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Esalen therapeutic massage - it's now listed as a modality here!

Just thought you would like to know this...a couple of days ago "Esalen Therapeutic massage" was added as a modality at this site.  So...if you've trained in Esalen massage, and offer Esalen massage, you may want to update your profile to include's listed at the end of the various modalities (or at least that's where I saw it on Tuesday this week (June 22).

For any who are curious, Esalen Institute offers a variety of massage workshops throughout the year at their location in Big Sur, California.  At the recent World Massage Festival in Berea, Kentucky, three separate workshops in Esalen Massage were offered by Brita Ostrom and Robin Fann Costanzo -- all were sold out, standing room only.

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What separates Esalen from Swedish massage? In what way(s) is it a different modality?
Hi Jason. Esalen massage differs from Swedish in two primary ways. Number one, Esalen massage intends to bring the totality of the massage therapist's skill set to each massage, and what that means is that the therapist might combine elements of Swedish with deep tissue, Trager work, Lomi Lomi, structural integration, whatever the therapist determines her client needs based on the pre-massage intake. The second difference between Esalen massage and Swedish is that Esalen work will not, usually, be as energetically focused as Swedish. However, that said, depending on the client's needs, a therapist could easily choose to bring a more energetic approach to a specific massage session. One thing to keep in mind about Esalen massage is this: since 1965, bodyworkers at Esalen have had the extraordinary good fortune of learning from almost all of the massage pioneers of the late 20th century: from Ida Rolf to Milton Trager, Moshe Feldenkrais to John Upledger, and so many more. And at Esalen, much of the massage work takes place on a common deck where up to 10 or 12 MTs will work, side by side, at the same time, overhanging the Pacific ocean. So in that environment, the therapists have had the uncommon opportunity to see and experience each other's work while they do their own work. And in this way, all have learned to adapt their personal practice and incorporate other moves, modalities and approaches from their peers. This is largely one of the reasons that so many people love what they know as "Esalen massage" -- because it's so poly-modality oriented, and as a result clients experience a far greater range of work than in a single modality approach. I'm not saying it's better, it's just different. Hope that's helpful! John
Thanks, John. I had previously been told that Esalen was "like Swedish, but with less draping" - a description rather lacking in detail.

What you have described sounds exactly like what I do in my own practice, and not unlike some of the Orthopedic Massage folks I've spoken with. Actually, I don't know of any MTs that routinely do a session using only a single modality, so perhaps poly-modality work is the norm, rather than an exception. To my knowledge, I don't know any MTs trained in Esalen massage.

Can you go into more detail about what makes Esalen massage unique? If my practice is already poly-modal and I am constantly learning from other MTs and CE courses, why would studying Esalen massage be of value to me?
I'm going to paste an interview below. The interview was conducted with Peggy Horan from Esalen Institute. For many years Peggy was the head of the massage crew at Esalen. Peggy was one of the supervisors from the Esalen Massage department when we produced the Esalen Massage video in 1996.

An Interview with Peggy Horan
Esalen Massage Crew
Representative, Practitioner and
Teacher at the Esalen Institute,
Big Sur, CA.

Q: What is the origin of Esalen Massage?
P.H. The origin of Esalen Massage is in Swedish massage combined with the influence of early Esalen leaders, Charlotte Selver and Bernie Gunther who taught sensory reawakening.

Q: What is unique about Esalen Massage?
P.H. What sets Esalen Massage apart from other types of massage is the philosophical approach. For the massage therapist, the work is a meditation, a time to quiet the mind, and attend to his or her intuition, and to be fully present in the moment with the client. The magnificent setting of Esalen with the hot baths perched on the cliff above the ocean, and the rhythmic sound of the surf, creates a very special ambiance that enhances this process. The Esalen Massage video was filmed entirely in this spectacular, outdoor setting and it features firsthand interviews and photography of massage work with many of our massage practitioners or therapists.

Q: Lets delve more deeply into the philosophical approach that is central to Esalen Massage and bodywork.
P.H. The most important thing philosophically is the presence of the practitioner and the complete focus on the client and on the session. When we teach, we really encourage people to learn how to clear themselves, clear their own energy, and to be centered in themselves so that when they go to touch another person they're bringing a quality of touch that is right. The massage really begins with the practitioner and their ability to be both centered in their own body and to be present for their client.

Q: What is the most important aspect of the Esalen style?
P.H. The most important aspect style wise or technique wise is not technique at all, but the quality of the touch. We`re referring 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. Of course, we talk to all clients before we work on them, but it`s just as important to be able to sense in, and to be present enough to hear the messages that come through the body.

Q: Peggy, tell us more about what you mean by the quality of touch.
P.H. Here at Esalen, we teach people how to touch. What I mean by that is how to touch with sensitivity and in a non-intrusive and nurturing way. We teach people to enter the energy field of another person with sensitivity and respect. Its 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.

Q: Peggy, that ties in with something you said during the shooting of the Esalen Massage Video about intention being a big piece of the work; do you want to talk about intention too?
P.H. Yes, in the beginning and all through an Esalen massage session we keep intention in the foreground of our mind. If a person is here for a particular type of healing, we keep that in mind; if a person comes in and says they're exhausted, they need some rejuvenation, or they need to replenish themselves, we hold that thought and try to give from the place in ourselves that allows the energy to pass through to and to refill them.

