Esalen massage has a reputable of being a fully relaxing massage with long, flowing strokes. However, the massage also includes other techniques, including stretches, passive joint movement, and rhythmic rocking.
Developed over a number of years at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, this type of massage has roots in many other methods of working with the body, especially Swedish massage and the sensory awareness work of Charlotte Selver that focuses on your ability to monitor sensation from within.
Other influences include oriental medicine; meditation; yoga stretches; somatic mind-body psychology; gestalt practice; the teachings of Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, and Milton Trager; and the energy work of polarity therapy and cranial-sacral technique, according to the The Esalen Institute. Attention to breathing is also an important part of the massage.
In some ways, Esalen is more of an approach to massage than a specific technique. This approach gives "attention to the whole person rather than a summary of parts" and recognizes the innate capability for self-healing within each person, according to "Bodywork with a Place in History" in the March/April 1997 issue of Massage Magazine.
Mindfulness, connectiveness, and awareness are important, with practitioners turning the massage into a personal art form.
Practitioners help you tune into yourself and become aware of your holding patterns, acting as a facilitator and witness to your healing process. The Massage Magazine article describes Esalen as "a way of exploring, person to person, a matrix of physical, psychological, energetic and spiritual awareness united by the balm of touch."