.
Esalen incorporates all of the massage techniques found in Swedish massage, and adds aspects of energy work as well. The desired effect is a sense of harmony and balance on the part of the client. The goal of an Esalen massage is relaxation, although physical benefits may be experienced as well. Therapists also believe that Esalen strengthens the body to promote healing and psychological health. An Esalen massage can be an intense experience as the body releases physical and psychological tension, and the therapist and client work together to maximize the experience.
From the Esalen Massage Retreat...
The sound of the waves provides a soothing background for any massage session at Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California. This sound, coupled with the cliffside natural hot springs and the educational community dedicated to exploring the "far reaches of human potentiality", inspires a unique approach to bodywork known worldwide as Esalen® Massage.
The ocean provides a slow-moving rhythm very much akin to the internal rhythms of the body. The receiver rests on the massage table, draped, and the practitioner's hands begin quietly, with presence, attending to breath, allowing the receiver to drop inward. The long, slow, t'ai chi-like strokes awaken awareness, and as the tissues open to the warm of touch, the contact deepens, nudging bound-up muscles, drawing forth expanded movement. A relaxing sigh resounds through the body, and the practitioner responds with integration strokes into related areas. The massage continues, seamlessly, wrapping the torso arms, legs, hands, feet, neck, and spirit into a united whole.
The practitioner brings a knowledge of strokes (many have roots in Swedish Massage), of muscles and bones, of movement, of listening to the body as well as the words. Prior to the session, he/she pays attention to his own physical comfort, and quiets down internal chatter to welcome inner guidance, or intuition. As he massages, the practitioner responds to the signs of relaxation: deepened breath, enhanced circulation, a sigh, perhaps flutters of the eyelids. Each session is unique, tailored by personal requests, comfort level, physical tension and release, the felt sense of intuition.
The effects of this intentional touch, loosely categorized as "wellness/stress management massage", range widely. For some, it brings a renewed sense of health and vigor, others may regain a sense of safety with regard to touch. Often old tension patterns break free and old emotions are released. It signals a return to one's nature, a switch from everyday consciousness into a calmer, more colorful space less inhabited by the constraints of time and place. An out-of-ordinary reality.
The sources of this rich work are endless: it was informed by sensory awareness, Swedish massage, oriental medicine, meditation, gestalt practice. The influence of deeper work borrowed from Ida Rolf's teachings, Moshe Feldenkrais' sense of neural co-ordinates, Milton Trager's passive movement to awaken the mind, yoga stretches, somatic mind-body psychology, and more energetically based polarity massage and cranial-sacral work continue to "grow" the work. Each practitioner translates this into his/her personal art form.
At the heart of the session is a sense of empowering each individual to regain a sense of harmony, reverence, and balance, and to awaken inner resources for healing. It is not unusual to hear, "That was the most amazing massage I've ever received."
- Brita Ostrom
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