Q: So, massage is a form of nurture at Esalen. Would you say Esalen massage helps to foster a sense of well being and connectedness?
P.H. Our Esalen massage practitioners do get positive feedback about this. Many clients, particularly those who may be sad or may be experiencing profound life changes often need a lot of kindness and loving understanding. We consciously but gently try to ease this heaviness of spirit with the massage. If a person wants a lot of nurturing, whatever it is that they ask for, we keep that in our thoughts. Even if nothing is specifically requested, the intention from my point of view is still to maintain a clear channel, so that I can tune into the client and give them whatever is needed.

Q: Some people, unfamiliar with massage, may have the expectation that there is a sort of generic, say, 45 minute massage. What you're conveying is that it is really much more interactive. . .
P.H. Yes, it is an interactive experience and a lot of it is interactive on an energetic level. I mean we do of course converse and ask our clients, Are you comfortable on the table? Is the pressure all right? But a lot of it is energetic.

Q: Ellen, another Esalen massage therapist, speaks about engaging all the senses and letting the mind relax. In her words, healing takes place in the space created by relaxation. How does this work?
P.H. We work with clients on a physical level, teaching them about breath if they don't know how to do it effectively. For many people, positive suggestions about how to relax and how to breathe can definitely enhance a healing experience through massage.

Q: So as far as the philosophical approach, the real hallmarks of Esalen Massage are?
P.H. The presence of the practitioner, the quality of touch, and meeting a client where they are. In other words, were not starting with a predesigned judgment about how we can fix this person or how we can make their posture better, or how we can fix anything. Were there to work with them and what happens, happens; so its not a goal oriented session. For example, I wont say, I'm going to completely release the tension in your back and you're going to feel great. No, nothing like that. We meet the client where they are physically, spiritually, mentally. We work with people from that point and accept where they are. Were not trying to fix anything, but trying instead to balance their energy, fill them in a way that they need, and help them to of course, relax. Its not a goal oriented massage.

Q: That's an important distinguishing feature. You've talked about intention, the quality of touch, the interactive approach. How does Esalen massage incorporate different types of bodywork?
P.H. Although Esalen has its origin in Swedish massage, over the years our massage therapists have studied all kinds of different massage work, such as Polarity, Traeger work, Reflexology, Acupressure, Shiatsu and many, many different types of massage. All of us have taken different aspects of other disciplines and incorporated them into our own style with the result that all of us work in a slightly different way. Each massage therapist puts their personal imprint into their work, synthesizing their knowledge, experience and personal preferences. My style is more old school, classical, Esalen massage. Another therapist, C. C., for example, has a most amazing style that's really his own.

Q: What aspects of style do you all share?
P.H. We all share the philosophical approach that we talked about earlier, and we all work slowly, in a rhythmic way using long, flowing strokes to integrate the work and give a feeling of wholeness to the client.

Q: You talked about the origins in the 60s, is there anything else that you'd like to add about the evolution of Esalen massage?
P.H. It has evolved and changed in many ways over the years and Yet his process is ongoing. I think that's the bottom line, that Esalen massage will continue to evolve and change as long as there are new practitioners who bring different techniques with them. Philosophically, it hasn't changed a lot over the years but technique wise, style wise, it has changed.

Q: So the consistent philosophical approach characterizes Esalen Massage, but encourages collaboration and is open to a continuing evolution of technique?
P.H. It does evolve. We all learn from each other; we watch each other; we pick up moves from each other.

Q: Peggy, you were very involved in putting together the Esalen Massage Video. It must have been challenging to incorporate all the elements of Esalen Massage into one, 85 minute video. Is the video an introduction to Esalen Massage, or is it a highlights, how would you ... ?
P.H. How would I describe the video? I would say it is an introduction and a guide for people who have never experienced Esalen or Esalen Massage. For people who have studied it, it can be used as a teaching tool. It touches on a lot of the philosophical principles of our work . It gives you an outline of the type of massage that we do without too much detail.

Q: So it can be of benefit to both beginners and professionals?
P.H. Yes, I have had many professionals comment that they're very, very interested in the video because they've heard about Esalen Massage. We have professionals, who are interested in our approach attending our massage training classes all the time here at Esalen. For professionals who haven't been exposed to Esalen Massage, its a wonderful teaching tool.

Q: So what would you say is the most important benefit of the Esalen Massage Video?
P.H. Its spreading the gospel of nurturing touch in a touch deprived world. As C. C. says at the end of the video, Everybody wants to be touched. There are a lot of people out there who aren't getting touched and aren't touching. So hopefully, it will help to bring touch back into our culture.

Q: Could we provide suggestions for viewers on how best to use the video? Should they follow it sequentially? Describe the easiest way for someone to use the video?
P.H. Watch it through from start to finish, and get a sense of what it is. Then set up a table. If you don't have one, you can work on the floor or a bed, but the floor is difficult because you can't move around. Begin to try to follow along with the practitioner. If the detail work is too much, then begin with the long strokes and see if you can just get the feeling of the Esalen Massage. Its all about feeling and quality of touch. If you can begin to sense the rhythm, in the long strokes and begin to feel the flow of the massage, then you can come back later and pick up the detail work. That would be for the beginner. For a professional, I recommend doing the massage on a partner or colleague, following along with the video right from the beginning.

Q: What does the video offer to massage therapists who have already trained in Esalen Massage?
P.H. We highly recommend the video for students who have experienced massage instruction here at Esalen. Its instructional and it provides a wonderful visual reminder of the movement, the touch and the spectacular physical beauty of Big Sur. Its great for people who have participated in Esalen bodywork classes because it reinforces the essence of our massage training.

Q: Tell us about the new Esalen Massage and Bodywork Association (EMBA).
P.H. It is a professional association that we recently started. It's membership will consist of our
graduate students and teachers. The organization will send out newsletters, referrals and
information on training worldwide. So its set up as a professional association as well as a
governing body for worldwide training.

Q: Will you certify massage practitioners so that they can legitimately claim training in Esalen Massage?
P.H. Esalen, the name, is now trademarked, so anybody practicing Esalen massage will have to back it up with a certificate. The EMBA will also be instrumental in protecting the use of the name and the quality of the work throughout the world.

Q: Peggy, tell us more about you, and how you got involved with Esalen Massage.
P.H. I had a massage when I first came here in the 60s and loved it, and I wanted to learn to do it. For me it was one of those very natural things that I felt comfortable with, and wonderful with, right from the beginning. It organically evolved for me into my work.

Q: Does training in Esalen massage benefit people involved in other healing and health related professions?
P.H. I cannot overemphasize the importance of learning how to touch. Anybody involved in caregiving or health care could benefit. A lot of what I learned in massage translated beautifully into my midwifery practice. My massage training was wonderful preparation in terms of learning how to touch with great sensitivity as well as patience and the ability to be present with a woman in labor.

Q: How far can we go in talking about the healing aspects of Esalen Massage?
P.H. I think so much has to do with peoples beliefs. Touch heals and either you believe that or you don't. There's all kinds of scientific research in progress that backs this up. At Esalen, we know this; we know touch heals, we see it happen here every single day. We see people leave a massage session feeling completely different and rejuvenated. We try to arrest a sense of alienation from ones body or a feeling of dissonance between mind and body. Our goal is to move the client from dark to light, or from feeling terrible to feeling wonderful. Change happens in a massage; people may want to call it healing. We know it works. We know healing happens. We see it; we feel it. We believe it.

Q: Do you think its a catalyst to self-awareness?
P.H. Its a catalyst for self-awareness; its a catalyst for change. During the massage, we gently make clients aware of their holding patterns, and help them to get in touch with their breath and their feelings. A lot of self-discovery happens during a session. We try to awaken the client on the table to places that are tight, to places where they may be holding their breath, or to places where they may not be breathing effectively. All of this is reflected back to the client to help them effect positive change.

Q: Is there research and information available that scientifically backs up the benefits of massage?
P.H. Touch creates a sense of well-being. Look at all the studies that have been done on babies. They die without it. How much more graphic, scientific input does anybody need? The work of Ashley Montague, who wrote a book called Touching, talks a lot about this. Yes, its sensual and pleasurable and yes it reaches much, much deeper layers than the skin. Were working with the body, mind and spirit. A lot of our work is intuitively based and therefore difficult to quantify. We do try to quiet our minds while we work so that our intuition can come more into the foreground.

Q: Peggy, can we discuss the issue of nudity at Esalen? How do the Esalen massage therapists deal with this in a way to increase the comfort level of their clients?
P.H. We drape during massage. The one thing that makes a difference here at Esalen are the hot springs baths where people usually enjoy a soak prior to their massage. Nudity is a little easier and more natural here as a result. People feel more comfortable with it.

Q: But its not something that everyone conforms to?
P.H. No, not at all. When we teach our students to take Esalen Massage out into the world, wherever their world may be, we tell them to go very gently and to introduce people to massage in the most non-threatening way possible. Massage someone's foot or hand. Take massage into your world, heal your friends, go into the hospitals and touch your loved ones in any way you can. You don't need a table, a sheet or oil to spread love in the world through your hands.

Q: How important to massage is knowledge of anatomy ?
P.H. Well, I think its important. Anatomy can certainly be studied on an ongoing basis for its informative value throughout a massage career. But I don't think that's where we start. I think it is very useful and important to know anatomy at some point. We spend about 12 -15 hours on anatomy in our training and we always have charts and skeletons present, but we don't spend a lot of class time lecturing on anatomy. Its something students can learn on their own. We devote more training time to hands on work.

Q: Peggy, have we missed anything important? Do you have any final comments about the Esalen approach to massage?
P.H. We approach our work with reverence and we believe it is an honor to touch another person deeply in the way that we do.

Hope that sheds some extra light. If you find this interesting and/or helpful, there's an additional article in our "Esalen Lounge" at our company's website,
Regards, John
Thanks, John - that was great!

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